Kate Davis’s work frequently presents imagery and objects that have political, historical or social significance. Her interests are diverse, ranging from how the art of the past can be read in the present, to systems of education and economy and the role of historical events in our lives. Drawing is key for Davis but she also makes sculptures, films and photographs, sometimes combining found objects in her works. Her works often refer to the body in some way: through visual representation, an underlying idea or the way they are made.
Davis has a deep interest in feminism and the way women have been depicted in society and art. In the three drawings that make up the series Who is Woman Now? (2008) she presents images of crumpled postcards that show paintings of female figures by the Dutch/American painter Willem de Kooning. As one of the major figures of the post-war period, de Kooning can be seen to represent the highly masculine approach to painting that dominated Western avant-garde art in the 1950s. Relegating his paintings to a pencil drawing of a cheap reproduction, Davis poses a critical question about the representation and circulation of images of women.
For her exhibition Eight Blocks or a Field (2013), Davis investigated the teaching methods of Maria Montessori (1870–1952) and Friedrich Froebel (1782–1852), both of whom believed that touch, play and creativity are central to learning. Davis made drawings, sculptures and a video that all draw attention to the ways objects are used and valued in play. The video, Denkmal, shows a child’s hands examining domestic items, such as a deck of cards and a camera, which are increasingly being made redundant by new technology. Davis’s acutely observed portrait drawings of ‘emergent’ dolls, made by children living in deprived areas of London in the 1890s from discarded shoes, bone and fabrics, are made in the style of nineteenth-century French artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. They reflect on the instinctive impulse to play and create and the notion of how objects are deemed obsolete.