[Some reflections by Chloë Tinsley, after Grenville Davey's Memorial at the Tate Modern bearing witness to his life and work I,II,III]
Mentor, artist, dear friend, co-collaborator, mischief maker, muse, believer. Sculptor. Professor. Draughtsman. Turner Prize Winner. Olympic Artist.
Grenville Davey's Memorial at the Tate Modern September 27th 2022, Frances Morris Director of the Tate Modern speaks to an audience of Nicholas Logsdail founder and director of The Lisson Gallery, Greg Hilty Curatorial Director, Lisson Gallery, Freeny Yianni Curatorial Director of Close Ltd, Chloë Tinsley artist, Steve Bunn artist, Georgina Tinsley poet, Victoria Burton Davey artist, Sennen Davey, Anna Gray artist, Richard Wentworth artist, [photo credit Barry Cawston, for Close Ltd]
Grenville Davey was a sculptor, draughtsman, professor and interdisciplinary collaborator. He bridged the old with the new, standing between generations of the art canon. He was respected for his sculpture and had caught the eye of one of the leading galleries in the UK before he won the Turner Prize in 1992. At the point of receiving the award, he was already on firm ground with International Collectors and had his eye and soul cued into creating his work. The year he won was also the year that Channel 4 live streamed the award ceremony. A first for the media and its relationship with the art establishment. The media, live streaming, interlinking with art was a novelty for the night. Art was suddenly there as part of home entertainment, in fantastic 2D pixels.
1992 was also the year that Damien Hirst had entered, he was an entertainer and his work was fast to read. What the new audience didn't know at the time was that Hirst was being quietly mentored by Davey. Davey had been helping him setup shows in a warehouse (Freeze) and if I know Grenville, teasing out his thoughts and turning them over as objects until, in the tumble; they were once the same and totally different in a new perspective. He had this way about him, affirming and moving the train of thought to a point that originally seemingly had no business with it. If he had been a hockey player he'd have received the ball on a run with a ping pong, whoosh whoosh, rounded flick and a gentle, tap up as it glides to you and knocks into the back corner of the net. With you not knowing how on earth you got to even be standing by the goal in the first place. I'm not sure if he'd like the hockey analogy, I suppose I'm side stepping the obvious analogy that we would come back to time and again: to the Boson, to String Theory and Duality. If you think you've got a fast brain, you haven't tried exploring String Theory with Grenville Davey. There were definitely a couple of uhhhh huh yeah, sooo, hang on a minute, can you say that again. The easiest way to enjoy the conversation was to affirm him back, things moved faster, words became statements ah, and easy gravitas was there. I digress again. There was always gravitas and mischief.
As fast as Grenville's mind worked, if you spent even a few minutes in his company you would be taking him in from his three points. His Eyes. Which we find in his work from about the time that I met him (2008/9). His Feet, these big booted feet, planted. He wasn't one to take his shoes off. Always the boots. And then, his Hands. Expressive, purposeful and always feeling and turning. An object in his hands was to be swept and moved and polished and considered. A pencil balanced to make an arc. Here we had a man who liked to concentrate, to work, to get things done and understand his own contribution and how each piece interacts with the other.
The Media, was a different entity with a different set of rules for commodification. Grenville could not be packaged up easily without an acute angle poking out of the wrap, a harsh media appraisal wasn't what he was expecting in 1992. The title from the attention grabbing headline 'Grenville Who' the day after he won the Turner Prize was a surprise. A very confusing captioned take on the whole experience. The retort these days would no doubt be WTF? It frustrated me, considering all this on his timeline 17 years later, let alone how it may have affected him and those around him. I would have felt very protective as no doubt did many at the time.
It was said that he had 'disappeared' but he hadn't. In no way can you disappear from yourself, from your work when it is so integral to you. Instead he did other things, working in collaboration with John Hopkins at LDA and Arup on regeneration projects, as himself, an artist, with the most astounding ability to question, to play and to play hi-jinx with the determined method. What more could you want to bring down the ego of the Urban Planner than spending time with Grenville prodding the status quo with ideas and ways of seeing. He is one of the leading figures in Interdisciplinary Collaboration, one of those key movers in what could be contextualised as Radical Democracy. Not employed by these people directly he would be an outside force working within their world within his own boundaries. A combination of utter perfection to achieve a different voice, a loose ball in a system. This work, I would argue in my dissertation written in 2009 was not necessarily all about the 'final piece', I'd argue that the artwork he produced was also in his dialogue and interaction with the project as his independent voice. That the work of an artist was not necessarily all encompassed in the final commodifiable object.
Although I talk about his voice, he was never a look at me artist. He didn't take to Instagram, I'm not sure he ever had website. He barely had a mobile phone. Yet he wasn't some relic with no capacity to comprehend it. He just quite simply didn't need it. It was not part of the extensions of himself he wanted to add. So he didn't.
When it comes to understanding his work again, or taking a fresh look at it. The oversized buttons, the rabbit hole manhole cover, the oil drums (these are not the official titles!), his very specificity and focus of the experience of the objects themselves should be put first. His work later; the eyes, the reflective glass in green; we see a self consciousness not present in his earlier work. Very bold. Very steady. Very him. He showed with me when I curated work (in a warehouse in London, at Testbed1a little later), and I remember his placing of the pieces with his steady hands, into the centre of the room. Purposeful placement. For one, they were very obviously two eyes, the colour of his, placed, looking straight out at the whole curated space.
I revered these as artistic objects with a distance they seemed to need at the time. Looking back on it, perhaps he'd just put a taster of himself in the middle of the show, to watch how I got along. He'd take a step back for the rest of it. Although of course he had introduced me to his friend, artist and technician Steve Bunn from the Royal College of Art next door, who although also exhibiting, was quietly keeping an eye and I think feeding back his intel to Grenville. The most considerate man. Understated, just totally letting me flourish and flow. And I did.
He took me to things as a kind of witness but also as one of these ping pong loose cannons, he never patronised me, he presumed I knew everyone and their work but he also let me free, he didn't keep me constrained in my art historical role, when perhaps it was clear that it was all about the idea. The concept, the experience, the nugget of the thing. He threw me in at the deepend and much like one of his other co-collaborators Will Alsop (a mentor from around that time also), he just expected me to rise out carried by the water and do some kind of arabesque twizzle backflip back in. I was to bear witness to what he did, and in turn, he ratified me in my own mind, by much quiet persistence in seeing me as an artist. By introducing me as such to those people who might actually take note. And then he'd watch as I'd tell them I was curating. What I couldn't understand at the time was that I could be an artist (of course I was Painting) and then operate as an artist in the wider world taking on other roles, within the setup of 'artist'. I wasn't a curator and artist, I would be an Artist, then Curator, then Designer, Consultant, whatever you want to call it, but first an Artist. Will Alsop would say pick one, his eyes would start to fizz when I'd tell him all the things, but Grenville, he just knew, it was easy. Clear. Calm. Certain.
Grenville Davey, to many of you may not be a household name (yet). To some of us he was inter-stellar.
A steel cuff around a wooden scroll. A circle with a line. A black hole, white, ink on a tile. Five fingers pressing wood now bronze into the wall.
To Damien Hirst, he was the guide for the Freeze show and Hirst has credited Grenville as the inspiration behind his dots.
He covered a hut in eyes on the Southbank, the eyes watching the eyes. Determinedly. Titling the piece with my words and name, "it's a collaboration Chloë". Pushing me into the eyes of those eyes, talking about memories.
I contextualised his world at a time when he had stepped back. I saw him where he stood. I listened. He spoke. I tried to understand. I wrote. I spoke.
We hung out. I curated. He created. His work always centre stage. Always first in to place it. Pieces watching, taking in the install. Stepping back. Quietly positioning them like stones laid to a Cornish Hedge.
Exhibition openings and boiler suits, and bother boots.
My paintings. Flapping at the back.
Mad dinners of obtuse words, and always the introduction, Artist. Nah you're an Artist.
Meets and greets and wry laughter. Words in riddles. Titles.
Greek coffee and Soho steps. Olympic heroes, and buses. Moments of witness.
To bear witness. To see. Pride. Thought. Entangled work. Trips. Quiet work, loud eyes. Sparkling. Dancing. Music. Hands. Ears. Long walks across town. Sunflowers and play.
An education for me. In the YBAs, in art, sculpture, making, painting creating, curating, in his work, his why's, his thoughts on the Universe.
To say goodbye, often means saying hello again. For me this crosses all the lines of public, private, academic and creative. It is hugely personal and hugely important.
For the moment, it's a thank you to Grenville's Estate, to Close Ltd and Freeny Yianni for holding up his space where it belongs. To Sennen his son. His boy who he would have nestled into a boson for, and to Victoria Burton-Davey for keeping open the door.
Latterly a thank you to the Tate and to Frances Morris, to Nicholas Logsdail and Greg Hilty at the Lisson Gallery, for coming together, for speaking with reach and vision at the Tate Modern.
Seeds to sunflowers.
I am so very grateful to have spent so much time alongside those big boots. Sharing more of him with you will be hard on us but so, so good to ratify those experiences, his way of thinking and his work. Holding the thought. Remembering to tread lightly in the sun.
Victoria Burton Davey, Sennen Davey, Steve Bunn, Chloë Tinsley, at Grenville Davey's Memorial at the Tate Modern listening to Nicholas Logsdail from the Lisson Gallery speak, remembering Grenville Davey and his wry mischief. Photo credit Barry Cawston, Close Ltd.
Sennen Davey thanks those present at the Memorial at the Tate Modern, left Victoria Burton Davey, right Freeny Yianni, Steve Bunn, Chloë Tinsley, Georgina Tinsley, Frances Morris
In 2009 I wrote my dissertation on Grenville Davey, and his relationship with the Art World. 'Grenville Davey won the Turner Prize in 1992, but has since 'disappeared'. Does it matter that we don't know what happened to Grenville Davey?' Of course the answer has always been an emphatic YES. In many ways. Including his exemplary need for privacy to create and make. A consideration so very prevalent in the current context of social media fatigue and in ratifying his work into the canon and holding it up into the light of the public realm once again.
My original dissertation I will publish in part or whole, an important document for us both at the time and a basis for a brilliant and utterly unique friendship going forwards. He is missed. There is much more to be written, more to be seen, more to be understood.
Later I curated exhibitions in a warehouse (a nice pattern in history there), and he always kindly included work. Below are my printed notes in the catalogue for one of those:
A long standing friendship and working relationship with Grenville has provided an interesting and privileged insight into his practice both interdisciplinary and sculptural.
Grenville explores the realm of M-Theory and branes with Dr David Berman from his studio embedded in the countryside. Exposed to the weather patterns, he has bedded in, and cultivated his garden from scratch. His work with strings explores the very essence of ourselves and things. Whilst he explores the relationship of duals and intercommunication, he whispers to his Sunflowers.
Our Autonomous Nature II, May 2013
curated by Chloë Tinsley
all flesh is grass - (book of ísíah?) I, Grenville Davey, mixed media 2013, at Our Autonomous Nature II curated by Chloë Tinsley at Testbed1 in Battersea, photo credit Chloë Tinsley.
all flesh is grass - (book of ísíah?) II, Grenville Davey, mixed media 2013, at Our Autonomous Nature II curated by Chloë Tinsley at Testbed1 in Battersea, photo credit Chloë Tinsley.
Grenville was a wonderful man, it was a privilege to have held his friendship. I look forward to sharing more memories, more of his creations and analysis going forwards and I am forever grateful for the impact his work has had on my own.
Leaving this piece with the words of that time that feel so very relevant now. A question I have been asking myself many times over now, where are you Grenville?
‘You can’t tell me you haven’t been there. Your mind is working over time on some own speciality of yours, and as you experience something pleasurable, beautiful for example, your mind jumps right through associative images. Maybe they are memories, montages of visualised ideas. But they are there. Unobtrusively, unconcernedly mustering in on this new experience.’
Chloë Tinsley for ‘Hut / Eye’ Grenville Davey 2011 installation at The Festival of Britain
A limited edition print has been released of Grenville Davey, Damien Hirst and Michael Craig-Martin to inaugurate the Grenville Davey Arts Award. You can buy this by following the link on the Close Ltd website.