It’s who you know

Peter Davies, The Hot One Hundred, 1997

You can learn a lot from looking at art.

Reading a Peter Davies painting is a bit like looking at someone else’s bookshelves or CD collection: a sneaky insight into their taste or knowledge. The Hot One Hundred tells me what art Davies rates; it feels like quite a random hierarchy but every time I look at the painting it reminds me about an artist or a piece of work I’ve forgotten about and Davies’s  descriptions of the work always makes me smile. Emma Kay’s The Story of Art – a list of every artist and art movement Kay can remember, made in 2003 for Tate Modern’s Contemporary Interventions series – has something of the same feel though it’s not as nice to look at.

Quite apart from their educational value (and yes, I do know they’re not teaching aids, except that they kind of are; certainly I’ve been at least half serious when I’ve suggested them as useful reading matter for students wondering who to research), Davies’s paintings are really rather beautiful. The colours are pleasing; the wobbly lines and uneven writing suit the work perfectly.

Peter Davies, Fun with animals: Jospeh Beuys text painting, 1998

I love the journey in this painting. I’m fascinated by the links Davies makes within the art world, some funny, some cutting, some matter of fact. The painting offers us a game of art world six degrees of separation. And as is the nature of work like this, it acts as a footnote to the careers of those whose prominence in the 1990s hasn’t endured, who are perhaps politely not name-checked in Where are they now? The YBA crossword.

Peter Davies, Where are they now? The YBA crossword, 2005

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