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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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Damon Davis’ paintings bring light and color to the HSSC

Damon Davis’ new paintings are located near the south entrance doors to the HSSC. Photo by Kaya Matsura.

“Man in Hat 2”, left, shows a masculine face with a large nose and a third eye in a brown fedora. Jutting out against a yellow background, the colors pop throughout the piece.

“Untitled (Woman Pegasus)”, right, features a figure with wings sprouting from the feminine head. With a similar theme, this figure also has multiple eyes and particularly prominent lips, nose and clothes.

Despite delays due to pandemic and weather, two Damon Davis digitally created paintings are now installed at the Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC), inviting viewers to contemplate the mythic nature of everyday life while also bringing color to the previously sparse building.

Davis, a social justice activist, hip-hop artist, record producer, filmmaker and visual artist, is the epitome of multifaceted. Grinnell first became involved with Davis when the Grinnell Museum of Art held his exhibition in May 2016. The work on display was the photograph collection “All Hands on Deck,” created in response to the 2014 murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In 2019, Davis accepted Grinnell College’s invitation to become Artist in Residence.

“While he was in Grinnell he made a lot of work. It was a very fertile time for him,” said Lesley Wright, director of the Grinnell College Museum of Art. “To have a month to do nothing but work on his art was really a gift for him. That is often what an artist residency does for an artist, it gives them time to focus, concentrate.”

The S&B reached out to Davis for this article and did not receive a response.

By the end of the residency, Davis had produced over 40 pieces ranging from multimedia pieces with old family photographs to digital paintings and created a mold of his own bust for the first time.

His finished work was to be displayed from January 2019 to April 2020, but unfortunately the gallery show was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic and ended in March 2020.

Prior to the pandemic, Wright consulted with Concerned Black Students and various others at the museum to see which pieces stood out to them in the interest of purchasing some works for the College’s collection. The two pieces Grinnell College had secured through the Public Art fund were among the handful that were most often commented upon.

The purchase from Damon Davis’ particular collection was significant to Wright on two accounts; the pieces were made through his residency, and, with Davis’ activity in social justice, the purchase was a direct response to the calls from students to see more diversity in public art.

“One of the things he was really playing with while he was here was the sort of merging of the everyday and the mythological. And how when you start to think about the myths as informing the events that are happening around you, it can really transform a bad situation into a sort of remarkable learning situation,” said Wright.

Some of the characteristics that stand out are the wispy feathered look of the painting, the striking colors and the realism mixed with pure oddity in the abstract features of the human figures. Wright believed the perfect home for “Man in Hat 2” and “Untitled (Woman Pegasus)” was in the HSSC as the building is the home of disciplines that rely heavily on storytelling and mythology. Roadblocks, however, delayed the installation of Davis’ two pieces from being installed promptly.

“In an ideal world we would have purchased these at the end of his show in April,” said Wright, “we would have gotten them framed and probably would have installed them last summer.” According to Wright, they have been ready to install the pieces since the 1st of the year, but they can’t take the pieces outdoors in inclement weather.

Finally, this week, with the first breeze of spring, the paintings were permitted to make the trek across campus and be installed near the south entrance of the HSSC.

“This is just the next piece,” said Wright. “There are other spaces in HSSC that are designated for art and we are slowly identifying things, but we do not want to slap some stuff up. We really want to be deliberate and find the right things for the right space.”

Wright hopes students will look forward to more art pieces being installed over the next few years and that they are inspired by Davis’ world of the seemingly common extraordinary

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