Friday, July 20, 2012

Eight Minutes with Artist Wynn Davis

As even the most tin-eared local knows, we have a lot of great music here in the Northland. One of my personal aims is to draw attention to the richness and variety we have here in the visual arts. Sometimes the two are woven together as in the re-issue of Charlie Parr’s wonderful album “1922.” The cover art for Parr’s offering was created by Wynn Davis whose work will be on display at the Ochre Ghost beginning July 20. The opening tonight should be a good one. The show is titled A Field Menagerie to Birds of North America.

Ennyman: Where are you from originally and where do you live now?

Wynn Davis: I have always lived along the St. Croix River Valley. I grew up in River Falls, Wisconsin along the St. Croix River across from Afton State Park, and currently reside up the river a little further north in Stillwater, Minnesota. I definitely plan on permanently residing in Duluth in the near future though. Much of my family has native ties to the Twin Ports area. I love the outdoors, running, and the community and culture of Duluth as a whole.

E: How did you first become interested in art?

WD: I’ve always enjoyed collecting and creating things growing up. A traditional photography class I took in high school really curbed my interest in art and the process of making art. After changing majors my freshman year of undergraduate studies in I pursued a degree in Art Education with an emphasis in photography. My parents are both retired educators, so I had a keen sense of awareness in regard to the education profession. Post-education I have had the time to steer and develop my ideas and draftsmanship via the medium of graphite drawing. I reached a point with photography where the print could no longer be a means to an end, especially with how I wanted to communicate my ideas visually. Photography obviously still plays a major influence as both a tool and a vehicle for inspiration.

E: Your drawings are quite fascinating. How did you end up having an opportunity to illustrate Charlie Parr's latest CD?

WD: I met Charlie at his RealPhonic performance at the James Hill Library in St. Paul earlier in the year, as I have been a great admirer of his lyricism and musicianship. His work is authentic and full-bodied, and that is something to be said in a world often fixated on compromising quality, instant gratification, and felonious profiteering. Anyway, we began collaborating for his next album release after I sent him some of my work. The confluences of styles seem to work well with one another. He had an idea in mind and I felt I had a good idea of how to articulate it.

E: When did you begin doing pictures with birds? 

WD: I am basically self-taught in the medium of drawing. I took one or two drawing classes very early in my undergraduate tenure, but it was not until about a year and half ago that I really became more serious about it. The theme of birds has stemmed directly from my participation in the outdoors. I run over 5,400 miles a year in various wilderness areas and urban terrain, my favorite being the Superior Hiking Trail! I’ve always found a curiosity and ever present likeness to the individual characteristics, habits, and resourcefulness of birds. Whether it’s waking up in the morning to their song, or witnessing a crow fly off with a happy meal bag in its mouth from the side of a road… they never fail to fascinate me. This of course melded with my earlier emphasis in traditional black and white photography, which now serves more or less as a reference tool. Old documentary courthouse and historic society gravure plates of the late 19th Century also captivate me. As a result my ideas are usually a raw amalgamation of ideas that I form into a collage, which in turn becomes for what I hope to be a successful drawing that is completely seamless.

E: You seem attracted to precision draftsmanship. How did you first become interested in Bosch, Brueghel, van Eyck and Caravaggio?

WD: I am infatuated with art history, particularly early figurative work by the Dutch Masters. Their diligence in observation, careful consideration in precision draftsmanship, and unbridled passion for the process of art is not only admirable, but also contagious. Their work can make you feel what a seedy atmosphere inside an old tavern was like through chiaroscuro. Make you feel the pain and anguish in facial expressions such as in Caravaggio’s masterpiece of “The Crucifixion of St. Peter.” These are qualities I often struggle finding in the constant thrust of modern contemporary art. Currently I believe the work of Laurie Lipton’s graphite drawings are at a very high level and her work ethic and visual scope has been a great influence to me.

E: Why is art an important part of life?

WD: Well, I am no philosopher, but I think it is important to live a simple and healthy life. Art along with other passions brings forth meaning and joy in the things that are simple and true. If you wake up anticipating the things you enjoy doing, than you are more than likely enjoying life. I also think art plays a vital role in challenging conventional methods of thinking.

TO SEE MORE works by Wynn Davis, drop by the Ochre Ghost Gallery in downtown Duluth tonight at 7:00 or visit

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