Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Noah Davis

Featured in Dazed and Confused

Artist Noah Davis is in good company where he lives and paints in LA. Skate art hero Ed Templeton, who Noah admits has been influential to his style, is represented by the same gallery – Roberts & Tilton. Hot summers hang off Noah’s canvases – they could just as easily be set in Louisiana as LA, the 1950s or today. But, the absence of time and place makes room for colour in his works.

The 26 year old from Seattle attended the Cooper School of Art in New York. After graduating he stayed in NYC to hang out with graffiti kids. This style never truly appealed to him and Davis soon became disillusioned with the wider forms of art making. In response to this he moved to the West Coast to begin an administrative job in public arts.

Many ’83 babies claim they’re a special bunch and Davis is no different. Exposed to a set of new cultures whilst growing up, feeding off the referential trends in music and art that defined the nineties Davis’ curiosity for culture opened doors upon various different histories. Whilst working in the famous LA art bookstore – Moca – Noah fed off the access to art history the job gave him and whilst working as a colourist for Stones Throw Records designer Parra it wasn’t long before he found himself in a position where he wanted to paint again. This time he was equipped with a knowledge of the past and a nudge from new friends like Dash Snow and Ed Templeton.

Recently Noah’s work was shown at Art Basel in Miami ’09. His paintings featured amongst the Rubell Family Collection exhibition, Black Artists but this is not how Davis would like to be defined. Whilst being black clearly influences his work he insists it’s not about race, tempting the question, is he the first artist of an Obama era America?

ND Race plays a role in as far as my figures are black. The paintings aren’t political at all though. If I’m making any statement it’s to just show black people in normal scenarios, where drugs and guns are nothing to do with it. You rarely see black people represented independent of the civil rights issues or social problems that go on in the States. I’m looking to move on from that stage, we can’t keep tying our culture to a movement that happened two generations ago.

BF Has America reached a post-racial stage – one that everyone billed Obama would herald?
ND I know I’m going to live to regret saying this but yes. I know there are neighbourhoods in LA and surely in London where these scenarios are an everyday thing. But luckily for me that’s not the case so I don’t think my pictures have the right to discuss this. Their responsibility is to represent the people around me. They’re my reference point but they’re not the point I’m trying to make.

BF Many people expect artists to represent big moral issues. This is sometimes an unfortunate responsibility.
ND My paintings just have a very personal relationship with the figures in them. They’re about the people around me. I want people to read them like this whilst taking a meaning of their own from each work. What’s around me is all I’ve got, we have to look to our experiences as tools of education. My first paintings were dealt with political issues but they were silly and out of my depth.

BF So when was the turning point?
ND I did a work called American Sterile. It was really influenced by things Ed Templeton had done. On the one hand it’s a rejection against the nude but the reality of it was that the work came more from my own static creativity. I wasn’t even going to show it, and then someone from the gallery where I had my first show came over and saw it. He loved it, which was funny because I was actually really close to painting over it. I would have but I’d got to the point where I’d run out of shit to paint.
The Mountain School in downtown LA helped me out massively when I came to LA. Eric Wesley and Piero run it from a little room in the back of a bar. Students were taken on tours of artists’ studios during the two classes a week and I found it to be a really inspiring place, it’s uniquely LA. Then I guess it was Dash Snow who really encouraged me by making me quit me job.

BF So you knew the late anartist?
ND Yes. He was on fire. I kept telling him how good he was but he was so humble. Although he had lots of people around him who tried to tag along for the ride, they probably contributed to his death as much as he did. I don’t think he had any idea of his talent and although he received heavy criticism I think everyone was jealous of him.

BF American Sterile is quite like a Larry Clark photo.
ND Ha, that’s an honour. I love him. I think all of our childhoods were slightly based around Kids. Even though I wasn’t a skater that movie set the scene for what you thought life should be about.

BF Minus the AIDS Telly was our hero and Kids was a guiding light. Perhaps it would have been better without the big issues though.
ND Right, I still hang out with some of the guys who were in the film. Their careers took off after that movie but unfortunately the not so nice aspects to Clark’s films were a reality for some of them and are they’re gone now. I guess Dash falls into that bracket too.

BF What influences you now?
ND I think a lot about German painters, Neil Rausch and Daniel Richter, and those guys from the Leipzig School. From Britain Peter Doig, Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud created their own language for their work. Henry Taylor too. He couldn’t give away a painting for a while, even though now he sells for Saatchi. Race wasn’t an issue for him, black people were just around. He’s a real painter; he stuck with it even during those times. I always ask myself if I’d have that kind of commitment. I think the dream for any artist is to create a world in which you can express your own ideas. Dash managed to achieve this language too.

BF I agree, his work is automatic, it boasts the raw talent that defined Beautiful Losers.
ND Right, there’s a voyeurism in his work that makes you want to be there. Like in Francis Bacon’s work. He wasn’t technically the best painter but his talent lay in the use of colour. His strokes created worlds of his own.

BF Do you collect images like he did?
ND Whilst I worked in an art bookstore Moca I felt like I had every image ever made at my fingertips. I studied them, looked images upon images and thought, “What do I need to do to stand out.” If you don’t study the trends, and I don’t mean trends in a bad way, trends are always a thing to study because they’re always trying to get ahead of you.

BF It’s interesting that you have this relationship with trends yet you practice an old trade.
ND I just love it. Painting does something to your soul that nothing else can. It’s visceral and immediate and is always readdressed in new ways that keep it relevant. Whilst I was in New York I became jaded and I only wanted to see drawings. Now I think it’s very important that art remains to be about ideas but it shouldn’t be an either or battle between concepts versus painting. They can exist together. I guess when my school forced fed us a conceptual education I reacted against it. I left school because it wasn’t teaching me anything. Art students are missing out on a certain amount of training whilst they obsess about their ideas, but at 18 what are they based on? Someone sold a pair of socks at Frieze this year but soon they’ll find they can’t do this anymore and be stuffed. I don’t care about how much my art sells for. I think people with money dictate the art world too much, at both ends of the spectrum, even the ones who create work as a reaction to that fact.

BF Is that why you just go with what you know?
ND Absolutely

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