"In The Studio With:..." is a weekly feature that takes us into the private creative spaces of emerging artists to discuss their work and career.
Chris Davis has a unique body of work that draws from Asian, Middle Eastern, and Western design traditions as well as science. Almost fractal-like in their composition, they are aesthetically contemporary, but still manage to feel grounded in very ancient ideals.
Davis is currently participating in our annual summer group exhibition "Life Sized II: A Small Works Invitational," on display through August 26.
Anthony Philip Fine Art: You draw from a number of faith traditions in the symbolism present in much of your work. How has your own personal faith and philosophy guided your work over the years? Do you see your artistic journey and your faith journey as being interrelated?
Chris Davis: The contents of my work draw from my internal encyclopedia of visual information gathered over my lifetime of observing and drawing. As a teen I drew everything I saw and the designs that appeared in my early abstract drawings and the abstract work I do now are informed by my intense exploration of the world around me. This certainly includes symbolism from different philosophical and religious traditions but is not consciously incorporated. My father, also an artist, once said that "being an artist is like sailing a rudderless ship". My journey as an artist is not a guided one. It is guided by the courage to go out into the wilderness and unknown and find my place there. I have always been driven to push forward creatively. When I muster such courage and daring, I feel renewed and truly alive. So my faith as a Buddhist has not guided my journey- it has emboldened my journey. Chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo revitalizes us and strengthens our life force. It helps us believe in the unique purpose of our lives. Living courageously inspires others to do the same. Living creatively encourages others to do the same. This is the interrelation of my creative life and Buddhism.
APFA: So, you also worked for many years as an arts educator with the NYC public school system. Tell us about your career and how it has informed the work you make today.
CD: I became a science teacher (Earth Science and Astronomy) in 1996 and a year later my school asked me to also teach art. My master’s is in Biology and my background in science has figured strongly in my work of recent years- mutation, evolution, weathering and erosion are recurring themes in my work. My students were uncomfortable drawing faces and other representational things so I developed simple exercises for them that called upon their aesthetic sense without requiring a lot of drawing skill. These exercises led to the multi-layered works I’ve done in the last few years. Many of my students initially complained about my art class as it was rigorous but gradually every one of them began to do something beautiful- without exception. This convinced me that everyone has an artistic soul. In addition, many of my students lived in harsh environments and some had harsh exteriors but in my art class they did very sensitive and poetic work. Art was an opportunity to give voice to their inner beauty, and for some of them, the only place they could express it. This reinforced my belief in the medicinal value of the arts.
APFA: How did you arrive at the complex stencil making and woodworking techniques that you incorporate into your art?
CD: In the late ‘90s I began cutting designs into wood panels with a jigsaw. By about 2012 I began having my designs laser-cut. Laser cutting allowed me to create more complex designs and cut them with far greater precision than with a jigsaw. Gradually the idea of making stencils of these designs and creating works by spraying through the stencils came to me. These pieces developed slowly through much trial and error.
APFA: Who are some of your favorite artists, and who do you look to for inspiration?
CD: Some of my favorite artists and people who inspire me: Isamu Noguchi- his wonderfully creative ideas in working with stone and his industriousness. Yves Tanguy who created his own unique language produced deeply compelling and haunting images. my father, Noel Rockmore, a profoundly gifted and driven artist. Martha Graham. Picasso. Toscanini, a great conductor was a great example of humility, integrity and passion who was a courageous fighter for human rights. Walt Whitman determined to heal his troubled world with poetry. And lastly Daisaku Ikeda- an unsurpassed champion of life. I increasingly feel that human greatness must be measured by one's contribution to the dignity of life.
APFA: What do you hope that people take away from your pictures?
CD: I hope that people feel revitalized and hopeful when seeing my work. I hope my work inspires them to be more creative in their lives.
If you'd like to find out more about Chris and his art, please visit: chrisdavisarts.com