For Justin Davis, art does not begin with a premeditated thought. His work does not start with a posing model, nor does it begin with a deep gaze at an unfolding landscape or a meticulous assemblage of a still life.
Like the postmodern writers who are credited for the reformation of the narrative structure while emphasizing the importance of free writing, the 27-year-old CSUN graduate student from Las Cruces, New Mexico begins his work with an intangible approach.
“It’s a gradual process,” Davis said. “I usually start a drawing in a sort of automatic writing style, almost like a stream of consciousness. I then let my mind wander and I’m always surprised with the outcome.”
Davis’ work has caught the eyes and ears of not just the students and staff at the CSUN art department.
With the recent write-up on Davis’ art on the department’s Web site as well as a few potential upcoming art shows, including a show in fall 06 at the GLU Gallery in Los Angeles, it is hard not to single Davis out.
As the winner of two CSUN awards, including first place in the art department’s annual art exhibit, Davis has no problem with people recognizing his artistic abilities.
His work has been admired by some, and perplexed by others.
Any spectator of Davis’ work would get lost in the chaotic hues and heavily stylized imagery of Davis’ work and wonder what triggered these explosive renderings. But perhaps the most intriguing thing about Davis is his ability to pick up where artists like Egon Schiele left off, while retaining his own originality and style.
Similar to the work of Schiele, Davis’ compositions often give an “unfinished” appearance, creating a certain void in an attempt to evoke critical pondering from viewers.
Within these mysterious compositions, one might recognize repetitive visual references of apocalyptic themes and theological questioning.
The issue of religion is overtly represented in the piece entitled, “From the Beginning to the End”.
Western religious icons, uniquely stylized and eerily elongated, compete with folklore imagery and ominous voids. A familiar representation of Jesus Christ dominates the plane in both scale and color, washed in light yellow and white. Davis’ style projects the violent strokes and organic pen work that defines the piece.
Davis said although his work may show evidence of religious iconography, his intent is to question Dogma. While Davis does not admit to being religious, he does not consider art to be a purely secular activity.
“I think everyone should choose to believe as they wish,” Davis said. “I do though consider myself spiritual and the act of making art can be spiritual.”
Theological questioning is not the only thing that drives Davis. Like many artists, Davis draws influences from the musical realm as well.
Moved by the anti-pop compositions of John Cage and the defiant rawness of punk rock, Davis strives to incorporate these musical elements in his work. With one glance, anyone could spot the gritty style of punk rock or the conceptual experimentations of Cage represented visually in Davis’ work.
Given his art’s radical nature, Davis understands that his work is not for everyone.
Having sold several pieces to art dealers and various friends, Davis has realized that his heavily stylized art could only be appreciated by someone who truly loves his work for its aesthetic value.
Davis’ radical use of color and nervous pen work combine for an uncanny depiction of a world filled with misery and entropy – not exactly the type of piece one would expect to see next to a Thomas Kinkade painting hanging above a couch in a suburban home.
It is also easy to see how Davis’ art can be easily misinterpreted as most of his work represents a complex mix of emotions with underlining themes.
“Although I like to think I know him well, I find myself perplexed at times by the images (Davis) creates,” said Sky Winchester, friend of Davis and former classmate at New Mexico State University. “I often wish his compositions were less chaotic or easier to read. Nonetheless I appreciate the dissonance and discomfort they manifest for the viewer.”
Winchester recalled when he and Davis fed off the criticism of their professors and peers as undergraduates at NMSU.
He said he feels fortunate for having the opportunity to collaborate with Davis and spending time with him growing as both artists and human beings.
“Justin is a soul anyone would benefit to know,” Winchester said. “A personality that a contemporary thought process would likely find difficult to understand and relate to without an unspoiled idealism and imagination upon which our society seems to frown.”
Davis spends most of his time in his art studio in Northridge experimenting with the hard line of India ink combined with the soft texture of spray paint.
Kristen Foster, Davis’ girlfriend, said he seeks out the most obscure, and often bizarre information in his research and finds a way to combine it with science, music, and various events of the day.
“I get lost in every new image,” Foster said. “It’s wonderful.”
As a graduate student with one year remaining before he receives his master’s of fine arts, Davis has thought about his life after academia.
Unfazed by the common assumptions that artists will starve, Davis has a optimistic outlook on his years following graduate school.
He said he hopes to show his works at a few galleries and eventually teach art in a college or university.
For Davis, art is a state of mind and soul.
“In general, I am attracted to art that is direct and still holds mystery,” Davis said. “Not all people like a direct unfinished quality. I guess that’s what makes the world turn.”