Jim Davis: Motion, Color, Light, Film

Between 1946 and 1971 Jim Davis grappled with the challenge of how to depict the largely invisible forces that surround and shape us. With mirrors and reflecting glass and plastics he caught and controlled—and filmed—the component elements of color within sunlight. He was returning to the discovery that Isaac Newton had made hundreds of years earlier but combined it with the much more recent technology of the cinema.

Though he never claimed to be going “beyond Newton” Davis introduced a new, transformative factor—motion. By analogy this allowed him and his viewers to allude to time and the larger issues of life and death. And because he was filming in the 1950s and 1960s, when spacecraft were reaching beyond the Earth, and our understanding of nuclear fission and fusion in stars as well as in domestic atomic energy was better understood, the interpretations of his film images expanded still further.

Davis (1901-74) was born in West Virginia, was a painter educated at Princeton University where he later taught, began making films in 1946 when he described his cinema as “chromatic music.” He was a close friend of, and filmed, John Marin and Frank Lloyd Wright. All of his films are held at Anthology Film Archives. Contact: (robert@anthologyfilmarchives.org). Or call 212-505-5181.

While the Davis films are often described as “abstract,” they are clearly more than that. They are often specific: they address human perception as well as the nature of reality. The films in the collections of Anthology Film Archives (forty-one principle works) include, for example, the geometric Sea Rhythms, the serene, silent, musical Prelude, the mystical Death and Transfiguration, the geographic idyll Pennsylvania-Chicago & Illinois, and the voluptuous Becoming.

Since its acquisition of the Davis film and photography collections Anthology has published three books on him, Jim Davis, The Force of Energy, his Notes on John Marin and Frank Lloyd Wright, and Dancing With Light. Many films are available on DVD as well as (in 2015) on the Anthology web site.

Discovery and restoration continue.
--Robert A. Haller, 2014