S&H editor Ben Nussbaum talked with Minneapolis-based artist Jennifer Davis about pink, whimsy, flow, and more.
S&H: How would you describe your art? What kind of words would you use?
Jennifer Davis: When I read how other people describe it, they talk about the animals and that it’s very whimsical and fun and happy. But for me, I’m really process driven. The most important parts of my art for me are color and composition and mark making. For me it’s about contrast between varying textures and patterns and super bright, bold colors and little delicate line work, humor and dark subject matter. I’m just playing around with process.
S&H: Your paintings don’t really seem whimsical to me.
JD: A lot of people have said that to me over the years, so I feel that’s how people read it. But I feel like there are always these dark undercurrents going through everything I do.
S&H: It’s like people are trained that when they see bright colors, it’s whimsical. But there’s nothing inherently whimsical about pink.
JD: I agree. I’m not exactly a whimsical person, but pink is my favorite color.
S&H: To an extent, your art gives me the message that it’s OK to be happy. Life is serious, but you can view it from a happy place.
JD: I love that. In my real life I’m obsessed with politics. I’m a horror film fanatic. So art is a release. And horror films are a release for the adrenaline of life. I don’t really put that on the canvas too much.
S&H: What media do you use most often?
JD: My favorite thing to do is make paintings on wood using acrylic paint and graphite pencils. I use a lot of reductive processes too, like scraping, so I get a lot of texture in there. I also do all kinds of other artwork. I paint a lot on thrift store finds. I make jewelry. I do printmaking. I basically spend all day every day in my studio, so I keep it interesting by doing different things.
S&H: Do your colors come straight from the tube or do you mix?
JD: I do both. I have my favorite colors that come from the tube. I use all different kinds of paints. For certain colors, my favorite ones are the expensive, fancy, art-store stuff. I also like certain colors that come in these little cheap bottles that are $1 at the craft store. I have certain colors that I love that I use over and over again, but a lot of it is mixing, too, trying to make new colors or discover some new combination.
S&H: It seems to me that your color palette is super deliberate. Is there a lot of theory in what you do?
JD: For the most part it’s intuition. I get really inspired by, “What would look cool with this yellow or this pink?” Just kind of playing around like that. And then I find certain favorite things that I just repeat until I get sick of them, and then I find something else.
S&H: I know this is a hard question, but in your experience what is the connection between art and spirituality?
It is a hard question. But the longer I do this, I absolutely realize it’s a spiritual process. It’s kind of like meditation. It’s a ritual I do every single day. As long as I stick close to my studio, it’s easy to tap into that flow. I listen to talk radio all day, and eventually as I get into the painting it just fades out. I don’t even hear it. There’s something spiritual about that, where you’re just connecting with yourself. I feel like this is my favorite thing to do. It’s my hobby and my job. I’ve set up my life where I live very modestly. I can just come in here every single day and get back into that. When I was working a job, it’s not as easy to come home and think, “Oh, I have to go sit down and do something creative.” I just stick really close all the time so it’s easier. If I stay away from my studio, I get a little crabby. It becomes a necessity to do it. With the exception of travel. I love travel, to see new things. Even if it doesn’t translate directly into my work, it inspires that flow, too.