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Jennifer Davis On Symbols, Creatures And The Inner Child

January 17th, 2010 · 1 Comment

One of my favorite artists, Jennifer Davis, has a fantastic and *affordable* show at Walker Contemporary in Boston. (Most pieces are under $700.)

For those not familiar with Davis, her paintings are fascinating in a way that makes you want to revisit them again and again.  She has cultivated her own language of symbols and creatures and other visual oddities which she talks about in the interview. Davis’ paintings are mind-bending yet beautiful and surprisingly serene.

Interview with Jennifer Davis:

AH: Tell us a bit about the work in this show.
JD: This show features a series of mostly small-ish acrylic/graphite painting/drawings that I made during the past year or so.  These paintings are reflections about my life, the people around me and trying to live as an artist in these crazy times.

AH: There are certain themes that are prevalent in your work (faces/masks, musical instruments, balloons, ferns/branches). What kind of significance do these themes have for you?

JD: Each object has a kind of invented meaning for me and I just keep returning to images that resonate. My made-up vocabulary of symbols is always growing and changing. For example, I am currently obsessed with drawing a tuba on everything.  ha ha.  I am surrounded by a lot of music/musicians so I am just using a tuba as a beautiful representation of various musical themes that pop into my head.  Nothing very deep or tricky going on there.

AH: Some of your paintings include what seem like partially-human creatures, which often blur the line between cute and strange/creepy. Who are these creatures? Do you identify with them?

JD: Absolutely.  The animals and creatures in my paintings are symbols too.  I use them as stand-ins for people.  Cats, horses, dogs, monsters all have their own “personality” traits that I project onto the people in my life, strangers, myself and humanity in general. Sweet and soft balanced with more feral qualities, as humans tend to be.

AH: Much of your work has a distinct femininity to it (delicate lines and patterns, pale colors, little girls), but the feminine sweetness seems to be intertwined with loneliness. Do you feel there is a connection between innocence/sweetness and sadness?

JD: I try to strike a cord by finding a balance between things I find beautiful and darker themes running  just below the surface.  If I painted my pictures with dark bold colors (as has been “suggested” to me many times) they might seem overly gloomy and depressing.  Instead, I think they celebrate beautiful things as if through the eyes of a child that has reluctantly grown up a little bit.  I take such great joy in the act of painting so it is funny/odd that they sometimes look very somber.  Maybe today I will paint some smiles!

AH: What are you painting now? What’s next?

JD: I am currently painting like crazy for a big solo show opening Feb 5th in Ontario, Canada.  After that I have a solo show of drawing/paintings on paper at First Amendment Gallery in Minneapolis (  I will also be showing at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in Oct.

Thanks, Jennifer!