Over the last 3 weeks I’ve seen the laudatory reviews and images on Noah Davis’s solo show at David Zwirner and one painting keeps sticking out to me. It features a little girl in a dress with white knee-high socks and a pair of t-strap Mary Janes. The little girl’s hands are politely folded in front of her while her gaze is directed squarely at the viewer.
I instinctively know this child; she is the little girl in the stories my mom frequently shared with me about her experiences in the South. We referred to them as “Little Adelaide” moments that were inspired by a young character in a 90s television drama about the South in the late 1950s during the budding civil rights movement.
In our mind’s eye little Adelaide’s story resembled my mother’s, and the character triggered her bittersweet memories of growing up in Texas with my Grandfather who was her rock during these tumultuous times. What I never realized when we talked about these stories was that I had never seen a childhood photo of my mom. Within the last few years, my mother was finally reunited with some precious family photo albums that contained images of my family going back generations. Seeing my mother as a little girl wearing a beautiful organza dress, tenderly sitting on a couch with my grandfather is one of the most precious images I have of her; it’s closely followed by a picture of my mom holding a doll that she loved dearly and still has today.
This evening I got lost in a video of a recent talk by writer and curator Helen Molesworth who introduces this latest series of Noah Davis paintings that have never been shown to the public. Because Davis is no longer with us, the specific stories behind who or what informed the work are sadly a mystery, but as Molesworth advises, the unknown does not become a barrier to our comprehension. As she remarks to the guests attending the walk through, “the work is only completed once the viewer is part of the equation.”
Listening to Helen speak about Noah’s work is deeply informative, but also having access to memories and experiences that make Davis’s work real to me is the greatest gift that his art can give.