Lee Baxter Davis
Curated by Gary Panter
February 2 - March 11, 2006
Lee Baxter Davis was born at Bryan, Texas on the 20th of October in 1939. He enlisted in the regular army out of high school and served with the 31st Infantry Regiment in Korea. Afterwards he attended college and graduated with a master's degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art. He has taught printmaking and drawing at East Texas State University for the last thirty years. Now retired, Davis serves as the assistant pastor of St William the Confessor Catholic Church, Greenville, Texas, having been ordained to the Order of Permanent Deacons for over twenty-five years. He is married and works in his studio at home. His prints and drawings have been exhibited throughout the United States and are included in the permanent collections of the Dallas Museum of Art and the Contemporary Museum of Art in Houston, Texas. This is his first exhibit in New York City.
Gary Panter is a painter and cartoonist living in Brooklyn, New York. He has a degree in painting from East Texas State University. In the 1980s he was nominated for 5 Emmy awards, and was the winner of 3 Emmies for the set design of Pee Wee's Playhouse, a surreal kids show that ran on CBS television.
In 2000 he was awarded a Chrysler Design Award for innovation in design. He has shown paintings at Gracie Mansion Gallery and Sandra Gering Gallery in New York, Dunn and Brown in Dallas, Overheat and Bape galleries in Tokyo and many others. He is currently featured as one of 15 cartoonists in the traveling 2-museum show, Masters of American Comics, at the Hammer Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2005-2006.
The historian, Paul Johnson, states that the Romans were reluctant to use labor saving methods, even when available, for fear of unemployment and discontent. For the most part human energy was the chief source of power. Of course the Black Death did away with that and technology took its place, giving rise to the third estate and the discovery of the New World. I mention this because these works exhibited are the result of my own gut level instincts and human power. When you work with symbols, as I do, spontaneity is the compass of method and little regard is given to the restrictive demands of the estates, first, second or third. What then could be my purpose? To whose patronage should I appeal? Thomas Merton said of the symbol, as defined by the ancient tradition that it (symbol) does not teach or point to, but is. In the quest for the "is", he adds, you can be any kind of S.O.B., but to find it, don't be successful. In other words, to spontaneously and honestly dredge up the symbolic image one must avoid the super-ego demands of success and be willing to deny employment for the sake of contentment. This romantic adaptation is, of course, somewhat foolish and is the result, I must confess, of my all too human ego and energy and the obsession to find an essence that is non-reductive. To achieve this foolish goal is, for me, a redemptive act.
The pieces selected for this exhibit, for the most part, have been done recently with a few earlier drawings included. For many years I taught printmaking as well as drawing and the nostalgic aspect of those early prints as remembered by the curator of this exhibit, have been excluded. For this, I apologize to both Gary and any other ex-student, especially those of the old "Lizard Cult" days who might happen to see these drawings. By associating myself with the noble Romans in the introduction of this statement, I have sought to justify my decision to choose a method of work that gives direct access to the pristine space of the psychic window, the old p.p. of the paper support. In so doing, what I have gained for my imagination is a certain freedom. However, evidenced by the use of line rendering, concern for detail and the book-print narrative design, these painting- drawings are the children of that etching and engraving tradition and are influenced by the somewhat dark styles of Piranesi, Blake, Kathe Kollwitz and Leonard Baskin.
The search for an honest pictorial illusion that gives substance to that which exists but may not have form has for me resulted in a kind of alchemy. This hermetic soup comes from the following facts and visual encounters.
I was born in 1939 and have therefore been marked by Plastic Man, Black Hawks, Donald Duck and Friends, Mad Comics and Pogo Possum, seasoned by the literary mazes of the Bible, Edgar Allen Poe, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemmingway and Flannery O'Connor. All of this has been garnished over the years by the violent and mysterious images depicted in certain holy cards such as Saint Sebastian and Saint Lucy, not to mention the Crucifix. Add to this mix a host of Virgin Mary images and cap it off with June Bugs on the church steps with the oil wells chug chugging the tune of high tech energy. Stir up this broth of passion and what you have is the mystification of the past.
The reoccurring theme of this exhibition is the conflict between observed biological facts and certain metaphysical models of paradise, or the reality of death and concept of immortality. Herein lies the source of the drive and scuffle of the pursuit of my imagination. This transformation in symbolism, though lacking any labor saving virtues, accommodates the search for a surface upon which to place flesh and blood, providing a lever against existential fears. Besides drawing has become a habit.
This mystification of the past finds its framework and rationalization in the WWII "good guy versus bad guy" segue that takes the force of the antique. The antique firearm or dining room table that has been passed down from generation to generation is not made up of just their materials, oak and steel, but contain within themselves the past and are open to the eyes of the future. Look closely at this exhibit of mine and you will find traces of the Great Cosmic Rift served up as a main course like a dish of St. Lucy's eyes. Per istam santam.......per visum deliquisti.
A couple of years ago in the Uffizi, while looking at Botticelli's "Birth of Venus", the movie "Blood Simple" came to mind. In this movie, the private detective's monologue in the opening scene goes something like this, "In Russia everyone pulls together. That's the theory anyway. Down here in Texas, you're on your own."
I am on my own. Trying to teach students artists all those years, we figured out how to make images. How clever can you get? How human can be? "Yes," Botticelli says, "We worship the same muse, you in your way, and I in hers." Blood has flowed; the crisis has passed.
Lee Baxter Davis
by Gary Panter
In Commerce, Texas, in the early 1970s, Lee Baxter Davis was my drawing and intaglio teacher. He would lecture from table-top, the topic elusive; a hare in the big thicket, eluding the dogs and bullets of Lee's intergalactic, metaphysical, mystical, rational, post-rational, verbal ambuscade. Waving his arms frantically and exhorting us to see beyond the maya of what passes for life in the consumerist suburbs and like-thinking modes of tv watching American towns, Lee struck a Blakean figure.
South of I-30, Lee resurrects and dissects medieval truths and misconceptions that he contemplates in the landscape of dry creek beds, eroded cow paths, scrubby woods, pastures and ponds. There, saints and sinners and the ill at ease may be portrayed as crows, mosquitoes, flounder or gar, the ignored fauna of East Texas awakened for a magical walk far from the concrete interstate and towards the nearby rule of nature and being.
Lee's art is a revelation. A falling away of scales. Therein, William Blake and Hieronymus Bosch meet in East Texas at Lee Baxter Davis' kitchen table. A mystic and an artificer of metaphoric worlds in his speech and in his careful, obsessively crafted, watercolor, ink drawings and etchings, Lee reveals; the wheels of karma, the great mandala, the juggernaut, biologic and linguistic codexes; the light and the darkness, spectra; warmth and coldness: the primal issues that ultimately refuse to hide and step boldly into his handspun light.