It is difficult to determine if Cone’s images, wittingly or unwittingly, comment on the ways in which late capitalism has changed the layout and, as a result, the look of American small towns after the rise of cable television and multiplex film theaters (not to mention the mega supermarkets and phenomenal shopping malls). Are his images glamorizing the architecture of these theaters or lamenting their disappearance? Do his paintings testify to the inevitability of time, comparable to seventeenth-century vanitas still lifes, or to capitalism’s forces of destruction?
-Hanneke Grootenboer, Catalogue for the New Orleans Museum of Art, 2004
Davis Cone has embraced the theater marquee as his subject matter, and he has proven it to be a fertile arena for his artistic imagination. Like Robert Bechtle, Cone is impelled by a feeling of emotional kinship in this choice of subject matter. Rather than choosing his subject for its ordinariness, however, he is motivated by the strong sense of nostalgia these theaters evoke, and he shares with Baeder a desire to document a fast disappearing aspect of the American landscape. He has a particular fondness for the Art Deco style theaters that sprouted in the 1930s and 40s, with the wonderful visual and painterly incident they offer, and which most embody that combination of Hollywood glamour and small-town ambience that is the heart of his interest.
Cone employs a very smooth paint surface, layering several coats of sanded gesso on board, and a very tight paint handling. He deliberately compensates for the camera’s single focal length, and for the film’s tendency to eliminate detail in bright and dark areas, by taking several photographs of each theater at various shutter speeds and at different focal lengths. The painting becomes a composite of this information, and the result is an overall evenness of fully annotated detail that defies the logic of the camera or the eye. Part of the pleasure of a Cone painting is in registering this plethora of detail as the eye ranges over the canvas, as if each area were the work of a meticulous miniaturist; however, he is equally concerned with the exploration of light and atmospheric situation. Both of these aspects come together brilliantly in Metro with Police Car. In this work the theater has receded in importance, becoming one aspect of the wintry New York street scene with its crusty, granular mountain of snow and speeding police car and taxi. In his treatment of the diffuse of light of the spraying mist in the cruiser’s wake, and in the blur that registers the motion, Cone, like Blackwell, is adhering to the photographic information, and this incorporation of the photographic vernacular and the camera’s ability to capture the specificity of the moment heightens the stunning sense of realism.
-Linda Chase, Catalogue for Naples Museum of Art, 2001
His paintings are not translations into paint of a single photograph. The crisp details throughout the pictures are a result of a photographic way of looking, but the paintings have more of a sensation of air and light than do most color photographs.
The 10 acrylics on canvas in this exhibition are, like all Cone’s works, results of a meticulous working procedure. He combines elements from different photographs of a selected theater, accumulating information for a final image which is entirely in focus, except for any moving vehicles. His paintings register momentary events, specific times of day and effects of weather. Stressing their contexts, he delineates surrounding particulars as carefully as those of the theaters.
-Vincent Katz, Art in America, March 1999