Damien Davis

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Artist Statement

The last twelve years of my practice have been focused on an in-depth and evolving investigation of the formal and political signification of lines and vectors, both on an American and trans-global context. I am interested in how lines can be used (both aesthetically and conceptually) to divide and connect ideas, while also having the potential to encircle and diagram even broader ones. Vectors exist digitally as a combination of various sets of data in computer software: Points along an x and y axes, direction of a path, angle of a curve, etcetera. The parameters of the vector objects I render using this software can be stored and later modified into infinite permutations, allowing me to move, scale and rotate objects without degrading the quality of that original drawing. I employ vectors to facilitate my investigation into representations of (seemingly) concrete ideas that can only be realized in base iconic forms.

At its core, the work I make is rooted in a lifelong, ongoing project to establish a growing visual language made out of a discrete iconography, capable of functioning long after my life ends. As a result of this, nothing ever gets discarded, but is rather constantly recycled, remixed and reorganized into new work. I seek to unpack the visual language of cultures both domestic and abroad, questioning how these cultures code and decode representations of blackness. Ultimately, I am developing a personal language of discourse by amassing, curating, and strategically deploying individual icons into various assemblages and objects.

Accordingly, I am constantly looking for new ways to produce and present my projects and have thus far completed bodies of work that employ digitally printed images, to laser-cut plexiglass, to digital embroidery and woven tapestries made out of these vectors. My current work focuses on stretching the limits of what lines and vectors (along with emerging technologies in general) are capable of doing. Through new technology I am able to output my work in almost any way I choose, challenging the notion of drawing as merely a preparatory medium. Conceptually I view all my work as drawing, because that original source (the vector) never gets left behind.

One such project, a series of collages made out of laser-cut plexiglass, demonstrates my use of lines and vectors to both generate and evolve the use of my iconography. The series, titled Blackamoors Fruit looks to investigate my relationship to the ornamental Blackamoors sculptures ubiquitous throughout Italy, drawing parallels to my own relationship with both the mammy figure and other darky iconography in the United States. This gets accomplished through the use of candelabras, cowrie shells, and oversized lips, (among other iconography) generated in response to these ornamental objects.

From a historical perspective, I believe that my art strives to situate itself between the early and late 20th century movements of art produced by African Americans. Traditionally, when we are taught about black artists in art school (if at all) we jump from the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, to Basquiat in the 80s and identity politics of the 90s. This leaves out a multi-decade stretch of artmaking by blacks in the canon. What is even more damning, is that the era most exalted within the art-historical canon falls squarely within this timeframe. Because of this I find myself drawn not to the written theory produced during this period, but rather towards atypical source materials which directly engaged with the prevailing visual culture being generated during this time. I find it both curious and troubling that when we talk about art in the 50s, 60s and 70s, we ignore artists belonging to communities most impacted by the shifting social movements emblematic of those years. My work is borne out of the frustration I experienced in art school, sitting in class after class, being told that I didn’t exist. I grew to hate being told through omission that I didn’t matter.

While still in high school I was taken under the wing of artist Dr. Eugene Grigsby Jr., and it was during this time that he exposed me to the work of his friends and contemporaries: Aaron Douglas, Hale Woodruff and Romare Bearden. Through his guidance I first began to believe in my capability as an artist, and started to situate myself as a person interested in participating in the legacy of Harlem Renaissance creatives. I am influenced heavily by the aesthetics of Douglas and Bearden, and my work looks to pick up where artists like them left off. This chosen aesthetic, coupled with my affinity to modes of production that harken back to my childhood in the 90s, begins to develop the theoretical thread that connects these two bookends of twentieth century black art I am interested in.

The art within this multi-decade span is left out of the canon because it was unflinchingly political, reflexive to the social and economic tensions characteristic of black life in the 50s 60s and 70s. I think that there was a need among black artists to make work that was reflective of the world unfolding around them during this time. My art, while aesthetically less overtly political than this period in time I am focused on, still works to generate new conversations and interpretations of this period by problematizing what political art is supposed to look like.

My work strives to covertly make use of these political themes and images, generating objects that I think are both aesthetically beautiful and culturally subversive. Through my practice I am trying to work backwards in a way, tracing this progression between the only two movements directly related to African Americans recognized within the larger “mainstream” art historical canon. Hopefully asserting not just black presence, but black accomplishment as well.

It is my belief that a reexamination of these representations of blackness is more necessary than ever, as we seek to navigate multiple relative issues (the refugee crisis, government-sanctioned violence, etc.) that have been brought to the forefront of our consciousness both here in the US and abroad. I view my interests in presenting these works as a form of protest, necessary in contemporary art today. I believe in seducing the viewer with beauty before peeling back the layers of an uncomfortable, (and often ugly) aspect of the world.

CV

EDUCATION
2013
New York University, MA Visual Arts Administration
2010
New York University, BFA Studio Art

SELECT EXHIBITIONS

Solo Exhibitions
2017
Solo exhibition, METHOD Gallery, Seattle, WA. (Forthcoming)
2016
OB JECT | AFFECTION, Black Ball Projects, Brooklyn, NY. (Artist-run space)

Selected Group Exhibitions

2016
WIWTFDT, Joshua Liner Gallery, New York, NY. (Forthcoming)
The Magic Flute: A Film in Pieces, Washington Square Windows @ 80WSE Gallery, New York, NY.
Itasca, The Bindery Projects, St Paul, MN.
2015
12″ x 12″ x 12”, Black Ball Projects, Brooklyn, NY.
ReSignifications, Museo Bardini, Biagiotti Progetto Arte and Villa La Pietra, Florence, Italy. (catalogue)
RESPOND, Smack Mellon, Brooklyn, NY.
2014
Industry Industry, Rob Buckley Gallery at All Angels Church, New York, NY.
Homeland, Prattsville Art Center, Prattsville, NY.
2013
‘Toonskin : Blackness in Sequential Art, artSPACE, New Haven, CT.
The Poetics of Translation Art, Kimmel Center, Stoval Side Galleries, New York University, New York, NY.
Wood, Takasago International Corporation, New York, NY.
2012
The Art of MudFest, Prattsville Art Center, Prattsville, NY.
Luxury, Takasago International Corporation, New York, NY.
Brucennial 2012, 159 Bleecker Street, New York, NY, Curated by Bruce High Quality Foundation.
2006
Manimal, Rosenberg Gallery at New York University, New York, NY.
2005
Peace by Piece, Old Japan Bank, Naka-ku, Hiroshima, Japan.
2003
Post Neointegrity: Burnt to a Crisp, Asterix Gallery, Brooklyn, NY.

COLLABORATIVE PROJECTS

2015
The Magic Flute, 80WSE Gallery, New York, NY. Production Designer. Written by Vaginal Davis, directed by Susanne Sachsse, music by xiu xiu, film by Michel Auder.

PERFORMANCES

2016
Untitled (It’s Your World) (Collaboration with Andria Morales)
Home Perm 8, Safe Gallery, Brooklyn, NY , July 14, 2016. Untitled (A Meditation on Blackamoors)
OBJECT | AFFECTION, Black Ball Projects, Brooklyn, NY , June 22, 2016.
Take Me Out (Collaboration with Jeffrey Burdian. Featuring Mairikke Dau)
Home Perm 7, 245 Varet St, Brooklyn, NY , February 20, 2016
2015
Sitcom Intro
Home Perm 5, 245 Varet St, Brooklyn, NY , June 6, 2015.
2014
Untitled (A Meditation on Blackamoors)
Home Perm, 245 Varet St, Brooklyn, NY , May 31, 2014.

RESIDENCIES AND FELLOWSHIPS 

201617
ArtistinResidence: Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace Program, New York, NY. (Forthcoming)
2016
Fellow: Art & Law Program, Brooklyn, NY.
2012
ArtistinResidence:Prattsville Art Center, Prattsville, NY.

PUBLICATIONS

Texts

2011
Davis, Damien. “Interview with iona Rozeal Brown.” Performa Magazine. 11 Nov 2011. Web. 14 Feb. 2013.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

2016
Toscano, Ellyn Mary and Awam Amkpa. ReSignifications: European Blackamoors, Africana Readings. 2016. Print.
Lee, Jongho. “Interview with Damien Davis.” Eyes Towards the Dove. 27 Jun 2016. Web.
2015
Cotter, Holland. “Raging at Racism, From Streets to Galleries.” The New York Times. 22 Jan. 2015, New York ed.:C25. Print.
Thrasher, Steven W. “Respond: Artists Offer Bold, Urgent Take On #blacklivesmatter.” The Guardian. 20 Jan. 2015.Web.
2014
Hamer, Katy. “10 Black Artists on the Lessons of Ebony and Jet.” Vulture. 19 Dec. 2014. Web.
2012
Kabat, Jennifer. “Longing & Belonging.” Frieze Magazine. 151 (2012): 32-33. Print.
Hamer, Katy. “The Art of Mudfest @Prattsville, NY.” Eyes Towards the Dove. 1 Sep 2012. Web.
Kabat, Jennifer. “Hurricane Irene and Mike Kelley’s Ghost.” The Weeklings. 25 Aug 2012. Web.
2005
Wagner, James. “Bringing Terror Home, ‘Peace by Piece’.” James Wagner Blog. 26 May 2005. Web.

WORK EXPERIENCES

Lectures/Workshops

2016
Visiting Artist Workshop: Dia Teens, Dia:Beacon, Beacon, NY, August 1.
Visiting Artist Workshop: Studio in a School Residency Program, Public School 99Q, Kew Gardens, NY, January 15.

TEACHING EXPERIENCE
2006
Instructor: Summer High School Art Intensive, New York University, NY.
Instructor: All Access Summer Program, New York University, NY.