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The Scarlet & Black

Visiting artist Damon Davis wraps up time at Grinnell

Damon Davis speaks with students at the Grinnell College Museum of Art. Contributed by Tilly Woodward.
Damon Davis speaks with students at the Grinnell College Museum of Art. Contributed by Tilly Woodward.

On October 5, Damon Davis’ stay in Grinnell comes to an end. He arrived at the college as an Artist in Residence nearly a month ago, and has used his time on campus to work both with students and on his art.

Born and raised in East St. Louis, Davis rose to prominence during the Ferguson riots after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in 2014. As looting and violence increased and home and shop windows began to be boarded up as a response, Davis decided to spread a message of peace.

He took photos of hands, specifically those doing good in Ferguson. He printed them on cheap paper and put them up around his community. Eventually this caught the eye of a printmaker, Davis got an agent, and his art started to take off.

It was after a staff member saw some of Davis’ art that he got invited to be the College’s Artist in Residence. The Grinnell Humanities Center has named the theme of this year “Disunity and Difference.”

“We thought Damon would be a great person to talk about that,” said Lesley Wright, director of the Grinnell College Museum of Art.

In addition to meeting with classes and inviting students to his house-turned-studio on High Street, Davis has spent much of his time at Grinnell focusing on his art.

“His work ranges from hip-hop, he has a record label, he does visual art, he does a lot of community organizing. He’s a very diverse artist,” said Wright. “For him, [his stay] is concentrated time to get work done.”

And work he has. In the six years since Grinnell College began inviting artists to campus, few have stayed for a whole month. Typically, one or two weeks is the norm.

One reason for Davis’ prolonged stay has been his foray into plaster casting. In early September, a sculpture class at Grinnell even helped him do a full body cast.

“It was kind of scary to watch, honestly. The only holes were for his nostrils to breathe,” said Grace Wallace ’22. Davis’ stay has also overlapped with that of alumna Anna Ford ’11. In late September, the Grinnell Arts Center opened a new exhibit focused on her busts, which express the effects of migraines through sculpture. Since her arrival, Ford has been working with Davis nearly every day.

For many students on campus, the presence of a “real life” artist has been invaluable.

“I think seeing a real artist, a person well known for their art, and seeing exactly what they do and what you can do with it … is very beneficial,” said Wallace, “You get to see the long, strenuous process, all the materials that go into it, and all of the physical labour. And you don’t really think of that when you think of studio art.”

While Davis may be leaving campus, his art will not be. Original pieces, modeled on his work from Ferguson, are currently on display in the Grinnell College Museum of Art. Starting January 24 and running through March 14, a full exhibition featuring many of his newer pieces will be featured in the space.


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