Storyteller of Cities Robert Lee Davis
American artist Robert Lee Davis use photography and multi-disciplinary techniques from painting to collage to create otherworldly cityscapes. Based in Melbourne, Davis has worked as an artist and arts educator in China, Egypt, Australia, and the United States and has exhibited his international works in China and Australia. This wanderlust fueled creative is nomadic in his art, collecting fragments of memories, sights, and emotions from the people, places and stories he encounters, bringing them together with new life in his art.
His poetic landscapes drip with imagery that unfolds in a swirl of memories and fragmented conversations pieced together by visual scraps- those discarded and found again from old newspapers to travel postcards and brochures – oil paints, india inks, dried paints and small objects. From the distance, Lee Davis's work appears like a painting, but on closer inspection, it manifests as a lyrically multi-layed narrative; stories of travel, time, and memories played out through his unique and intricate craft. We met up with Robert Lee Davis in London to find out more about his particular brand of creativity...
"I am drawn to make art from objects, stories, statements, news articles and objects I encounter. I am interested in the beauty and hidden story in objects we discard and pass by...I hope I express the importance of small encounters." Robert Lee Davis
CM: What draws you to make art? What are you hoping to express through your work?
I am drawn to make art from objects, stories, statements, news articles and objects I encounter. I am interested in the beauty and hidden story in objects we discard and pass by - a piece of fluff blowing on the pavement and a discarded children’s drawing became the inspiration for the series: “Urban Dream;” “Differences are Lost” sprung out of a quote from the book: “Invisible Cities” by Italio Calvino; or a conversation with a friend about their life, travel and adventures lead to the creation of the “Life Landscape Series.” I hope I express the importance of small encounters.
CM: How would you describe your creative style?
Contemplative. Personal. Inviting. I want people to understand the intimate details that go into my art making - The journey and the story telling. I use collage because it adds an extra layer of contextual reality to the work. I love when people say, ‘Oh! I thought it was a landscape painting,” or “Oh! I thought It was only a collage!”
CM: Can you tell us more about the kind of memories and experiences that inform your work?
W.E.B. Dubois once said, "I lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows.”
Often the artist is a cartographer, purveying his or her life experiences for impactful moments that contribute to the texture of the work.
As stated earlier, daily experiences influence my art making process.
I want to tell you a story, In 2004 I was with my boyfriend vacationing in Langkawi. When the Boxing Day Tsunami struck we were overwhelmed and unaware of the force of nature. How could a perfect beautiful day become so devastating. The sea, the oceans became themes in my artwork. This vulnerability lead to my art making becoming a diary of my experiences. Broken relationships, loneliness, joyous experiences, new found love were a creative release. This is not a new concept though, many artists create great works from great tragedies.
"I love the view of clouds over sky scrapers and mountainsides and the way cities and landforms butt up against the coast. These places evoke story and sadness, a sense of longing and adventure. These places change and reclaim themselves." Robert Lee Davis
CM: How did you come to work in the arts across so many diverse countries?
I think it was a combination of a few things. When I was young, growing up we moved around quite often as my dad’s work changed. I attended many different schools and neighbourhoods. I learned to reinvent myself depending on which school I was placed in. I think this helped me to interact with a variety of people and experiences. We lived urban, country, and suburban landscapes.
My parents would also make us watch National Geographic on Sunday evenings. This peaked my interest too travel. When my parents moved us back to the inner city I yearned to be elsewhere. I would sit on the roof of our inner city townhouse and gaze into the stars and dream of seeing the world. It would take over twenty years to make these dreams reality
CM: What places inspire your art and why?
The complexities of cities - it’s architecture, smells, lanes, paths and diverse populace find their way into my art. Venice, China, the London countryside and the Australian coastline often are used. I love the view of clouds over sky scrapers and mountainsides and the way cities and landforms butt up against the coast. These places evoke story and sadness, a sense of longing and adventure. These places change and reclaim themselves.
CM: What kid of materials do you use? Where do you find the clippings and images you use?
I use a variety of materials - oil paint, marker, oil sticks are a favourite! Coloured pencil, acrylic paint, wax pencils, India ink, dried paint and small found objects are new finds, fine archival ink pens, discarded children’s drawings, collected newspapers, old postcards and travel brochures. Many of my paper items come from travel documents and magazines collected over the years or given to me by knowing friends. Once I was given the complete set of the 2001 Britannia World Encyclopaedia. I was sick with excitement and kept going through the map section. I feel as if I am giving these publications, magazines and journals a second life. I like when the pages start to yellow or when tape becomes brittle. Reclaiming these is a mission of mercy.
CM: What are you working on now? Next?
Currently I am working on a Life Landscape commission for a couple turning 80. The Life Landscape tell a visual story of your life celebrations, adventures, travels and achievements. Similar to a portrait, but a portrait of your life. I am also preparing work for a show in January.
CM: Motto you live or work by?
“What’s fer yer, won’t go by yer”
CM: Best advice for aspiring artists?
Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “Everyone takes the limits of his own vision for the limits of the world.”
As artists we see the possibilities in the impossible all we need is someone to say I am by your side.
Photo © Robert Lee Davis
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