Taylor Davis, Be Attentive, 2020. Watercolor and gouache on paper. 22 1/2 × 30 inches (57.2 × 76.2 cm). Acquired through the generosity of an anonymous donor and the General Acquisition Fund. Courtesy the artist. © Taylor Davis
Working in a variety of media, Taylor Davis explores the relationship between object and viewer through precise manipulations of form. Often constructed of wood and industrial materials, her work investigates issues of orientation, space, identity, and perception. At the center of Davis’s text-based works, which have been an important part of her practice for several years, is an insistence on the unique sense of presence and attention a viewer brings to a work of art when asked to read it.
Be Attentive is from an ongoing series of paintings that take the form of the American flag. These works explore the capacity of ancient texts to address our present moment in the form of a recognizable symbol. The text in Be Attentive—which Davis painstakingly paints from above using a brush on a three-foot-long stick—conflates two different translations of Psalms 54 and 55, whose imagistic language the artist combines to create a vivid description of contemporary experience. To make the flag, Davis fills the negative space in between the painted letters with cut shapes of flat color, in red and blue sections. Through a unique combination of the written word with the image of the flag, Davis creates an experience in which the viewer is seeing and reading simultaneously, the text representing the form of a charged symbol with which they are confronted. According to the artist, Be Attentive was made in response to “the atrocities at the U.S. border, of children being taken from their families, the violence and ensuing grief, the collective trauma.” The intensity of the language drawn from sacred songs speaks to an emotional experience, in this case evoking the desire to escape the onslaught of those disagreeable actions sometimes done in the name of the flag.