San Francisco-based painter and tattoo artist, Mike Davis confronts his viewer with an ancient medieval land of myths, chimeras and wondrously imagined epic tales. Subject to misshapen chaos and fate’s dominance, Davis’ living creatures are of paramount interest. In examining the role of man in nature and his kinship with the beasts and the elements, the artist’s paintings reveal no apparent contrition, no hope. Confession and repentance are as barely discernible as the figures lurking, burning or fighting in the background of his canvases. The meticulous attention to detail is truly remarkable in Davis’ entire artistic production. His painterly skills are often attributed to the influence of older masters such as Hieronymus Bosch, Van Eyck, Brueghel, Jan Steen, Caravaggio, Otto Dix, and George Grosz. We caught up with Mike Davis some time after his latest show at C.A.V.E. Gallery to ask him about his new paintings, tattoo art and music, among other things. Take a look at the full interview after the jump.
First Image Credit: Mike Davis, Cast the First Stone, Oil on canvas, 24″ x 24″
Mike Davis, Untitled, Oil on wood panel, 18″ x 24″;
Mike Davis, A Wish and a Threat, Oil on wood panel, 24″ x 36″;
Dear Mike, you surely need no introduction. But if you could use a quote that you think describes you and your idea of art and creation, what would it be?
My art draws from my experiences in life-good and bad. I like when there is meaning or a story behind a particular piece of art rather than just a random image that goes with the couch.
‘Oil & Water’ at C.A.V.E. Gallery included your latest body of works. There’s generally some kind of thread running through your works that binds together your imaginary world and its recurrent symbols. In 1817, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote: «An idea, in the highest sense of that word, cannot be conveyed but by a symbol». What’s your idea behind the use of symbols? Would you tell us about your actual workflow?
I like the use of symbols in art. It becomes something more than just an image. It transforms into a puzzle or a road map of an idea that’s trying to be conveyed. I really love the dutch and flemish painters and their use of symbology and analogies. I also just love the imagery, the palette, and the situations between the characters that you find in these paintings. I try to let that show in my work which, i guess, is fairly obvious.
It also fascinates me the ambiguity of the geographical collocation in your works. Are those places the mere expression of simple intuition, pure imagination or the memory of something you have experienced in real life before?
The settings in my paintings are very important. They create a mood and environment as a stage for the idea that is being presented. They are places i have been, places i have dreamed, places from my childhood, places i would like to go to.
Mike Davis, A Secret Best Kept, Oil on canvas, 64″ x 36″;
Mike Davis, The other side of the bridge, Oil on canvas
In 1988 you decided to dedicate yourself to tattooing. How did it come about? Who were some of the first tattoo artists that you were having some kind of connection with in San Francisco? Were they an inspiration and if so, how?
I started tattooing in 1988 as a result of getting tattoos and becoming fascinated with the process. I never apprenticed under anyone because in those days it was much more difficult and expensive and just really wasn’t available to me. I struggled a lot trying do the best i could – I spent a lot of time hanging around the shop where i got all my first tattoos and learned quite a bit from Dana Brunson whom i credit with getting me into tattooing. Eventually moving to San Francisco in 92 , i met Aaron Cain – i learned so much working with him about tattooing and, more importantly, art in general. San Francisco was a great place to be at tattooer then. There was so much happening in the tattoo world there.
Your tattoo work is quite a lot different from your paintings. What exactly would you consider to be the subtle relationship between these two forms of art, if there is one?
I try to keep my art and my tattooing separate. First, they are two very different mediums – painting has very few limitations where tattooing has very strict parameters to stay within. Also with tattooing you are dealing with a customer and you often don’t have the freedom to do what you want. People often refer to tattoos as permanent- actually it is one of the least permanent mediums you can work in.
The art industry: what’s its good/bright side? And what is its dark side?
The art industry…..hmmmmm…..no comment there
Do you think there is anything missing from the young contemporary art scene at the present moment?
I don’t think i am qualified to comment on the young contemporary art scene – most of what i am drawn to and experience is hundreds of years old…..there are and always will be so many talented people out there
Mike Davis, Lost and Found, Oil on canvas, 36″ x 24″;
Who’s an emerging artist that we should keep an eye on?
One of my favorite up and comers is Henry Lewis. I’ve worked with him, painted with him, and had many a good time with him. He’s a ball of energy and a very talented guy.
You play music, Mike. How many instruments do you have?
I am also a musician. I play mostly guitar but mess around with other instruments. I have numerous guitars, banjo, mandolin, violin, piano, hurdy gurdy.
If you could have dinner with any musician, dead or alive, who would it be?
If i could have dinner with any musician it would have to be Keith Richards. He seems like such a down to earth, fascinating guy. He’s done it all-he invented it! He has a true passion for music-all music-not just what’s hip at the moment.
Are you listening to any interesting records right now?
My musical taste is all over the map but lately i’m listening mostly to Brian Jonestown Massacre and a lot of italian western soundtracks from the 60′s
What’s coming next for you?
What’s next??? I’m in between shows right and trying to put the next one together-i’m always working whether i have a show coming up or not. It’s a good time to work on some new ideas- i like to continue to grow rather than keep putting out the same old thing.