Briefly describe the work you do.
I make slip cast and assembled sculptures using porcelain and mixed media. I use kitsch and ceramics as a vocabulary and platform that is universal, but through its construction and relationships it can speak specifically to one person or a larger understanding. I use campy humor and novelty to undermine the works integrity while attracting the viewer. I want the work to give an impression of environmental factors that shape the experience and expectations of contemporary man. Selecting or inventing objects of various materials, they are transformed into porcelain, altering their value. Many of these objects have a previous identity. In adding gaudy and attention-grabbing stimuli to refined surfaces, I foolishly attempt to bestow a higher status on each piece. In this way, the work parallels the condition of a middle-class life and the value of upward mobility.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up on a small farm in Tennessee, working in the garden, riding horses and tending to goats, llamas and sheep. Animals are honest and I think they taught me how to see things from a point of view of psychological essentialism. This gave me plenty of inadvertent practice spending a great deal of time communicating and being understood using primarily nonverbal communication. This has helped my work as I am commonly trying to evoke a specific feeling or understanding through visual language. Also farm chores help your work ethic.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
Well, I was always attracted to the romantic sort of notion of the artist working alone in the studio and have always enjoyed working that way. That being said, having recently moved to Kansas City has greatly altered my studio practice. I’ve gone from doing the traditional home studio thing in Tennessee to living in an apartment and primarily working in a group studio setting in a visiting artist sort of way. I work in the art department of a local college and make most of my work in my office studio connected to the main ceramic studio on campus. I find it is often harder to get into a rhythm now with others about. But I enjoy the energy of it and I am learning to adjust to that as of this writing.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
Probably adult. I’ve always been committed to art education and enjoy learning from others, but it has been interesting to now be teaching all manner of folk what can be learned through art. Being on both sides of mentorship has been a source of satisfaction.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
Morning and early evening seem to be the times of day when my brain is at it’s most active. I like to start things early with a clear head, let them sit through the afternoon and revisit them later on in the day. However, the nature of working in ceramic dictates that certain things need to be done when the materials insist. When I was in graduate school, I found late nights very productive, but not as much anymore, sadly.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
Really the last five years have been about refining the practice and becoming confident in the work. I have two bodies of work, the mixed media sculpture and vessels. Vessels are what initially attracted me to ceramics and to art in general. I was trained as a functional potter through the majority of my schooling. After being able to complete an artist’s residency in Asia in my last year of graduate school, the work changed dramatically in a more sculptural direction. But the fondness for formal exploration of the vessel remains. I spent a while attempting to reconcile the two bodies of work before becoming comfortable with their being two separate but equally important endeavors in conversation with one another.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
Pee Wee Herman, Dolly Parton and “The Macho Man” Randy Savage made impressions to my young mind, as far as choosing an artistic identity and really running with it. Now it’s authors like Albert Camus and Hermann Hesse or science writers like Paul Bloom for more informative thought. More direct visual art influences include Ron Nagle, Mark Burns and Adrian Saxe. I’ve been lucky to have a great many teachers, including my mentor Mike Vatalaro. My friends and family have always been so supportive and sources of inspiration.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
If I had any kind of musical talent, I’d go for that. Currently, I want Anthony Bourdains‘ job, traveling to fabulous cities, eating and drinking and then talking about it.
Samuel Davis was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1982 and is living and working in the Kansas City area. He earned his BFA in Visual Arts from the University of Tennessee in 2006 and his MFA in Visual Arts from Clemson University in 2009. His work has been shown regionally and nationally. In 2008, he completed an Artist’s Residency at Tainan National University of the Applied Arts in Tainan, Taiwan and also studied abroad in Japan, learning from various artists and craftsmen in Kyoto and Mashiko. He is currently preparing for an upcoming solo show in the Kansas City Crossroads.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.