Page 45 Review by Stephen
"If you don't mind my asking, what are you reading?"
I've never been stopped like this on the bus before, but the first dozen pages of WHY ART? had so intrigued a middle-aged man peering over my shoulder from behind and above, that he needed to know. My explanation then so intrigued the passenger immediately to my right that she, too, needed to know.
So what do you need to know?
Well, eventually the cover's Shadowbox miniature art object / working world - which contains the same flowers as those on the cover to Davis' HOW TO BE HAPPY, and whose sense of scale is emphasised by the hands which are exactly the same size as yours (try matching them on a physical copy!) - will come into play in a deliciously recursive narrative via the most extraordinary act of escapology. Into the Shadowbox itself!
However, the initial pages which had so amused their admirer bear Davis's helpful hints for amateur art critics so that each individual expression can be classified and so catalogued by its most essential qualities for a more profound understanding. It begins thus:
"Before we can answer that question, let's explore some examples of different kinds of artworks. The most basic category of artwork is, of course, Colour."
Of course it is. That her "orange artworks" and "blue ones" are presented in black and white is priceless.
We are then treated to 'Big' artworks and 'Small' artworks, with the human form in attendance for sense of scale, anticipating what is to come. Do you feel that you are learning the language that will enable you to talk authoritatively about art? Excellent! Then we come to explore those objects which involve "the intent of the artist or the response of the audience" which is eloquently summarised thus: "MAKES YA THINK".
The masks are amusing, the warped mirrors are funny, but the 'Ordinary Mirror' is even funnier: "continues to fascinate both artist and audience alike".
Like the sense of scale between creator and creation, this pre-amble too is far from irrelevant.
After we witness different audiences responding rather powerfully (!) to various works of art, we meet Dolores, a performance artist who is by definition both artist and the art itself, and who incorporates her audience too for good measure. She stands very still then tells them "I love you".
"Some responses get very intense."
I don't have those pages for you, but that's just as well, for I like to imagine you all guffawing out loud on your buses instead, then we will each of us create a self-sustaining chain reaction of sales which will ensure that WHY ART? becomes this year's Page 45 chart-topper.
It is Davis's cartooning which contributes so substantially to the comedy. I adore her forms which are so satisfying physical, and so sleekly drawn in smooth, extended lines which dip at the necks, blossom out at the shoulders, bloom round curved hips, then the slide down the thighs to be pinched together with immaculate, dainty feet. Arms hang heavy or flop like flippers, but always there is poise and harmony. There was a phenomenal use of space inside a tent within Davis's YOU & A BIKE & A ROAD, and there's an exquisite page here of one of Dolores' most ardent admirers reciprocating her performance with a love letter posted through the letter box of her front door. She is crouched on her haunches to do so (in high heels!) and the single sweep incorporating her back, buttocks and thighs, before another line projects diagonally back down her calves with perfect balance, is magnificent.
Doroles looks down through the door's window, probably on the phone to the police.
A little earlier we are introduced to a group of artists, which includes Dolores, specialising in different disciplines from papier mâché and fabrics to talismans and massive multi-media. José specialises in concrete and fondant. It's Richard who's into papier mâché which can be prone to water damage. As can Richard: he has an oversized fibreglass head and oversized papier mâché body and hands.
Together they will be presenting their very latest triumphs in a joint exhibition. "They're pushing boundaries and breaking barriers - psychological, physical, metaphysical and temporal." They're blithely unaware, however, at just how successful they will be.
We were warned about the type of art which can terrify, presented as an abyss of solid black. Now, another abyss beckons. The creators have completed their creations...
"But there's a storm raging outside."
It is raging and it is roaring and there is shouting and wailing and it is so deafening and suddenly the outside seeps in.
Now, about those Shadowboxes...