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A Painting Started in the Past Speaks to the Present

Sally Davies. 0ur August 2020 Open Exhibit Best-in-Show Award winner (photo by Derrick Early).

By Haven Ashley

Five years ago, painter Sally Davies began work on Labyrinth of Life: View From the Top of the Whitney, NYC, sorting through hundreds of photos from her visit to The Whitney Museum of American Art. She eventually settled on a photo that would become the inspiration for her best-in-show winning painting in our August 2020 Open Exhibit: an image of sunlit leisure, fluctuating patterns, and complex aerial perspective. 


“Labyrinth of Life: View From the Top of the Whitney, NYC” by Sally Davies


Davies laid the groundwork, sketching the background, placing the figures, and designing the space with a touch of Escherian flair. “Design is very important in my work. The composition needs to have strong relationships between dark and light colors, patterns, and textures,” the artist remarked.

Davies’ painting was left unfinished until the Spring of 2020 when her untouched draft proved to be a healing tonic for the listlessness she had felt since the beginning of the pandemic. “Finding inspiration during the pandemic has been very difficult. I was so unmotivated until I revisited the draft of this painting.”  

How life has changed since Davies’ trip to the Whitney in 2016. Now, the sight of such mingling, maskless crowds evokes feelings that range from anxiety to wistfulness. The artist says that life now feels like living inside Daedalus’ ancient labyrinth. While we needn’t fear the Minotaur, we must face beasts that are even more sinister: a virus, an economic crisis, and systemic racism.  

Although Davies wanted to incorporate the turmoil of this year into the metaphor of a labyrinth, her painting is illuminated by hope—solving a maze or labyrinth can also be a process of meditation and reflection. Sparkling shades of violet, magenta, and sandstone envelope Davies rooftop scene, which she reimagined as a diverse, multicultural gathering. She hopes that her vision of diversity, health, and peace is a reality we can someday enjoy. But first, we must find our way out of the labyrinth. 

See how Labyrinth of Life progressed from start to finish in this time-lapse video created by Davies:

Sally Davies studied illustration and graphic design at Sheridan College, Canada, and has illustrated magazines, posters, cookbooks, and many children’s books. In recent years, she has shifted her interest to teaching and exhibiting her paintings. She was pleased to be awarded the 2019 Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award for Painting. Her latest solo show, “Vantage Points,” was up for only a short time at Maryland Hall in Annapolis before the building closed due to the pandemic.


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