Rachel Davis' first trip to China was also the first time she met her younger daughter.
"As you can imagine, it was a pretty emotional experience."
Davis has adopted two girls from China. She'd spent years observing from this side of the Pacific as she laid plans to start a family. When she arrived in Chongqing in 2005 to bring her second daughter home she was deeply struck by China's dynamically built urban environment.
Those changes are the cornerstone of her new show "A Trace History," on view at Charles Hartman Fine Art this month.
"It reminds me a lot of moving to the U.S. for the first time," Davis said. She was born in England. Her father worked in the auto industry. Davis remembers coming to New York with her parents to get her immigration papers when she was 10.
"I remember seeing a skyscraper for the first time and being awed by it, not really understanding how you work and function in a building like that. I had that same feeling going to China again on an even larger scale."
Not only were people working in skyscrapers, but in Chongqing they also lived in huge apartment blocks.
Nonetheless, Davis said the land made a powerful imprint on her imagination, a landscape at the confluence of two major rivers. Many of her works incorporate natural elements colliding with the built environment. One painting shows an arched bridge in a mountain pass. In another, a tree is propped up by man-made wooden struts.
"It's trying to find a visual language between the two of them."
Davis has made several trips back to China since that first visit. "It's completely changed," she said of Chongqing. "There is a beautiful temple in the city, not far from a financial district where we'd spent a day when (my daughter) was an infant. When we went back it was completely rebuilt. A lot of old sections of the city had been turned into shopping areas. I couldn't get my bearings."
Davis said she's spent years trying to figure out how her family's story relates to the changes in China. Her older daughter, now in high school, visited on a recent class trip. "She came back amazed by how new everything is — new plazas, new places to hang out. She's starting to think through how life here and life there is so different."
Each work offers a meditation on the change washing over landscapes and people, and what's lost in the tide of growth.
Davis' show is on view through Oct. 17.