A title graphic on a dark blue background containing the following information: Noah Davis, Another Balcony, 2009, Oil and acrylic on linen, 48 x 48 inches, 121.9 x 121.9 cm.
A detail from a painting by Noah Davis, titled Another balcony, dated 2009.

Another Balcony offers us the most quotidian of views, a deceptively simple scene, an upward gaze that catches a glimpse of a person sitting on a balcony in front of an open window. Balconies of this kind are very typical in the Mediterranean climate of Los Angeles, where indoor-outdoor living is a draw. The second-story height of the balcony and its lack of any decorative features suggests lower-income housing, and the painting definitely traffics in the jolie-laide quality of vernacular Los Angeles architecture.

Closer looking reveals a spatial arrangement of window, exterior wall, and door that do not exactly line up. Similarly, a figure walking on the left-hand side of the picture implies a length and passageway not typically associated with a balcony, per se. The painting is based on a photo taken by Karon Davis, Noah’s wife, at his urging. While waiting in the parking lot during a visit to the dentist, Noah looked up and saw a bunch of kids playing on a balcony. 

An oil painting by Noah Davis, titled Another Balcony, dated 2009.

Noah Davis

Another Balcony, 2009
Oil and acrylic on linen
48 x 48 inches (121.9 x 121.9 cm)

For me, looking at this painting is like playing poker with someone who has a royal flush. Davis lays down allusion after allusion to iconic images in the history of art, as if revealing card after card.

A painting by Edouard Manet, titled The Balcony, dated 1868.

Edouard Manet, The Balcony, 1868. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France. © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY. Photo by Hervé Lewandowski

Edouard Manet, The Balcony, 1868. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France. © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY. Photo by Hervé Lewandowski

The painting quickly summons Édouard Manet’s ravishing The Balcony (1868–1869). Manet’s painting is a consummate example of the new role of the artist in nineteenth-century France, no longer at the behest of kings or queens artists were free to make their own images. They broke from mythology, religious subject matter, and society portraits, turning instead to the changing texture of their cities and the lives lived within.

Davis probably knew that Manet’s picture was itself a love letter to Goya’s Majas on a Balcony (c.1800–1810). But Davis plays his hand lightly, offering us a mnemonic flow of historical images—from the painter of everyday life to the enigma of Goya’s women—all wrapped up in a passing glance, a moment of interstitial timea mere moment in the parking lot of the dentist’s office.

A painting by Francisco Goya, titled Majas on a Balcony, dated 1808–1814.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Majas on a Balcony, 1800–1810. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Majas on a Balcony, 1800–1810. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Davis’s paintings are often structured by a tension between the quotidian and the magical, the literally pedestrian and the supernatural. Here this plays out between the drama of the balcony and the casual behavior of the people on it.

The strategy of making a painting from the slightest of photographic images is not unique to Davis. Perhaps more than any other painter in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Luc Tuymans was the artist who explored this terrain most deeply. Tuymans was a touchstone for Davis; his dry paint application, brooding palette, offhand compositions, and deeply enigmatic pictures all cut a path for Davis to follow.

A detail from a painting by Luc Tuymans, titled Leopoldville, dated 2000.

Luc Tuymans, Leopoldville, 2000 (detail). Private Collection

Luc Tuymans, Leopoldville, 2000 (detail). Private Collection

We can see some of this connective tissue in a painting such as Tuymans’s Leopoldville (2000), where we see the exterior of a modernist building in the Congo’s capital city of Kinshasa, which was called “Leopoldville” under the murderous colonial rule of Belgium. Tuymans manages to condense the entirety of that brutal regime into an image as glancing, interstitial, fleeting, and nondescript as Davis’s image of an ersatz grouping of solitary individuals, cohering ever-so-provisionally into a group, on a timelessly sunny Southern California day. 

A detail from a photograph by Charles C. Ebbets, titled Lunch atop a Skyscraper, dated 1932.

Charles C. Ebbets, Lunch atop a Skyscraper, 1932 (detail)

Charles C. Ebbets, Lunch atop a Skyscraper, 1932 (detail)

The green balustrade and its rakish angle across the picture plane also recalls the famous 1930s photo Lunch atop a Skyscraper. Taken during the construction of Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, it is a paean to New York, capital of the twentieth century, and the heroic architecture it evokes could not be farther from the low-slung banality of the vast majority of two-story buildings in Los Angeles.

Noah Davis in Los Angeles, 2009. Photo by Patrick O’Brien-Smith.

Noah Davis, Los Angeles, 2009. Photo by Patrick O’Brien-Smith

Noah Davis, Los Angeles, 2009. Photo by Patrick O’Brien-Smith

To me it’s no mistake that Davis titled his painting “Another” Balcony (rather than “A” or “The” Balcony). The choice of the word “another” is part and parcel of Davis’s dual identity as a great artist and a humble person: in Another Balcony, there is nothing new under the sun, and every spark of human difference is sacred.

Learn more about the artist in the acclaimed book featuring interviews with Thomas Houseago, Deana Lawson, and others.

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