Interview: Christopher Davidson
Christopher Davison Coaster, 2019 Flashe on panel 24 x 18 x 1 in.
1) When you speak of the unconscious influencing your art and your creative process, do you mean the unconscious thoughts and imaginations of different possibilities or outcomes that deviate from reality? What is the difference between the unconscious and the subconscious?
I think the terms *unconscious* and *subconscious* are often used interchangeably. I'm sure you could find a professional psychologist who could tease apart the distinctions but I view both as existing below the conscious level of awareness. This is a level of reality that communicates to us in largely non-linguistic modes (ie. dream imagery, intuition, psychosomatic illness, serendipitous occurrences, etc). Art takes place largely in this non-linguistic realm but unlike dreaming, art-making must deal with the interference of the conscious mind. We want our art to flow, to just come out of us naturally. However art is very difficult because our conscious minds are always getting in the way (self-doubt, distraction, mental chatter, etc). So we must enter an "altered state" whereby we seemingly are conscious but what is primarily at work is the unconscious. We have to trick the conscious mind to stop being so dominant. People can achieve this altered state through holotropic breathwork, psychedelic plants, yoga etc. The techniques are largely shamanic in origin. Mirecea Eliade's book "Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy" should be read for anyone seriously interested in the shamanic origin of these issues.
ink & pencil on found paper
13.5 x 10 in.
2) In works such as "Rite-of-Spring-(IV)," you appear to communicate with spirits vibing with energy like a clown or the joker. Do you perceive your works as containing spirits or images of spirits that may speak to you, the artist, or the viewers? What is the nature of images that seem to breathe and exist on their own, as if they were meant to exist before you created them and put them into existence?
I am always trying to *discover* an image instead of *inventing* an image. I don't think we can really invent new things on our own. We can just allow ourselves to enter a state of mind where we *see* directly in front of us the very thing we had been searching everywhere for. It had always been right in front of us the whole time - like how Newton must have felt when he saw that apple fall. Even the most random mark that starts a drawing already contains in it everything that will happen on the paper. Like a seed that has the entire oak tree already inside it. I believe that consciousness is inseparable from matter. Some objects like a rock, boulder or mountain can resonate this consciousness at a very slow and quiet level. Insects resonate consciousness to the level they are evolved to resonate it. All of nature is embedded with consciousness. The earth is a conscious super organism. The figures related to nature in my work are something like the form nature acquires when we are open to receiving communication from it. Perhaps to an insect it communicates in insect imagery and to human beings it communicates in human imagery. I'm okay with people label them whatever they like but the "Rite of Spring" pieces were something like pictographs that nature was encouraging me to draw (I almost want to say "carve") into a sign or symbol to be communicated.
3) Why do you use found objects, but you end up making visual images out of pencil or ink that are figurative and representational in nature? What about this kind of figurative and representational imagery attracts you as an artist, rather than an abstract collage or a more conceptual assemblage, for example?
I have tried less figurative work before but for me I always come back to the depicting the figure (though sometimes it is more representational and sometimes more abstract). I think abstract art can communicate too but I'm more interested in abstract art that has a spiritual function (tantric painting, mandalas, etc). Most of Western abstract art is about superficial formal qualities that I don't find particularly engaging. I am very interested in the "the word made flesh" passage from the bible. Sometimes *word* is translated as *logos* but either way it is the transcendent communication of the ultimate mystery of the universe (or god, or the primary animating principle, or the ground of being, or however you like to call it) that must become manifest in this level of physical reality in order to communicate with us. So for me art is about getting into a state where you can receive inspiration (in the true sense of letting in the *spirit*) and then communicate it with others. The human figure is just a fantastic vessel for communicating and expressing meaning.
Night Light, 2018
ink and pencil on paper
12.6 x 9.8 in.
4) The characters in your work all appear to be in a moment of finding something that satisfies their curiosity or needs, as in an epiphany. In "Night Light," the woman finds fireflies as her source of light in the night. In "Lynx," the cat-woman finds a tree to rub her tail against and play with. What do these moments tell us about life and existence in general?
We live in a world overwhelmed by time. We live caught in the web of time - always rushing here and there. Checking our phone if we have even one second of downtime (waiting to cross the street, riding the subway, waiting for the elevator). We are obsessed and addicted to staying busy and staying in time. But I believe art is about transcending time. In the present moment, in meditation, in altered states we can experience another way to exist. We can enter the timeless realm. Eternity is not a concept. You can take a dip in it today like going for a nice refreshing swim. Eternity is what is called "heaven" by Christians but it is not something to achieve at some later *time*. It is here and now, all around us if only we *see* it. So I want my figures to be there in that eternal realm. Not here in the time-based world most of us inhabit. I want the scene in each drawing to seem as if this scene was always happening, is always happening and forever will happen exactly as it is. It's not like a scene from a movie - it's more like the whole movie is the singular picture.
pencil on found paper
10 x 13.8 in.
5) Do cartoons and Japanese anime have a strong influence in your work? Is cuteness an important factor in your construction or rendering of figures?
I never got into anime or cartoons but people have made the connection before. I'm interested in how economical I can be in depicting my content and that economy links the work formally to cartoons. I think if you reduce a figure to certain basic elements it starts to have certain cartoon qualities whether you want that or not. I'm interested in archetypal forms more than specific people or places so that also gives the figures a simplified quality that might be associated with animation. But personally I watch very few films (maybe 1 or 2 a year?)and never anime or manga or cartoons. Still, it's a very fair comparison and there might be more to it than I'm consciously aware.
6) When you speak of "Hard Reset" and "New Work" on your website, what happened that made you change course, and what is this new direction for your art?
Oh! Thanks for looking at that. Yeah I've been getting so tired of Instagram lately and ever more dissatisfied using it as the main platform for my art. I'm old enough so that I had a website before instagram and then started using instagram at some point instead. I've met tons of great people and made sales though Instagram so I don't want to say it's a total waste but as an artist I've recently been wondering how I can subvert it a little bit and send some traffic back to my website. I have more control over showing and arranging my art on a website than I do on instagram so I want to offer a better viewing experience for checking out my work online. I'm hopeful to have all my work finished, scanned and uploaded by the end of August so you can see what I'm talking about. It's a little hard to explain otherwise.
7) Why do you depict witches in your new body of work? Do you find them attractive and magical? What is the meaning and symbology of witches?
That is a good question and honestly I need to spend more time with these pieces before I understand them. I have 6 new witches I'm working on right now. I don't really know much about witches but they seem to want to be in my work. It might have some connection to bats and bats having an association with Covid 19 but I'm not entirely sure. The main body of art that I'm familiar with that includes witches would be Goya's prints. The female figure in general in my work is both an archetype of my own anima (the feminine or lunar quality of my own mind) and some kind of manifestation of goddess/shakti energy. We live in a male dominated world of aggression, selfishness, and war. We didn't always live like this. When people say, "the future is female" I interpret that to mean we need a better balance of Yin and Yang. Right now we have too much Yang and not enough Yin. Too much of either creates imbalance. I consult the I-Ching and caste a hexagram at each full moon. It's a very helpful tool to approach reality with and completely dependent upon the Yin-Yang paradigm. So the female form in my work is calling into existence my own Yin energy.
8) If you were in Hogwarts, which House would you be?
Hahaha. As I mentioned above I don't watch many movies. I've honestly never seen Harry Potter! My wife has and she has all the books on our bookshelf so I see the title "Harry Potter" every day but I have no idea what's going on in Harry Potterville (that's where they live right???).
9) How do you draw and paint from imagination? How do you absorb and process information about the figure or a design that you eventually put into your work?
I pretty much throw caution to the wind and trust the process to lead me where it wants to go. It's like using a dowsing rod or letting your dog take you on a walk instead of you walking the dog. The dog will pickup a scent and heads in that direction - taking me with it. The first step for me though is to *feel* like working and then I just need to start making marks. If I don't feel inspired to work I do something else. Whatever would be exciting to do (sometimes just sitting and watching the clouds is very exciting). But when I do feel like it, which is quite often, I just have to get something down on the paper and see where it goes. Most of the students I had taught at university always thought they needed to have an idea and then they make an illustration of that idea. I don't think it's that way at all. You start with an *ineffable feeling* and then you allow certain forms and symbols to manifest and arrange them in a way that seems to express the ineffable. Some think my work looks quick to make but it's quite the opposite. Each piece gets reworked and reworked and sometimes traced and copied onto a completely different surface or sometimes traced and then transferred in reverse onto another surface. I'll rework the head of a figure 10 or 20 times. Thinking is messy stuff. My style is simply what it looks like when I think things out visually using the materials that I use.
10) Can you explain what you mean by "exploring nature's cycle of death and resurrection" when describing your work? How do people get resurrected? Why is the youthful, cartoon-like figure an important and recurring part of your work?
Well, in that context I meant the rebirth in nature. Like a tree grows up, gets old, falls over and biodegrades into the forest floor, giving nutrients to the next cycle of trees. Rebirth for humans is something that I value more as a mental exercise. Rebirth for me is more closely associated with Nietzsche's concept of "Eternal Return" as discussed in his book "Thus Spoke Zarathustra." But in terms of answering the question "are we reborn after we die?" I stay away from anything I do not or cannot have direct experience with. If any of my comments above sounded too "out there", I only say them because I have experience with those things. But I'm skeptical of all claims, especially really specific ones, that describe what happens after we die (we go to heaven or hell, we have Anubis weigh our heart against the weight of a feather, we must pass through 3 Bardos, etc). But regarding the youthful figures, they connect with the idea of eternity. Spring is the image of eternity to me - a forever garden forever flowering. So I think the figurative equivalent of that to me are these youthful archetypes.
The Second Birth Will Be A Portal Through Nature, 2019
Flashe on panel
24 x 18 x 1 in.
11) How do you imbue depth and dimensions to your cartoon-like characters, when cartoons are known to have a flat and one-dimensional quality? Or do you embrace the flatness of your work?
It might sound paradoxical - and perhaps it is - but I want them to be believably real — not naturalistic or photorealistic but realistic in their psychological presence. They have to be shaped "just right" to communicate effectively. Even the small detail of an eyebrow being too high or too low will throw everything off. I feel more of a connection in my work to pictographs than to cartoons. Pictographs look like cartoons but whereas cartoons are part of time-based sequence, pictographs are part of a fixed lexicon. The entire process to determine the look and feel of each piece is guided intuitively. I wish I could plan them out in advance more but if I could they wouldn't be as true or essential to me. To plan something out ahead of time is to trap an artwork in a language and time-based order of reality. This, to me, is antithetical to what my artwork is trying to express. But I should point out that I often render things naturalistically when I'm drawing and then erase it all because to me, the rendering gets in the way of communicating essential meaning. It's not that I don't know how to draw something naturalistically, but I go where the work leads me and it isn't very interested in my fancy naturalistic drawing tricks. :)