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photographs by marcus davies

'Sublime' 25 Years of Marcus Davies


I am having a retrospective exhibition at the beautiful Gallery Vassie, Langestraat 47, 1015AK, Amsterdam






The exhibition continues until December 5th and you can find out more information here:





Totnes Art and Design Foundation Course Staff Exhibition 2014





I have just finished hanging my work for the staff exhibition at The Aerial Centre Gallery in Totnes - The exhibition represents a cross section of work by the staff team and the common thread within the diverse practice of the artists represented is that they have been employed at Totnes Foundation Course either as a member of the teaching staff or life model or artist-in-residence based upon their commitment to their own practice, and their understanding and empathy for art and design education.


The exhibition is on until January 24th at The Aerial Centre, KEVICC Redworth, Totnes, Devon TQ9 5JX










Just been having a bit of a play in my darkroom over the summer with a big stack of optician's lenses that I picked up at my local scrap store, they mostly came from Specsavers I think. I am particularly interested in them because I have recently realised that I may well need bi-focal glasses and it is those little semi circles of bi-focal glass that have produced the patterns inside the lenses. These images aren't straight photograms and I have enjoyed the experimental process that created them.






I am also quite interested in the notion of the images being circular which is, relatively, rare in the photographic world, something I always think is quite odd given that the light produced by an aperture would be a circle if it were not cropped by the camera's square or rectangular format. Several of our students produced circular images on The Foundation Course at Totnes last year. This may well have been a form of 'learning by contagion' because our Artist in Residence Suzy Waldron was making circular paintings in the adjoining studio.






Alice Jemima





Alice Jemima is my step daughter, and one of the things we have enjoyed doing over the last few years has been making business cards, posters and small give away items for her shows - she is playing a headline gig at The Barrel House Ballroom in Totnes this Sunday, get there early to pick up an Alice Jemima matchbook or 'slide card' 



              Alice Jemima Matchbooks                                              Alice Jemima 'Slide Cards'





Newton Abbot Art School






The above photographs were taken in 1971 and show the last days of Newton Abbot Art School. My father, Nathaniel Davies (fifth from the right in the second row, and at his desk above) was a lecturer in painting, drawing and sculpture; he later went on to be the head of the Art School when it moved to Torquay. It looks like it would have been a cool place to study, or just hang out, and that group photo looks more San Francisco, counter-culture chic than South Devon. I sometimes wonder how different Newton Abbot might be if it still had a bohemian Art School in the town.

Visiting lecturers included Terry Frost and Patrick Heron, who stayed at our house, other visitors included the naïve artist Scottie Wilson. It was my Dad’s first job after he left Cardiff College of Art. His studies at Cardiff had been interrupted by the war. He was called up in 1942 and served with The Royal Corps of Signals in North Africa. At the end of the war he returned to Cardiff to complete his ATD and shortly afterward got the job at Newton Abbot with the help of a letter of recommendation from Ceri Richards, his drawing tutor at Cardiff. It was here that he met his future wife. 


1949 Newton Abbot Art School - My Dad teaching  a life class with my Mum to his left


The Art School was housed in The Passmore Edwards Centre which has recently been refurbished and is partly the town’s library and partly a base for adult education. In a particularly nice completion of the circle my sister Naomi now runs Jewellery classes in what was one of the old Art School workshops






I collect a number of things, most of which I buy at car boot sales. For a while I collected 'Puzzled'Em' cards. These are simple card games, that one suspects can only be played once, revolving around guessing the identity of everyday objects that have been photographed from unusual angles.






 a       b   


  c        d   




I have always been interested in photographs that have been made with little or no artistic intention that actually have a very strong artistic outcome. I also think that the investigation of form rather than meaning is rather refreshing too. I think I had these cards very much in mind when I made the photographs of the elastic bands. I particularly like stationary shops and I purchased a big range of bands from Wright's Stationers in Newton Abbot, I was quite pleased to find that they came in size coded bags which somehow gave the project greater authenticity. I had set aside a single day and one roll of film for the project. I made 36 exposures on orthochromatic film in the morning and printed them in my darkroom in the afternoon.





Elastica all 36 images


N.B. If you are wondering what the Puzzled' Em images are:  a) Chair b) Spectacles c) Ring d) Shoe





American Football 1986


  Newton Great Westerner 1986


I have recently been scanning some of my degree work from the mid 1980’s. It is quite hard to believe it now, but during the 1980’s football was not the omnipotent force it is today and there really was a possibility that other sports could challenge its popularity. American Football became quite a phenomenon at this time mainly due to Channel 4’s nifty coverage, craftily scheduled on Sunday afternoons. Suddenly every town in the U.K seemed to have a team and Newton Abbot was no different; The Newton Great Westerners played their home matches at Coach Road, which was handily placed just down the street. I took photographs at a number of their matches and at the time I had pretensions of being a documentary photographer although I think I had August Sander in mind when I took the photograph above. It was also an important project for me because I realized I needed to get a little closer to my subject so I started asking people if I could take their portraits, and it drew me in, and enabled me to make much better pictures.


Newton Great Westerners 1986


It was a new world of cheerleaders and razzamatazz. I was particularly interested in the rapid embracing of this new cultural landscape which was quite at odds with the actual physical landscape that remained steadfastly British. I remember being quite keen to include the rolling hills and rugby posts in the background as a counterpoint to the newly arrived flamboyance.


 Hereford Chargers 1986


Isle of Wight Rhinos 1986


   Umpires 1986


I am not quite sure what happened to The Newton Great Westerners, but in the days before digital photography and the camera phone people just didn’t document their lives so much and these might be some of the very few photographs that prove of their existence at all.




Train Tracks 


I have a seven old son called Fabian who has a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder. I have spent the last five years observing the way he engages with the world and the routines and patterns that have defined the way he lives. I have recently been looking into the equivalence with the order in my own photographic practice.

Fabian had regular teaching sessions with specialist one-to-one tutors who used a variety of teaching techniques, one particular weekly session revolved around coloured geometric shapes, here the task was for Fabian to match colour with colour or shape with shape or colour with same coloured shape. The task was designed to stop Fabian from following easy routine; in the first instance he found matching colour with colour straightforward and could complete the task successfully very quickly, however when the task was subtly altered i.e. shape with shape he wanted to revert back to matching colours which is much easier and comfortable for him. 




The activity happened on a plain white table and he repeated the exercise several times in each session – the placing of the simple geometric shapes on the white table is somewhat, spookily, similar to my own recent photographic compositions which have involved photographing light travelling through carefully spaced colour acetate shapes against a pure white background.





My most recent photographs use marbles as the extra component in the composition – this additional element functions as a kind of personalization of the work, the marbles in this case were retrieved from the attic of my family home and in previous work I have used unspooled lengths of film from my collection of super 8 football films – here I linked predominant colours from the football team’s shirts to the geometric acetate shapes.




     1973 F.A. Cup Final                              1970 World Cup Final                             1957 F.A. Cup Final


Despite the inclusion of these personal objects their primary function is to aid the formal harmony of the image, there is no political or social meaning. The only interest I have outside the actual visual balance of each individual composition is the historical precedent for this sort of imagery. To a certain extent one of my concerns for both contemporary fine art photography and, consequently, photography in education is the dismissal of work that does not have at its core a socio-political message or an investigation of personal narratives.

“You young people believe that art should talk about society or politics. But that is wrong. Art is to dance!”   

 Josef Albers c1971

Photography does not need to be ‘about something’ it can be self-referencing. Of course one of photography’s great issues is that it almost always has subject matter. As a medium it does not have the same history of formal abstract imagery that painting does – that is not to say there is no purely abstract photography but it is a relatively minor thread. So what of the idea of making a set of photographs that are all about form, but also have an emotional charge? Well here is the challenge and this is where I want to return to my son Fabian and his autistic diagnosis.




In the last two years I have made somewhere in the region of 1500 train layouts for Fabian, (approximately three layouts a day) we have a huge amount of track because for a long time it was his only interest. Autism and trains have a very strong link, this is in part due to the fact that trains run on tracks and therefore there are no surprises or deviation from routine, they don’t suddenly turn off, they are constant and regular; predictable and familiar. Sometime ago I realised that the tracks that I was making were becoming graphic forms and relating to paintings such as Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie-woogie 1943.



                     Broadway Boogie-Woogie    Mondrian 1943              Money from Soccerama 2009


Also, at about the same time, I started looking at my childhood toys and games as a possible source for new photography, I had an idea to use the money from old board games­ to create abstract patterns and shapes, however I have put this idea on hold for a while after I found a set of cardboard blocks that I had not seen since I was probably only a little older than Fabian – they depict a train and the purpose is to join up the track with each new tile laid. 




What these tiles triggered for me was the simple visual enjoyment of the division of space by line. I have previously been interested in this simplest of graphic interventions when looking at ‘The Panel Exercise’ in Le Corbusier’s  The Modulor where a square is divided in accordance with the measures of the ‘modulor’ and decisions on harmony are assessed.



                                  The Panel Exercise 1949


My original idea was to print two or three large prints and make diptychs and triptychs where the train line joined together, and exhibit them conventionally in a gallery setting. As the project moved on I rather concentrated my focus on the notion of the images being played with and the idea of the gallery wall seemed less and less appropriate to the original intention of the project which was to look at my son’s autism through my photography. Mid way through the project I made a sample set of 30 train tiles to see how they worked as a game.



         Fabian playing with the prototype set               Connect by Ken Garland for Galt Toys


What I was beginning to get excited about was the notion of an ‘Artist’s Game’ whereby the box of train tiles is sold as an artwork, but essentially the buyer becomes the artist because they are the ones who put the tiles together, and with 75 tiles it is unlikely that any two layouts would ever be the same. At around this time I was given a set of Connect, which is a game designed by Ken Garland and manufactured by Galt toys in the 1960’s. This game has a kind of legendary status in design for games, as essentially it is a piece of formal art masquerading as a children’s game





The prototype set No2 has 74 tiles and offers almost limitless opportunities for creating different art works. I have also recently revisited the notion of large prints and exhibiting them. Here too I see the buyer becoming the curator, possibly by purchasing sets of pictures that can be rearranged to form new artworks.




John Hinde Postcards Private View

The Photographers' Gallery 1st August



After nearly three years work, including several hundred hours of restoration, the John Hinde prints are now available to view at Print Sales in The Photographers' Gallery in Ramilies Street London. If you would like further information about this project, or simply love looking at John Hinde postcards then please go to



all photographs copyright 2008-13, Marcus Davies and may not be used without written permission | All rights reserved
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