About Thyra Davidson
Thyra Davidson is a sculptor. “I started doing sculpture around 1961. Nobody was doing realism in that medium then – let alone still life." She studied at the National Academy and at the Brooklyn Museum Art School and began her career as an abstract painter. When Thyra made her change from abstract to realism, she kept trying to get more depth into her work. Trapped by the two-dimensionality of drawings, she turned to sculpture.
Thyra Davidson’s work in bronze is a surprise in the world of present-day sculptural fashion. Its realism and expressiveness defy the dominant modernists and turn to the 19th century for their source of inspiration. Davidson experiments in unusual ways with scale. She does miniatures, in which a tabletop still life measures no more than 12 inches across, smaller-than-life figures, and life-size portrait heads and objects. She also explores a range of textures and finishes, from the very smooth, unlined skin of a young boy to the visibly kneaded, uneven ridges of a piece of fabric or muscle. All of her work is of very high caliber. The portrait heads of her parents are particularly good. Without knowing the identity of the subjects, the viewer cannot doubt that these two individuals are of great importance to the sculptor. Her still lifes, especially one of a single pear posed on a piece of cloth, are beautiful. The drawings are so fine and delicate that they can be mistaken for silverpoint.
Davidson also refines each form within the pictures and sculptures so they convey the strength and dignity of the classical spirit. The term classical is often loosely applied to all representational art or, more specifically, to archaic themes – figures draped in Greek and roman costumes and arranged in complex historical or mythological tableaux. A more accurate and at the same time wider-ranging definition, encompassing both abstract and realistic subjects, postulates a perfect balance between form and expression. It is a feat achieved by rare individuals, usually for brief periods in history. The pendulum then swings to one side or the other, to hierarchic stiffness and a formal aesthetic or to the unihibited expression of emotion. We have lived for so long, for the better part of the twentieth century, with the notion that art must be deeply expressive and call attention to itself with a strident urgency that the contemplative mode of a true classicist can easily go unrecognized.
Thyra Davidson’s sculpture fits the traditional definition, but her classicism is of an intimate type – figures in informal and private moments rather than the standard ceremonial poses. That may be why she describes her work as humanist realism.
Davidson’s work is of exceptional interest, not only because true classical sculptors are so rare, but also because of the range of her subject matter. In addition to traditional portraits, free-standing figures, and figurative bas-reliefs, she sculpts still lifes embodying the objects and drapery usually associated with painting, including flowers and fruit. Not since Lucca Della Robbia in thirteenth-century Italy has a sculptor taken this most conventional subject matter and turned it into such a powerful and original statement. Her work projects the spirit of a Chardin in three dimensions.
Deceptively simple arrangements of drapery and fruit, an apple, pear, or banana, which our eyes are accustomed to seeing in color on a two-dimensional surface, take on an uncanny reality in three dimensions. Shown below eye level, they have a special presence that rivets the attention. Some indication of their power is revealed in the reaction to her first piece, which she showed to visitors in her studio when she began making sculpture in 1960. She had worked from a red apple placed on vivid green drapery salvaged from an old skirt, but the modeled still life so attracted people’s attention that they didn’t even see the brightly colored setup. Drapery is one of the keys to Davidson’s aesthetic because it is simultaneously abstract and representational. The visual identity of folds and creases within the abstraction of the total design highlights the balance of form and content evident in all her work. She says it is a problem she thinks about aften, especially when she arranges and sculpts fabric.
1967 Schoelkopf Gallery, NYC
1972 Simon's Rock College - Great Barrington, MA
1972 First Street Gallery, SOHO, NYC
1973 Dutchess Community College - Poughkeepsie, NY
1975 First Street Gallery, SOHO, NYC
1979 First Street Gallery, SOHO, NYC
1982 First Street Gallery, SOHO, NYC
1982 Museum of the Hudson Highlands - Cornwall, NY
1986 Company Hill Gallery - Kingston, NY
1998 Lyric Gallery - Highland, NY
1960 Kessler Gallery - Provincetown, MA
1960 Artists Gallery - NYC
1961 Artists Gallery - NYC
1961 Hudson River Museum - Yonkers, NY
1961-63 Society of American Graphic Artists - Overseas International Exhibit
1962-3 Ball State National Sculpture Show - Muncie, IN
1962-65 Albany Institute Annual - Albany, NY; 2nd Prize in Sculpture - 1962, 1964
1968 "Design & Aesthetics in Wood" - Syracuse University - Syracuse, NY
1969 "20 Representational Artists" - SUNY Traveling Show
1971 "New York Figurative Painting & Sculpture" - NYC and Traveling
1971-73, 75, 78, 80 "Artists of the Hudson-Mohawk Region Annual"; Purchase Prize - 1973
1973 "NY Professional Women Artists & Women Artists of Brooklyn College - Brooklyn College, NYC
1973-74 "Invitational '73" - 10 Artists from Mohawk-Hudson Show - Albany Art Institute
1974 "Still Life Show" - FAR Gallery, NYC
1976 "Artists Choice" - SOHO Center, NYC
1977 "Brooklyn College Art Department, Past & Present" - Davis-Long Gallery & Schoelkopf Gallery, NYC
1984 15th Anniversary Show - First Street Gallery, NYC
1986 "19th & 20th Century Woodcarvers" - Schoelkopf Gallery, NYC
1989 "Hudson-Mohawk Regional"; Purchase Prize
1989 "Representational Women Sculptors" - Chesterwood - Stockbridge, MA
1990 Mountain Gallery - New Paltz, NY
1991-92 Knowles Gallery - LaJolla, CA
1993 Connoisseur Gallery - Rhinebeck, NY
1995 Park West Gallery - Kingston, NY
1995 Watermark-Cargo Gallery - Kingston, NY
1997 Lyric Gallery - Highland, NY
Albany Institute of History & Art
SUNY Albany Art Gallery
WORK REPRODUCED, ARTICLES, AND COMMENTARIES
1968 "Mosaic Art Today" - L. Argiro
1971 "Unconventional Realists" - ARTFORUM Magazine - Gabriel Laderman
1975 Hudson Valley Magazine - April
1983-99 "Who's Who in American Art", "Who's Who in American Women", "Marquis Who's Who"
1988 American Artist Magazine - August - Eunice Agar