Malcolm Montague Davis – Series and Models: Buoy Strings

Malcolm Montague Davis – Retrospective

Beacon Gallery is pleased to present the first-ever retrospective of works by artist Malcolm Montague Davis (1933-2021, American) on view from February 4 to March 13, 2022. 

An architect by training, hard-edge artist Malcolm Montague Davis created a niche for himself with artistic reinterpretations of both his architectural structures and landscapes. With an eye for color and an uncompromising attention to detail and consistency, Davis captured reality and translated it into geometry. 

Always an enthusiast of architecture and transportation, these two themes run through his work. No matter the subject, however, almost all works started as architectural maquettes. Davis stated, “Colored paper maquettes are made to study the proportions and color relationships. From these paper studies, candidates are culled to be enlarged into paintings. A single building may result in several paintings, which depict its diverse features.”

Davis’s work is true to the architectural forms of the Bauhaus movement. He used simple materials in their unadulterated state: his works sit on standard size Masonite panels, hung on attached wooden strainers. In addition, he only used Benjamin Moore paints, never mixing his own colors. Davis’s works have a modern look thanks to the straight lines within, and also keep near to simplicity with the renderings of architectural and natural forms. 

This retrospective intends to give an overview of Davis’s work, from the most ambitious pieces to some of his most meticulous miniatures. For any fan of modernism and the legacy of the Bauhaus, it shouldn’t be missed. 


Series and Models

Like the “Class One Railroad” and accompanying “Mergers & Acquisitions” series of works, Davis’s “Buoy Strings” series is composed of both larger, full-scale paintings, as well as smaller, magnified works depicting up- close parts of the whole.

Malcolm Montage Davis, Buoys Near Friendship Island, 22.5″ x 22.5″, Latex on Hardboard, 2008

Davis deeply admired the environments, both natural and built, he experienced throughout his frequent travels across the United States and abroad. As discussed in the last series and models post, the American railroad systems were a subject of focus showcased in many of Davis’s paintings. Davis had a desire not only to pay homage to scenes of beauty across America, but also to the people and workings behind them.

Here, in the “Buoy Strings” series, Davis focuses on the community of Muscongus Bay, Maine, where, uniquely, a majority of neighboring residents live and work as lobster fishermen. This series of paintings depicts the detailed processes of baiting and catching lobsters, as well as the charm surrounding this remarkable yet lesser-known profession that, by itself, supports several surrounding towns’ economies and people. Davis visited the surrounding areas of Muscongus Bay often, eventually getting to know many local fishermen by name.

Model of Buoy Strings

Also explored in previous Behind The Art explanations, the career architect was well-known for his meticulous artistic process in which he created conceptual models based on subjects and landscapes encountered in daily life. He then utilized these sculptures to understand and rendor the same forms, shadows, and frames of reference within his paintings. The resulting series of works are, in particular, strong examples of Davis’s ability to transform light, color, perspective, story, and process into 2-dimensional representation. Relying solely on Benjamin Moore paints – no mixing or alteration in any way involved – Davis proved his ability to depict the essence of forms through pure abstraction in a way many others struggle to do.

Malcolm Montague Davis, Buoys Near Beyer Ship Ledge, 22.5″ x 22.5″, Latex on Hardboard, 2008

About: Buoy Strings Series
Muscongus Bay, on the coast of Maine, includes the lobster fishing communities of New Harbor, on the west, Friendship, on the north, and Port Clyde, on the east. Lobstering is the principal occupation of Friendship, the community most familiar to Davis. He spent summer vacations there for over thirty years. About one hundred lobstermen put down as many as eight hundred traps, each marked on the water surface by distinctly colored buoys. The trap and the buoy are connected by a rope called the warp. The color of the warp depends on the depth at which the trap will be set.

Malcolm Montague Davis, West Muscongus Bay Buoy Strings, 45″ x 45″, Latex on Hardboard, 2008
Model of Buoy Strings

Coils of rope, in their Lifesaver colors, are piled in bundles on individual wharves. Six to ten traps are placed on the sea bottom in a compass line, called a string. This allows for easier retrieval in obscure weather. The lobsterman picks up the first buoy with a gaff, while his idling boat turns in a full circle. This maneuver provides the time to haul, empty, re-bait and to release the trap. With grace, skill and efficiency, the boat is headed directly toward the next buoy of the string, fifty or sixty feet ahead.

Davis’s interest was to capture the colors, the motion and the depths of lobstering. Davis made a model to depict eighteen strings of buoys which he then arranged in stepped layers around the perimeter of a hollow cylinder. The candidate buoys were selected from the collection in the Friendship Town Hall. There, a wall case contains key-chain size, colored replicas of the local registered buoys.

Malcolm Montague Davis, South Muscongus Bay Buoy Strings, 45″ x 45″, Latex on Hardwood, 2008
Model of Buoy Strings

Davis’s composition depicts the taut warps behind the cylinder of buoy strings. The blue banded background suggests the varying water depths. By photographing the model in a simulation of slanting sunlight, he could capture accurate shadows for inclusion in the painting. On a calm, sunny day in July, the water of Muscongus Bay sparkles with bright buoy colors, a purposeful decoration on the ocean’s surface.


Malcolm Montague Davis – Retrospective is on view at Beacon Gallery now through March 13. Make sure to stop in to see these distinct works of Malcolm Montague Davis before then, with an open house in honor of the artist on Saturday, March 12th 12-7 pm.

For all inquiries, or to contact the gallery directly, please reach out to contact@beacongallery.com

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