This month’s Alumni Spotlight highlights Terry Davis, local artist and now instructor at Ohio University! Davis has a lot of interesting experience with Ohio University, both as a student and now as an instructor, as well as the KMA.
First, please introduce yourself and give us some background information on who you are and what you do.
Hi, my name is Terry Kolb Davis and I’m an artist. I received my Master of Fine Arts from Ohio University in 2020, and I currently work as an Adjunct Instructor for the School of Art + Design. When I was a graduate student, I was hired by Jeff Carr, the previous Exhibitions and Collections Manager, as an art handler and fabricator for the Reflective Objects: Collectors and Their Collections exhibition. Outside of academia, I wear a lot of hats. My background is in printmaking, but I do everything from freelance illustration to publicly commissioned murals. Occasionally, I exhibit my fine artwork, which focuses on deconstructing the traditional American concepts defining masculinity.
How would you describe your creative process? How would you describe your professional activities?
My creative process fluctuates between periods of heavy in-studio work and academic research. When I make art, it’s usually in quick bursts. I make the most when my mood is elevated and my objective is clear, but I don’t always have a full understanding of how the work is going to come to fruition during the making process. Not knowing how a piece will end is often stressful, and the fear of failure looms over me every step of the way. I’m a voracious procrastinator. I spend a lot of my time thinking about my art before I make it, and that thinking process is often exaggerated to the point of obstruction. I like to teach that every artist’s making process is inherently a thinking process. The physical act of making is the catalyst of the artist’s journey. Through a corporal dance of hand and material, an artist can communicate in a way that other disciplines only dream of. We all want to communicate something through our work, but sometimes the things we are trying to communicate don’t always resonate with our audience. In the end, whether I communicate or not, I’m usually satisfied remembering the journey I made to try. Although, I do wish I could make more work faster!
What is special to you about the University’s or Athens’s art community?
The first time I visited Athens was in the spring of 2017. I had been accepted to a few graduate schools for art and was taking my time to visit them. Ohio University was one of those programs. When I found out I was accepted, my dad and I drove from Missouri to Ohio to talk with the chair of the printmaking program, Melissa Haviland. We met Melissa, her husband David, and her son Jude at Casa to eat breakfast and talk about the program. The conversation was lovely, and my interaction with Melissa and the graduate students in the department felt like something close to a family connection. That feeling never changed. I’ve been in Athens for almost 4 years now, and the art community from Ohio University to Passion Works is always warm and inviting. There’s a sense of community here that goes beyond the basic concept. If you need help, art advice, or good conversation, this is the place to be.
How has COVID-19 impacted your creative process, career, or education?
COVID-19 has impacted the progress of everything, and some of us are more fortunate than others (in terms of our mental ability/socioeconomic status) at attempting to normalize the situation. I feel that I have been more fortunate than the average, but I have run into my fair share of challenges. My creative process turned towards digital mediums at the beginning of the pandemic, but as the weeks of isolation turned to months, I found myself needing physicality again. The one thing that stays consistent in my process is my love for drawing. I draw to think through my ideas. Sometimes those drawings are scribbles and other times they are delicate and labored. Regardless of how I draw, COVID-19 made me realize how much I depend on the presence of others when I am trying to be creative. It is hard for me to work in total isolation, and even harder knowing that the world outside is in peril as I am sheltered, working in comfort. Now that we are almost a year into the pandemic, it seems like I am finally finding my groove again. I have a few pending art shows in the near future, so I hope I haven’t found my groove too late!
Who/What inspires you?
I think the “who/what inspires you” question always yields a loaded response. Like many artists, my source of inspiration depends on the day. Right now, I’m reading a book called The Descent of Man, by Grayson Perry. I’ve been thinking a lot about male identity and sexuality, and Perry’s visual and written works speak volumes to me. I’ve had the occasional inspirational love affair with artists over the years, but none of them have been as poignant. Although, there’s more that inspires me than connecting with another professional’s work. I get a lot of inspiration from my students when I teach. In fact, it’s the seemingly routine conversations I love the most. The continuous back and forth dialogue between hungry art practitioners is important for growth at every level. I have a terminal degree in the arts. By academic standards, I am a master in my discipline. The degree notwithstanding, I still believe in the power of conversation between people at a variety of life and occupational stages. The masters can learn from the beginners just as well as they can teach them. That is inspiring.
What experiences have you had with the Kennedy Museum of Art?
I have had several experiences with the Kennedy Museum as a student, patron, and employee. Some of my favorite of those experience have to do with my direct contact with some of the art pieces in the Kennedy’s permanent collection. It’s hard to summarize the feeling of handling a historic piece of art. The first time you do, it’s terrifying to think that one bad move has the potential to damage or destroy a piece of history. Of course, there is also the sense of awe when you happen upon a piece that you have previous knowledge of. The reproduction of a piece of art in contrast to facing the original are two completely different experiences. When you get to see a piece in person for the first time, especially one that you know or have heard of, it can be both euphoric and a complete letdown. I like the potential variation of those experiences. Museums have a way of displaying the truth, but they can also obscure them in their full detail. Having the privilege of seeing behind the scenes has given me a lot to think about over the years.
How have your experiences at the Kennedy impacted you?
I think, for the most part, my experiences with the Kennedy have made me a better artist. If not a better artist, then a more thoughtful one. I like the range of shows that the Kennedy is able to curate. The Kennedy has had everything from big named artists like Jim Dine and Carrie Mae Weems, to community-driven shows focused on local collectors. That breathe of artistic content benefits the engagement of its patrons greatly. I remember seeing Carrie Mae Weems’ work in person for the first time and it was mind-blowing. I didn’t know that art could be socially engaged, academic, and experimental all at the same time. Seeing that work changed the way I think about my own in a meaningful way. If I didn’t have that opportunity, I wouldn’t be addressing the subjects in my work that I do today.
What role do you believe an academic museum like the Kennedy plays in a community like Athens? How do you think the community benefits from the museum?
Art museums provide peace and help people find clarity, especially in times of uncertainty. While we are in the thick of a global pandemic, art museums continue to serve as creative outlets for so many people on-site and virtually. Being an academic museum with a teaching mission, the Kennedy Museum of Art provides students and community members with so many opportunities to learn something new, whether it’s a hands-on experience, concert or performance, exhibition or lecture, there are so many resources available for the community to take advantage of.
Is there a piece or artifact in the Kennedy’s collection that is your favorite? Why?
My favorite piece in the Kennedy collection is a print by Roy Lichtenstein titled, Still Life with Portrait. I am a fan of the Pop artists from the ’60s and ’70s. I am also a printmaker, so I have an affinity for printed ephemera of any kind (especially prints by well-known artists). I chose this artifact because I’ve handled it before! It’s a fun story I get to tell people at parties. I mean, how many people get to say they’ve had the privilege of handling a Roy Lichtenstein?
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Yes, I have a shameless plug. If you find yourself at the University of Rio Grande in Ohio check out the Greer Museum. They will have a show of my work up during the month of March 2021. I also have an Instagram account (@terrykolb_davis). Give me a follow and message me if you ever want to talk about art stuff. If you are interested in seeing more of my work, visit my website at www.terrykolb.com.
To learn more about the Kennedy Art Museum please check out our virtual portal at https://www.ohio.edu/museum. Here you can check out our collection and current exhibitions. To check out other blog posts go to https://kennedymuseum.blog. Finally, feel free to follow us on Instagram at @KennedyMuseumArtEdu or Twitter at @KennedyMuseum. We also have a Facebook page titled Kennedy Museum of Art Experiences Group.