In the Studio – Jeremy Okai Davis

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.

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In the Studio – Jeff Sheridan

It had been a while since we have invited ourselves over to sneak around one of our artist’s studios, so when Jeff gave us the green light for a visit, we were more than ready. As he prepared for his March show at Duplex, he shared with us a little bit more about his process and inspiration for Psychic Heaves.


Jeff Sheridan: I went to school at the University of South Florida in Tampa. I went there from 2005 to 2010, did the five-year art program thing. I just explored different realms of art until something stuck. I was an editorial cartoonist for my college paper, and in a way that was more of an influence on my art than those beginning years in the fine art program.  By junior year, the two mixed, and I started doing more whimsical drawings in my fine art classes and more abstract cartoons for my school paper. Originally, I went to school for aerospace engineering. I went to orientation and was, like “you know, I don’t want to do that at all. I’m a much better draftsman than engineer, so maybe I could draw for science textbooks or something.” That was the original thought. Then I just went into fine art and began the systematic process of exploding my mind.

Duplex: Couldn’t go back.

JS: Yeah. And through that, led to what I’m doing right now. I have always been fascinated by this pervasive idea of what’s inside- cyclicality, and what really makes everything work. I have this book right here that I’ve had since I was eight years old and it has these types of things I’m super interested in, sedimentary layers, the earth, space, and when it all comes together. And what that means.  It’s just this huge spinning reality that we’re in and trying to make sense of that is so difficult. And obviously everyone is trying to do it. I like depicting a little microcosm of this, a little space station of it, of sorts. This living petri dish and everything that’s on either side of it, and then these huge spheres that you can’t quite see.

Negative space plays into what I’m doing, too. I build up around a form so it’s presented but not entirely, it still holds its shape. And I draw that concept from astronomy, when you search for exoplanets in space. They look at a star and they wait for it to wobble. The planet they can’t see is orbiting around it, and the mass pushes and pulls the star from its position. A gravitational wobble. . They also wait for it to either pass over the brightness of the star, the planet, or they watch the whole thing wobble. It’s just what I’m influenced by. The forms in my pieces are informed by the natural world but are overlaid with metaphors of consciousness, urban planning, and the environment.

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In the Studio – Icon

One of the great challenges for a painter today is to make small works powerful enough to be noticed in an art world that typically celebrates grand gestures.  There is even a saying amongst artists, “if you can’t make it good, then make it big.”  But there is a great history of small works, notably historical icon paintings which were primarily small religious works meant for private contemplation or instruction.  Typically depicting a single religious person or object, they were meant to be a stand in for that object’s power or importance.  Eschewing the singularity and overt religious imagery of those historical works in favor of contemporary subject matter, the artists selected for this exhibition convey an impressive dynamism in their small works.  Their vitality beckons the viewer towards a more intimate, contemplative moment with the art.  This intimacy effectively becomes a politic that stands out as an increasingly rare experience amidst the often loud, boisterous nature of contemporary culture.

Feldman Explorer #3 The Preserver
Explorer #3 The Preserver by Roni Feldman

Duplex: How do you personally relate to the theme of the show?
Roni Feldman: My paintings, much like traditional icon paintings, are meant to induce contemplative visual exploration.  They each depict a different explorer and a different exploration of paint, beckoning viewers to become explorers themselves as they look at them.  I love to explore, be it the local city, or a trek through the Andes.  Travel is a method of mind-expansion, both about the make-up of the world, and one’s own self.   Art is my way of engaging others in exploration, but on a quieter, more intimate and interior level.
Max Presneill: Small paintings, for me, allow a focus upon a singular aspect of themes which occur in my large works but without the multiplicity of relationships that the large ones contain. This means that the images are often more iconic due to this contemplation of an important facet without distraction.
Jay Erker: These small works I do have an intimacy about them, especially when creating them. The proportions of the marks and the found image is something I have control over. I feel more connected to the work. It feels like a secret…a relationship that develops between myself, the media, and the image with which I work.
Emily Counts: For this show I wanted to make a piece that leads the viewer’s eye to one small focal point, that could potentially create intimacy with the viewer or a moment of introspection. I am interested in the symbolic importance of the traditional icon paintings and the potential for powerful meaning within a small space.
Rachel Warkentin: Working small has always been a crucial part of my process, even when, like Emily mentioned, “small” is more about an intimate, powerful moment in the piece, rather than a piece that is small overall.  I love playing with the different ways a piece can take up space as well.  Traditional icon paintings are a great example of this, since they tend to be dramatically lit and framed and they have this whole narrative built into them that’s more about the way they’re regarded rather than their physical manifestation.
Erin McCarty: I actually have always tended to work quite large, but have recently made a conscious decision to give smaller, more intimate and contained works a try. I do love the idea of saying more with less.  I tend to overwork paintings and get lost in unimportant details that no one notices other than myself really. Then, once I’ve stepped back after being completely absorbed in one small area of the painting, I’ll typically have that “oh no what have I done this was a much stronger piece hours ago” moment.  With smaller works, my compositions tend to be less complex, and it forces me to focus on the idea at hand. It targets my energies. I think this is a great experiment for me right now.

Rachel Warkentin Two Day Suspension
Two Day Suspension by Rachel Warkentin

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In the Studio – Abigail McNamara

Though we aren’t having an official First Thursday opening tonight, October is host to an exciting project here at Duplex! This week begins the time based installation of Abigail McNamara, we invite viewers to come through during the month to observe the artist at work and the evolution of piece (her schedule will be posted if you want to see her in action). Please mark your calendar on November 6th for the opening reception and to see the completed space!

A few weeks ago we were able to sit down in her studio to discuss her installation at Duplex as well as her previous work.


Duplex: Tell us a little bit about your background.

Abigail McNamara: I grew up in a little mountain college town, Missoula, MT. When I was eighteen I moved to Portland, and I’ve been here for about six years now. I went to Lewis & Clark College and I took my first art class there as a freshman.

D: Were you an art major at the time?

AMc: No, I was undecided. I remember thinking at 18 that I was too old to become an artist, like my chance had already passed me by. But that wasn’t true, of course. I began by studying drawing. A lot of my work was more representational and figurative, but even at that time I was very interested in nature and the natural world. Depictions of animal and plant life were coming up in much of my work. Pattern and detail were prevalent early on as well. Although my work looks very different today than it did then, I can easily follow the threads of these themes into the sculpture and installation work that I do now.


D: Tell us a little about the installation at Duplex.

AMc: This one is going to be very different. Everything that I make is time-based in nature; all of my working methods involve these detail-oriented and repetitive tasks. With each new piece I like to make my own craft, something that’s very meditative and regimented. I love getting lost in that process. This piece is going to make that process much more public than it has ever been. If you look at my finished work you can see that it’s very laborious, that it’s one tiny thing building upon another. By inviting people to come in and watch this process over time, that slow expansion of the work will be much more central to this installation. And for me this brings into focus the ideas of growth and decay.

There are a lot more unknowns going into this project because I want to leave space for things to evolve. I want to allow my work and my process to respond to my viewers as well as the architecture of the space. All of the walls in the space are very distinct, so I think I’ll be creating three or four distinct wall drawings. I call them drawings because the first renditions of this idea were done on paper. But they could be anything you want… sculpture, installation, painting, performance. There’s a little bit of everything in this piece.


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In the Studio – David Keller

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We are so excited we got a chance chat with our August artist, David Keller, about his upcoming show, The Free Portrait Project. In late summer of 2012, David was shooting a roll of black and white film when he ran out of subjects to photograph. Wanting to finish the roll to see his images, he came up with a plan. David quickly rushed to a friend’s studio in downtown Portland, Oregon armed with a slab of cardboard and a sharpie. He constructed a sign that read, “Free Portraits” and sat on the street corner. Over the next few days, he sat on street corners around town taking portraits of complete strangers, in exchange for only their name.

Duplex: Tell us a little bit about your background, where are you from?

David Keller: I was born in Virginia, raised in Oregon, and now I live in New York. I’ve spent most of my life in Portland. I went to Portland State and got a business degree, and spend about a year after college working in Portland. It’s a creative place, and inspired me to do more personal projects. Definitely part of how this all came to fruition.


D: Taking a portrait of a stranger can be a very specific experience, (awkward, intimate, exciting) have you learned anything about the nature of this interaction especially compelling?

DK: I’ve learned so much about approaching strangers and talking to them (sorry mom!) For me, it’s a total rush to ask someone if I can take his or her picture. Likewise, this project began when I sat on the side of the street holding a cardboard sign for free portraits. It is equally as satisfying to see the people that stop to read your sign and take you seriously. It’s genuine, and I like that.


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