Artist Interview: Zachary Carlisle Davidson

Anna Buckner

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I met Zach back in grad school at IU and have continued to keep up with him and follow him via social media. His work is relevant, playful, serious, perceptive, beautiful, anti-academic and yet still fully intellectual.

After the violence in Charlottesville, I was struck by a post Zach made on Instagram in regards to his lack of surprise surrounding the event. His words, like his work are vulnerable and honest, and he has been kind enough to share more of his thoughts with us.

Here’s his post:

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AB: Can art really change anything?

ZCD: I don’t think there is a singular or definitive means for art to change anything but it can in the right place at the right time.

Let’s take the impact of memes and other quick media designed to shared impulsively for an immediate response.  How often are the terse phrasing in often esoteric one-liners more impactful in outlined bubble text over a clumsy photoshop compared to the article they lifted original image?  Why are so many reaction GIFs shared featured rely upon the pantomime of black people?  Look what Pepe has become, and can’t forget implicit messaging through emojis use either. Or, a prez who’s managed to manipulate a crafted image (which is kind of all of them).  “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, amirite?

Internally and personally, I know my thoughts bounce from clear conviction to imbued insecurity to new inquiries to other tangential whereabouts when I’m reanalyzing conceptual messages I want associated with a work or series.  When I add in concerns of technical application into this mix of thoughts, it can help me choose which media I want to utilize best together (not sorry, Greenberg) to be a bit subversive, since I think that’s my agenda.

Actually –when I really think about it– I always integrate some DIY ethos into the classroom because I do believe in explicitly telling my students that the causality of their actions will impact others, and the context will inform how it’s approached. So, yes, I’m betting on art changing some/any/every-thing.

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AB: That makes a lot of sense to me. GIFs are a part of our current vocabulary and so it is confronting to see a GIF that functions beyond its ability to reference pop culture for a few laughs. Could you talk a little more about your own relationship with GIFs?

ZCD: GIFs are byproduct of a few influence intersections woven in my life.  Obviously, my imagery relies upon cartooning aesthetics HEAVILY so it has been a means for me to emulate that inspiration while trying to construct a niche that complements my other work.  

Originally, the GIFs were all based on screen-prints, lithographs and woodcuts that I manipulated. I had attributed some romantic notion of the never-ending repetition as a looped printmaking edition. It was silly, but let me play within a finite matrix to see variability in my compositional designs. Now, they are more commonly generated from illustrations that have shapes intended for animated purposes.

Whenever I have flown over the last few years, I decided to make a game out of how many GIFs I can make during the layovers using old sketches I had scanned.  The most I’ve made was six, but that was a long trip. Most are very simplistic and some are junk but I manage to produce something that if not resolved before the trek, I at least know enough how to finish it to fulfill a role I have planned for it.

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AB: I love this idea of a GIF as a sketch. It breaks down the notion that you need a big, private studio to create Art, which seems totally in line with using GIFs in the first place. Where else do you find influence? (Either within the art world, or outside of it)

ZCD: I read many hours daily from news to fake news to graphic novels to how-to’s to rap lyrics to short fiction, mostly narrative but some prose.  I do this when I wake up and before I fall asleep usually, and I’d speculate it serves as catharsis that permits me to think about my day.  Probably that way for many people.

Sometimes I google search the name of a country I’m reading about in the news followed with the term ‘cartoon’ to see if I can watch a video if possible. If that doesn’t work, then ‘art’ comes second.  I’m totally poaching ideas I see, but I think it also instill a time for empathy because I’m ultimately going to latch onto something relatable –be it emotive or a visual impact to mimic.  I recommend everyone do this with at least a country you want to or intend to visit.

Most importantly, trying to contribute to social justice is of the utmost relevance to me because I would literally have nothing without its impact on the lives on my family, many people I love, and most of my heroes. As a guiding force, it helps purport an attitude of wisely if sincerely with the work I make.

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Check out more of Zach’s work on his website and his instagram.

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