We caught up with our May artist, Jeremy Okai Davis in his studio space last week to talk a little bit more about painting, old photographs and basketball.
Duplex: How did you make it to Portland?
Jeremy Okai Davis: My entire upbringing was as a basketball player, my whole family basically played ball, so I followed that path. That was first and foremost for me up until my freshman year in college. I got a partial scholarship to Brevard College right outside Asheville, North Carolina. I just kind of had, not a bad experience, but an eye opening experience that led me to the decision to focus on art. I realized I wasn’t going to be an NBA player and had to make a choice that would actually be sustainable as a career. I always painted or drew so I moved back to Charlotte and went to UNCC to join the art program. I graduated in 2002 and stayed in Charlotte for about six years. I had some shows, but was having a hard time finding an art scene that appealed to me, so I had to kind of make my own way. Similar to what I did when I first got here, I would show in random coffee shops, bars and diners. Really anyone that would let me put my work up. I did that for about five or six years and felt like I exhausted all my opportunities. I had a friend that lived in Portland. I visited once and fell in love with the city, so I made my way out here in 2007.
D: Did you struggle with the athlete versus artist identity?
JOD: I wouldn’t say I struggled with it necessarily. Sports at universities are a whole other world than in high school. There’s no way around that, so that was my only struggle, I had to make the choice and I chose art.
D: You are obviously drawn to painting; do you work in other mediums?
JOD: When I was a kid I would draw all of the time, with my brother making up our own Transformer and G.I. Joe characters. I just kept it up as we got older. When I was in high school I had a teacher who was really open to letting his students do whatever they wanted. I was intrigued by painting, but really art in general. The idea that you could do anything you wanted to. I just stuck with that idea moving forward. As far as being solely a painter, I’m just really drawn to the medium and the flexibility it provides. I maintain a sketchbook that I draw in but rarely show that work.