My paintings investigate the humorous intersection of the natural and artificial within the theater of daily life. Utilizing space and scale to accentuate the juxtaposition of the mundane and the mysterious, these works present the absurd as both subject and object. Occupying the space between history and technology these elusive narratives reveal the personal as universal by making the familiar fantastical.
What is some worthy advice you have been given?
My professor of Introductory Painting in college advised not to be precious with what one does or makes. Much later, another teacher said to go forward in life as an art maker with trust in one’s self and without fear; and that art making, of any sort, involves, at least a fair amount, of risk.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
“A good artist lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants.”—Lao Tzu
“Life is transformation; all that is good is transformation and all that is bad as well.”—Rainer Maria Rilke
“The world’s order is ambiguous.”—Albert Camus
“All things were new; and all creation gave another smell unto me than before; beyond what words can utter.”—George Fox
What cracks you up?
Bojack Horseman! I am a sucker for the absurd, zany, physical humor cartoons dish out. Like most strong comedy, the show also deals in some challenging and uncomfortable truths about contemporary life: the fascination with fame, the sometimes absurd effects of social media, the circles run for the sake of image presence, just to name a few. My only caveat would be to say that BH is NOT exactly “family friendly.” So, put the kids to bed before you tune in and have a laugh.
What freaks you out?
The Great Pacific garbage patch and the manifest effects of climate change; both are monstrous.
What surprises you?
People’s attempts at multitasking. How well are we opening a door or bicycling or eating if we are also messaging our friends?
What music are you currently listening to?
Father John Misty, Feist and Dyan
What books are you currently reading?
War and Peace (I refuse to be intimidated by size) and a curious, challenging, but beautiful book entitled the Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard; the focus of his writing is the deep, emotional relationship human beings have to their homes.
In your two paintings “Blue” and “Traffic Control”, you’re clearly playing with scale and space. Could you elaborate on how this idea came to be, or was it simply offering your viewers an original view of looking at these objects in a humorous way? I know the first time I saw them, a huge smile spread across my face.
My life and practice are intertwined with past and present place; growing up in rural Virginia and living in the Lowcountry: land, water, and big-open skies; timeless elements that inspire and lend me perspective on the often uneasy interaction between humankind and the Earth. My use of space and scale is wed to my surroundings; playing with these design principles permits a freedom that traditional representation does not. My emphasis on the relationships between things—one to another—and the space they occupy allows for a mixture of narrative ambiguity and humor.
The red blood cell diagram in “Blue” is incredibly detailed, especially each little letter that looks like an old typewriter font. Was that somewhat painful for you to do, as far as keeping your hand steady? I’m always blown away by what painters can do with tiny brushes.
That particular part of “Blue” was an exercise in patience. Tiny brushes are essential tools in my process. I think of the production of my paintings as large investments in little things. I succeeded in rendering a typewriter font for the joke of not really being able to read it from afar. But then, everything about that painting is tongue in cheek.
Your “Botanical” series is just lovely. I would assume you’re curious about plants/ botany/ the natural world? Could you elaborate a little here?
Throughout my botanical works I isolate, render, reveal, and reinterpret the beauty of leaf specimens I find in nature. These paintings are investigations of form and structure but they are also explorations of the quixotic freedom found in the finite. Since the paintings are all the same size (about 9 x 12 inches) on the same material (birch panel) and are all painted the same way (by glazing) with a consistent palette (white and variations of green and brown) the process is documentary. However, my feeling is that the outcome is not.
You have taught drawing classes at places like the Gibbes Museum of Art and Redux Contemporary Art Center, both in Charleston, SC. I was wondering how your drawing skills intersect with your painting?
For me, drawing is essential to the painting process. I depend on fairly detailed renderings of leaves, spacecraft, ostriches, or any other object of interest. My drawings may serve as studies for a series such as the Botanicals or as conceptual blueprints for larger pieces.
Did you have a teacher or mentor who helped you discover your artistic talents or was it kind of a slow organic process that you shaped on your own? Just wondering if you were the guy in 5th grade who was constantly sketching in all his notebooks?
My mother bought drawing books for me to practice with. They were instructional manuals. “Here is how to draw a pelican steps one through four.” My high school art teacher was a saving grace. She had us kid drawing all the time! Her motto was “Style with discipline.” And then there was Jon Michel, my drawing professor at the College of Charleston. His motto might have been more like “Discipline with more discipline.” Much of his class at the time was devoted to drawing cardboard boxes in various arrangements. Nothing teaches students line, proportion, scale, and the healing power of Bourbon like drawing a box with precision.
Your living space and home studio space are special, not only aesthetically, but your attention to detail and care for it all, is obvious to the viewer. Can you tell us about some of your favorite things in there?
My home is my sanctuary and so my studio is my “sanctum sanctorum”. It is the coolest room in the summer and warmest in the winter; two windows that open to eastern sea breezes and a warm flood of sunlight; a work spa. And over the years I have had the pleasure of shaping the small lawn and garden behind the house where I live. From this I have learned that, when digging anywhere on the Peninsula, odds favor an archeological find of one kind or another. The ground gives up eighteenth or early nineteenth century porcelain every time I work it. I have saved everything I have found and show the fragments in display jars in my living room. I see them when I wake in the morning and when I go to bed at night; when I come and when I go. The past is present in a very real way, all around, every day.
Townsend Davidson, born in Childress, Virginia in 1979, received his BA from the College of Charleston in Studio Art and Art History. Davidson attended the Maine Photographic Workshops and Penland School of Crafts.
The artist was selected for Under the Radar, an exhibition of emerging artists organized by the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and Charleston Magazine. Davidson has exhibited at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, Redux Contemporary Art Center, and the City Gallery at Waterfront Park, all of which are in Charleston, SC.
His work is included in the Contemporary Carolina Collection at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). Presently, Townsend is employed by the College of Charleston as a photography lab technician and as a drawing instructor for the Gibbes Museum of Art as well, as for Redux Contemporary Art Center.
Check out his profile in the Spring 2016 issue of Charleston Art Mag, a piece in Charleston Magazine from 2015 and most recently, P.J. Gartin’s “Art and Gardening: The Exquisite Hand of Nature”, in Charleston Style & Design, Summer 2019.
Link to Townsend’s personal site here.
photo credit: NINA GARNER