Project Gallery recently presented two solo exhibitions of work by contemporary painters Colin W. Davis and Ki Sung Koh. Davis’ series, titled ‘The Grove’, featured earthy still lifes that contained a sacred serenity. Koh’s work, ‘Way of Life’, showcased intricate, raw and fascinating portraits of creatures in the animal kingom. Both artists compel the viewer on a unique exploration into the natural world, while examining a deeper sense of the self. The exhibitions were on display from June 16th to July 3rd, 2016 at Project Gallery (1109 Queen St. E).

Colin W. Davis is a Toronto-based painter. He is a graduate of the BAA Illustration program at Sheridan College.

Ki Sung Koh was born in South Korea and moved to Canada in 2006. He now lives and works around Toronto. Koh received a BAA in the Illustration program from Sheridan College in 2012.

Colin Davis

Q: There is an undeniable serenity to your works that bring a sense of calm to the viewer, and perhaps a longing to reconnect with a part of oneself that is more attuned to the sacredness of nature. Can you speak a bit about this, and the philosophy surrounding your work?

The paintings are inspired by a history of being in amongst the brush of southern Ontario. Though I’ve always lived in the city, I was raised to explore and appreciate pockets of nature in parks and trails.

By lowering the viewer to ground level, I am attempting to create an immersive environment where the mundane and overlooked sticks, rocks, and leaves are allowed a chance to breathe and be admired. It is the purity and energy that comes from being a child in nature that I try to convey to the viewer.

Q: What is your process behind creating the scenes that you paint? Do you find that the meditative quality which emanates from your pieces is mirrored within any part of your own practice?

An important part of my work is the fact that it is representational work done directly from life. This allows me to interact with the source material by building and piling, adding a sculptural element to my process.

I begin by gathering the materials from parks and trails (and sometimes the side of the road) and building a still life in my studio. The initial construction will usually take less than fifteen minutes or so, and it is during that time that I am stepping back and composing the finished painting in my mind. After the set-up is complete, I do very little to edit. Mostly I am staying true to my initial instinct, although occasionally I add a stick or pine needle as a compositional element.

The daily painting that follows thereafter I find has a symbolic importance that reflects the viewer’s experience when they look at these ‘shrine’-like pieces. In many ways, a daily painting practice and the arousal of flow-state is similar to a meditation or prayer practice and can be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling.

Reflecting Pool by Colin Davis.jpg

Reflecting Pool, Colin W. Davis

Q: I love that some of your works directly incorporate symbols, such as a red flag, an arrow, or a red smudged “X”. This is strikingly different from other works of yours which are solely still lifes of nature, with no clear opportunity for the viewer to recognize and interpret a particular sign. What do these different symbols mean to you, and what brought you to include these elements in your works?

Going back to the idea of these works being seen through the lens of a child, the symbol pieces are nostalgic for the experience of fort-building and sword fights with sticks. For a young boy, a stick is so much more than just a boring stick and I am trying to bring some of that magic and imagination to these objects.

Q: In what ways do you believe that you and Koh’s works speak on similar topics, and visually work well together in the space?

I’m so happy to be showing at the same time as Kisung Koh. We were part of the same illustration class at Sheridan College and always talked about having our work together in the same space. I think it works wonderfully in that we are both talking about the hidden magic in nature with myself tackling the flora and Koh focusing on the fauna. I also love that while our work both has an element of spirituality and can be quite heavy at times, his work brings a levity to the show with hints of sarcastic humour.

Q: Who are a few artists that inspire you?

Vincent Desiderio might be number one right now. He obviously has an incredible unmatched ability to create an image, but what I love most about him is his use of symbolism and the film-like quality of his oeuvre as a whole. If you look at all his work it seems like it is a flip-book of frames from a single, long movie. I can only dream of a museum one day gathering all his work in one place for a huge show!

Another huge inspiration is Max Ginsburg who is one of the most impressive alla-prima painters I’ve had the fortune of seeing paint live. His work has a wonderful ability to depict complicated skin tones and colour relationships with a surprisingly conservative number of actual paint strokes. Two important lessons from him are:
1. Each time you place a colour, you are changing how you see the colour next to it
2.“A big artist uses a big brush!”

Red Foot by Ki Sung Koh.jpg

Red Foot, Ki Sung Koh

Q: The animals and scenes you paint are rife with symbolism and elements of magic realism. Each painting reads as a story, with different characters, and occasionally reoccurring themes. Can you speak a bit about this, and the relevance of some of these symbols? Why do you choose to portray animals and nature in this way which combines both a sense of whimsy with a mythic, almost heroic, quality?

I use the animal world as a metaphorical representation of how I see the world from my dreams. Yes, each painting of this series has a story or representation of my dreams, unlike my other series in which I was more focusing on my childhood memories of nature, and the beauty of it.

A lot of animals have appeared in my dreams – but obviously not always. I wish it could happen every time. Over the years, I’ve realized that our life (at least my life) is very similar to the animal world somehow. Animals are very mysterious creatures we will never really understand, but can connect with in spirit.

Q: I love that the animals in your works can seamlessly meld with other animals or creatures with such realism, in a familiar yet magical alternative universe. There are also other beings that are more formless, that seem to have a spiritual presence. What do these characters represent?

Yes, you saw that right. They are mysterious spirits that I have experienced – I first witnessed them when I was young.

The Sanctuary by Ki Sung Koh.jpg

The Sanctuary, Ki Sung Koh

Q: In what ways do you believe that you and Davis’ works speak on similar topics, and visually work well together in the space?

I’ve seen Colin’s works since I was in college because we were the only ones out of a very few people doing ‘fine art’ in the illustration program, and we have talked a lot about our works because we felt connected through them.  His works also deals with ‘spiritual’ things that he has found from nature, or his imagination.

Q: Who are a few artists that inspire you?

Many artists but here are a few names: Walton Ford, Audubon, and Tessar Lo.