Color commentary: Davis eyes political irony

Tim Davis, "Seven Entertainers."
Tim Davis, "Seven Entertainers."

During a late-September lecture at the University of Virginia, photographer Tim Davis spent quite a bit of time discussing an image of a giant statue of upside-down blue pants towering over a parking lot in an unspecified Chinese city (presumably the pants-producing Mecca of China). The shot was not Davis's strongest, but his passion for it illustrates what moves him artistically: colorful mundane moments and objects-often tinged with absurdity-that allude to larger cultural/economic/political issues.

Although the pants-statue image is from a more recent body of work, Davis currently has 14 photographs from an earlier project, "My Life in Politics," on view at UVA's Ruffin Gallery. Published as a book under the same title in 2006, the series examines aspects of American politics in the everyday-in malls, on the sides of buildings, in fast food restaurants-with a particular eye to how serious issues get co-opted for profit and entertainment.

Although the photographs are content-rich with sharp observations about activism, mass-market consumerism, machismo, and patriotism, Davis's attention to aesthetics holds equal sway. His sense of color and composition rivets the eye, engaging it long enough for the viewer to notice and, with luck, consider the intellectual nuances of the images.

For example, "Drug Warriors" shows two young women protesters standing at a cash machine, hand-drawn placards at their sides. The photograph is a geometric sea of squares and rectangles in red, white, black, and blue. The red-dyed hair and cap of one of the activists, who gives the camera a Mona Lisa-like smile, is the same as the red in the bank's logo, and the blue of a brochure in the other activist's pocket is echoed by the monitor's screen on the money-dispenser.

Davis is also drawn to marks that mediate his subjects' original content. He attends to the creases running across the crotches of an assembly of celebrity cardboard cutouts, a glaring white price tag stuck on a colorful box of soldier-filled plastic globes, the gouges and scars on a worn portrait of George Washington, and the eraser swipes that obscure "Getting Arrested" on a blackboard. In each case, the marks carry meaning, but there is also a pleasure in the layering itself.

Davis noted in his lecture that he likes the idea of "something you hate intellectually but love visually." The photographs in "My Life in Politics," rife with gallows humor, show this inclination again and again.

Photographs from Tim Davis's "My Life in Politics" are on show through September 23 at the University of Virginia's Ruffin Gallery. 179 Culbreth Road. 924-6213,

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