Background John Davis (16 September, 1936 – 17 October, 1999) was an Australian sculptor, renowned and celebrated as the pioneer of Environmental art, and as an Australian player in the modern art movement: Arte Povera. Arte Povera was an Italian artistic movement introduced in the 1960’s, a time of civil unrest, in which artists took to political radicalism, attacking the morale and value of the government and major industries, challenging whether art, as an expression of emotion and thought, could still fit and exist in our modern world.
Davis also pioneered Environmental Art, similar to the Arte Povera, it attacked the environmental conditions, and how we, as humans have impacted upon our natural world. His works were constructed using light and fragile equipment, to give emphasis and highlight the fragility of nature. Description
1989. 55cm x 145cm x 30cm. The Spotted Fish is constructed from twigs, cotton thread, calico and bituminous paint. The Spotted Fish is basically a large black fish, coated in a black bituminous paint, with dots of white. The sculpture looks light, and flimsy (which may have been done on purpose, to further demonstrate natures delicacy). The actual body of the fish, looks slightly mutated, with both eyes on one side of the head, and the fins looking like they are about to float away.
The blackness of the fish makes it look like it has been burnt and abandoned, with what could be a skeleton showing through. The loss of life is added by the eyes, which also look dead and solid. When one looks down at the Spotted Fish, you can almost feel the delicacy and craftsmanship which went into it. We can also see how he has used everyday objects to construct the Spotted Fish. Material Practice
John Davis has used everyday objects to create the Spotted Fish. Using objects such as twigs, calico and cotton to convey his ideas. The delicate twigs show the delicacy of nature; however it can also show how we humans have hurt nature with our everyday life, with the fish being stabbed multiple times. The twigs, on the inside can also represent various things: it can be the skeleton of the fish, shown because he is dying, or it can show that the fish is caged onto itself, and cannot go anywhere, or that it is trapped, showing that just like us, animals have limits and they need to live in the right conditions.
From afar, the sculpture looks fine, however when you look closer, you can see that it is not, it is distorted and mutated. A throw at human nature. Davis is basically saying that we need to look more closely at everything, and not be so careless. The dominant colour is black, a colour of death and danger. Conceptual Practice
During 1989, when this sculptor was made, an oil tanker called the Exxon Valdez, spilled approximately 23 million gallons of oil into the Prince William Sound, devastating the local ecosystem, which included salmon, seal, seabirds and otters. This was followed by a series of protests against sea drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Davis’ work was probably inspired by this, and combining his radical stances from Arte Povera and his skills from Environmental Art, he created his Spotted Fish. The bituminous paint, which covers the fish, is very oil like, thick and heavy, and dark in colour and made from petroleum. It represents the oil that devastated the region.
The twigs, which form a sort of cage on the inside of the fish show that it is hurt, and trapped, and shows the destruction that humans inflict on our surrounding environment. However, the fact that the fish is bandaged with calico, shows that we are trying to help the environment. The US Government passed a law, that prohibited vessels from entering the Prince William Sound, so that the ecosystem could help itself to recover. However, this is not enough for the fish, the bandages are there, but the sticks are still poking through, Davis believes that more should be done to help this fish. Audience
The work is privately owned, and displayed occasionally in Melbourne. It captures and stands towards the audience because of its contrastive colour. It is almost pure black, with spots of yellow. The materials he used were also significant, and the way he distorted the face of the fish, gives a sense of almost cubism. The seemingly random twigs which stick out from the fish, give an impression of danger. The overall atmosphere the fish gives, is very dark and evil. He acts like an omen and a forewarning of environmental disaster.
He easily conveys his ideas, with his use of the light and fragile twigs, which not only show the fragility of nature, but how, every little thing that we do, leaves a mark on this planet. When I look at this sculpture, I feel sadness and sympathy for the fish, and I also feel guilty because, I and the world are responsible for the hurt this fish has felt. Judgement
Yes, here the artist, John Davis, is definitely successful in conveying his ideas. And this is common throughout his works. For example: John Davis has also created the artwork: Koan. It is built from twigs, cotton thread, calico and bituminous paint. Made in 1999, it is 20cm x 430cm x 1086cm. Similar to the Spotted Fish, it is a paper-Mache, and painted in Bituminous paint to represent damage and oil spill.
It is dark, and the “wood” appears to be dying, with its surface looking cracked and peeling. It is once again an forewarning, telling us that we must act now to save the environment. John Davis has a repetitious style of art, which is constantly emphasising the fragility of nature and how we as humans have destroyed it, and almost abandoned nature. Bibliography
www.artblart.com www.artreview.com.au/contents/1057462540-john-davis www.eoearth.rog/article/Exxon_Valdez_oil_spill