Art of Networking: An Interview with Southern California-based Artist, Kenturah Davis



Art Beat Los Angeles, an Q&A (question and answer) with Gail Taylor.


Gail Taylor, of Altscholar, interviews Kenturah Davis whose artwork is part of the multi-artist show and networking event known as MAS Attack 2. The event took place October 26th, at the Torrance Art Museum. MAS stands for Mutal Appreciation Society.


Artist Spotlight | Kenturah Davis


Altscholar We met at TAM (Torrance Art Museum) at MAS (Mutual Appreciation Society) Attack 2 where you were one of the featured artists. The event was jam-packed with artists and their supporters from all over the area. How did you get involved with this event?


K.D.: Max Presneill, Director of TAM, worked with ARTRA Curatorial to organize the show. Max visited my studio last year (after a recommendation from another artist/friend of mine). I believe it was Max who decided to extend the invitation to be in the show. 


Altscholar According to the promotional material, there were, at minimum, 100 artists featured at this event. What did being a part of such a big show mean to you as an artist? 


K.D.: It was a great opportunity to connect to meet and show with a wide variety of artists. The nature of the show promotes such a level of camaraderie and is really the ultimate networking situation for artists. Opening a show to such a large quantity of artists exponentially increases the exposure of the work of all those involved because each of us are bringing our own network of friends. You get a taste of everyone’s art practice minus of the typical, buttoned-up gallery/institutional atmosphere.


Altscholar The piece that you showed was figurative, but also included text. It appeared to be pencil on medium-sized paper tiles. Is this correct, and how would you describe the medium, and the artwork?


K.D.: The piece that I included in the exhibition is a small section of a much bigger, ongoing, modular drawing. Yes, I cut down larger sheets of paper into 10″ square tiles, then started writing various texts with grease pencil. Once I’ve written the first layer of text across each of the tiles, I go back and repeat the text to build up the image. The portrait is rendered entirely from the cursive words. I don’t use a projector, but I refer to a photograph on my computer….so, I consider the drawing to be a series of conversions: first the subject is rendered with light, through the photographic process, then carefully converted to text as I filter the photograph information through my eyes and hand. I would also describe the piece as a loose-leaf book. The texts that make up the drawing are excerpts from art history books that survey American art. More specifically, they are writings about Black modern and contemporary artists. I wanted to look at how we have been included, excluded and pigeonholed in the discourse of American art, across all different genres. This first section of the drawing is a self portrait, so it is partly about situating my own practice and path as an emerging artist in that context.


Altscholar Could you state the title of your piece?


K.D.: I have not settled on a name for that particular piece, but it is made for a series called,Latitudes, which is a group of modular drawings that, when fully assembled, create a panoramic wall installation. Unassembled, they are meant to be shown/stacked on these pedestals that I’ve made. This new series is especially engaged with the history of writing. Understanding that the advent of the written word arrived as the capacity of human memory deteriorated situates the portraits as a kind of documentation that can extend the reach of collective memory and historical consciousness. This body of work acknowledges the body as a site of knowledge. I see these installations as creating a kind of library which animates a particular history that is relevant to the subject of each portrait. The titleLatitudes associates the panoramic format of the drawings with mapping, in the way that they would spread along a horizontal axis. It also references its alternative definition as having “freedom from normal restraints or regulations” due to its potential to exist beyond the spatial limitation of any particular wall.


Altscholar What inspired you to create this particular work? 


K.D.: I recently went to an artist retreat hosted by Theaster Gates, at his art complex in Chicago. Our discussion centered around a transcript from 1968 of a conversation between Romare Bearden, Sam Gilliam, Richard Hunt (who was in attendance), Jacob Lawrence, Tom Lloyd, William Williams and Hale Woodruff. The retreat explored an ongoing dialogue about the challenges of navigating the art world as a Black artist. Although I had already begun working on a different idea for the Latitudes series, I shifted my focus to deal with this history as a point of departure. I’m examining the precedence of criticism about Black artists in the broader context of American art, regardless of whether or not their work is about race or not. I’m literally re-writing art history, for better or for worse.


Altscholar Could you describe the time when you knew you wanted to be an artist?


K.D.: I’ve always wanted to be an artist. My dad is an artist, so I was encouraged by both of my parents (even when I’ve doubted myself). Drawing came naturally to me. There was a brief moment when I thought I would drift over into urban anthropology and parlay that into city planning….but I couldn’t escape the desire to be a working artist.


Altscholar What motivates you to create art?


K.D. People’s stories motivate me. My work is largely centered around portraiture and the body, so I’m captivated by interesting stories and ideas about how we socialize with one another. So, I feel an innate responsibility to work out these ideas that come to me. I’m also inspired by other artists who bring things to our attention that we take for granted. I try to do that in my own work. Increasingly, opportunities to collaborate with other artists is quite motivating. It has helped me to expand my practice beyond drawing into sculpture and performative works.


Altscholar Could you discuss what is the best thing about being an artist living and working in Greater Los Angeles, and what is a negative aspect about being an artist living and working in Los Angeles?


K.D. Maybe the obvious thing would be to say “the weather.” ….I enjoy living/working here because I have space to do most of my projects, which wouldn’t necessarily be the case in any other city that I could see myself living in. Perhaps a negative aspect of being here is related to logistics. The LA art scene is so spread out that it’s a greater challenge to feel “connected” if you’re not situated within the various pockets of art activity. You really have to be on your networking game to stay in the mix.