Char Davies from painter to digital artist

Since studying Char Davies, I have been wondering about how she got to the point of becoming a digital artist. We learned that she started off as a painter and that she felt that “painting was no longer adequate as a medium for expressing what [she] wanted to say. [She] wanted to describe an enveloping space. How do you describe an enveloping space on a flat plane?”

I did some research into learning more about Davies’ past and past works and I discovered a video of her giving a presentation that answered many of my questions.

(I apologize for the bad quality.)

In this clip, is first introduced by Benjamin Bratton ( who is the Associate Professor or visual arts, and Director of the Center for Design and Geopolitics at the University of California, San Diego. His research deals with the connections between philosophy, contemporary culture, and art and design. In Bratton’s introduction, he finds that Davis’ work revolves around two main points:

1) Virtuality and Perception – particularly how the ability to perceive puts the artists and the viewer in similar roles because looking and making are very similar sensual experiences.

2) Religion and Interiority – the very thing that connects society and creates the human experiences comes from both the “inner” world (our bodies) and the “outer” world (nature). The two are very similar in systems and structure and the boundaries between the two could be redefined. Bratton finds that the foundation of language stems from the interchange between the two worlds.

Bratton’s introduction is then followed by Char Davies’ presentation. Davies begins her talk by pointing out three main ideas that drives her artwork.

Perception of space – the construction of Davies’ spaces allows us to reconstruct our experiences and refresh the idea of space. I find that this is similar to the minimalist movement and how the space in which the artwork was perceived was important (ex: Robert Morris – Green Gallery Installation). However, Davies’ work seems to take that a step farther in the sense that viewer creates their own experiences through a subjective journey within Davies created spaces. Because of that, the art is not only in the experience of the space itself, it is more so in what the viewer takes from that experience.

Disillusion of boundaries – Davies uses interior (body) references as well as exterior (nature) references. The experience of these two world is what creates life. Davies is concerned with the break down of the boundaries between the two and how the viewer can experience these two worlds as one.

Nature – Nature is the main theme that runs through Davies’ work.
Davies then goes on to describe her journey leading to her work as a Digital Artist.

She began her career as a painter in the 70’s. She was a realist painter at a time when realism was not popular. The first painting she shows is titled “Logger and Tree”, 1981 ( It is a photo realist painting and Davies states that she is concerned with boundaries and edges.

In the 80‘s Davies begins to paint light, transparent objects, and reflections, all of those tend to distort reality. In the next painting presented, titled “Glass, Jars, and Mirrors” 1985 (, we can see a shift to work beyond boundaries and more dissolving of forms. Davies, while still working in a realistic way, attempts to confuse the viewer as to what is the foreground, middle ground, and background of the painting. She also tries to describe a volume of space through animated brush strokes.

The final painting that Davies describes is titled “Blue World-Space”, 1895 ( In this painting, Davies (at the time) believed it to be a failure. She was attempting to recreate the subjective experience of being enveloped in space. The brush strokes are very circular (reappears in later work) and the light brush stroke at the center represents the perceiver who is surrounded in this blue world. Davies states how her goal of the painting was to describe an architectural space, but that doing that through a painting was inadequate since she could only render a 2D surface. Because of that, Davies begins to explore a new medium for making work.

Davies then turns to computer technology and becomes a founding director of Softimage. However, even through this medium Davies felt the limitations. The whole purpose of the software company was to satisfy photorealistic computer renderings that could be used in the entertainment industry. Davies had already abandoned realism and was interested more in ambiguity, transparency, and light. In her spare time, she created a series of digital images such as “Seed”, 1991 ( and “Yearning” 1993 ( Both of these have a very similar formal quality to her later paintings. However, only using digital technology as a tool was unsatisfactory, so Davies then began to explore digital technology as a medium which led to her most prominent works “Osmose” and “Ephemere”.
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