Only 18 years of age, US artist Terrell Davis’s work paints a picture of what affected him growing up, but also what he loves the most as a gay, black, american teenager: brands, pop princesses and the internet. Carlos Saez, our expert on digital art, interviews the New Jersey-born Davis on what inspires him the most and why some of his pieces look like a messy teenage girl’s desk (a term Davis opposes).
Carlos Saez: Who is Terrell Davis? Where are you based? What did you study and how did you end up in the digital world?
Terrell Davis: Terrell Davis is…a beam of light in a sea of darkness. Mogul in the making. A young creative trying to spread his creativity with the world. A couple of things about me: Im 18, gay, black, and I live in New Jersey. If you mean what I studied in terms of college major, I haven’t technically studied anything yet. However when I do go to college in the fall, I plan on majoring in Graphic Design…or Video…or Fashion, who knows. Lots of things interest me and I don’t like sticking to one form of art.
CS: Your last series is pretty recognizable. When I see the images, I immediately think about some teenage girl’s messy desk. What is the real intention/idea behind it?
TD: I actually get that a lot haha. I guess you could say it’s someone’s messy desk, I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a girl’s desk though, because there are lots of feminine guys and other nonconforming people who are into that sort of thing! And by thing I mean the objects I show in my work. When I first started making images like the ones I mainly do now, the intention was unclear as I went into it just experimenting and trying things out. Now that I know what works and what doesn’t, I’d say the real intentions behind them is really ideal spaces I’d like to be in or see; or things I find visually appealing. Now I’ve been experimenting and deconstructing these ideas and making them fresh again.
As weird as it is, when I look back at very early work I was doing as a kid in middle school, the drawings I would create would always be collages of things I thought looked nice at the time. There’s this one piece that I unfortunately don’t have anymore, that I still have a picture of and I still love it just as much as I did when I first made it (I made it when I was in 7th grade). I guess you could say my work now is the evolved version of my only work. Long story short, as different as my art may seem now as opposed to how it looked in, say, 2009, it’s still interconnected in a way. I still make these “collages” of things I like, but now I do it in a different way, and maybe a couple years from now I’ll be doing something different than what I’m doing now.
CS: There is also an important brand presence in this images. I inevitably try to imagine the owner of all this stuff in relation to the brands and objects I see. Do you think brands help people express their identity?
TD: Definitely. Growing up, brands have always been a sort of status symbol for people. The nicer brands you owned, the more attention people would give you or the more validated you’d seem. No one was paying attention to the kids who owned hand-me-downs or clothes from local shops or flea markets. Though it’s always been opposite for me I feel. I was friends with everyone but I especially made it my duty to be nice and make friends with the people who never got enough attention.
Brands for me specifically help me express myself in my work. In real life, I’m a broke teen living in the inner cities of New Jersey, so truth be told, I don’t own many expensive things. This is why I love the luxurious aesthetic I exude in my work. It’s sort of a way of expressing what I wish I had rather than what I already own. A fantasy, if you will.
I can’t really speak for everyone but I do feel that brands are a way to express yourself, similar to the way it is in school. If you want to show people you are this type of person, then you usually associate with these brands. This doesn’t always have to be luxurious though. Some people would rather wear vintage stuff from Goodwill or Ebay while others would rather wear clothes straight out the runway from Saint Laurent or Gucci. I associate myself more with the first.
CS: I also see some connections with this new effervescent pop sound produced by labels such as PC Music. Where do you think this brand and its consumerism aesthetic comes from?
TD: PC Music is actually a big inspiration for me. I don’t have a direct connection with the label itself, but I have done work for some of their affiliates like Logo Magazine and LIZ Y2K. Regarding this consumerist aesthetic, I think it comes as a parody of capitalism and always feeling like you have to buy something new every time it comes out, like iPhones or Jordans. I can relate to PC Music in a sense that they try to convey this fantasy or being luxurious, specifically with artists like Hannah Diamond or GFOTY.
CS: If your images had background music, what would it be?
TD: I actually made a playlist for this question! I love when people ask me it. Background music to my work is usually pop, trance, house, anything like that.
CS: What criterion do you follow in order to select the elements you will later include in these still lifes?
TD: It’s actually a simple process. My work is very color driven, so when I choose a color scheme (that’s mainly based on my mood), I just choose objects that reflect that scheme. I also love seeking out cool objects to remodel, usually they’re fancy perfumes or electronics. Right now I’m trying to model a T-Mobile Sidekick.
CS: Looking for your stuff on the internet i see that most of the images present the 1:1 format appropriate for Instagram. Some video artists conceive only concepts fitting in 15 secs in order to share them on IG. How do you think the social media is transforming the narrative of arts on the internet?
TD: With social media, people experience an infinite amount of new experiences that haven’t before, especially older people who were around before the Internet was a widely accepted thing, so with those experiences come an opportunity to express them in art. With sites like Instagram, it can be great for artists because of the restrictions of having it be a square image (which isn’t really a restriction anymore) and also having to make something meaningful in 15 seconds, and it’s caused people to become thrifty and make real nice content.
CS: Your name on the internet is “owned” by the 90’s legendary Denver Bronco football player Terrell Lamar Davis. How do you feel about that?
TD: I actually find it quite annoying, but it’s whatever I guess because there isn’t much I can do about it. It’s my name, I was born with it, and I can’t imagine myself having a different name (though when I was little I hated it and wanted to change it to something more “acceptable”). I’m not the only artist that shares their name with a famous person. Sometimes I do find it annoying though when I look up my name on Google or someone tags my name in a post about me on Instagram or something, and the whole tag is Terrell Davis the football player. Even more annoying is when people try to joke about it, but I’m not a mean person so I’ll laugh like I think it’s funny. Fun fact though: I was actually named after him after he won the 1998 Superbowl, so my name was never a coincidence.
CS: What do you appreciate most in an art piece?
TD: This is a hard question. I think what I appreciate most if the initial feeling it gives me. I really enjoy art I can vibe with immediately rather than something that I don’t like or something that grows on me. I’m very into typography, graphic design trends of the late 90s-early 00s, colors (blue especially). I also love nicely directed films or fashion editorials. I can give examples but it’d make this interview twice as long haha.
CS: If you could use only one software for the rest of your life, which one would it be?
TD: I know an obvious answer would be Cinema 4D, but I’d honestly rather use Photoshop for the rest of my life because it’s so multi-purposeful rather than C4D, which is ultimately available for one purpose, which is to create things in 3D.
CS: If you could choose an object to rebrand and redesign, which would it be?
TD: I’d love to rebrand a fashion magazine like i-D. They have this archive where you can look back to all the covers they had waaay back into the first issue in the 80s. In the 80s and 90s, i-D had very fun and vibrant covers, but then as the 00s and 10s go most of the covers are very colorless or even black-and-white, which I personally find very boring, especially considering how colorful it used to be. If I could redesign it, I’d bring it back to it’s colorful origins.
CS: What’s next for Terrell Davis show/project?
TD: I actually have no idea. I really wanna do another solo show. I had my first solo show 2 years ago in Brooklyn, which was so amazing and I still reminisce about it. I’d also love to work more in the graphic design realm and better my craft there. One goal is to do more magazine or book covers, because I did a couple last year. Would also love to contribute to Visionaire or even direct a whole issue ;), who knows!