Studio Visit Book Vol. 1

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Unbounded Creativity: Rachel Davis on Finding Joy in Mixed Media

Rachel Davis is a mixed-media artist whose work transcends boundaries and speaks to the soul. From the vibrant streets of New York City to the tranquil landscapes of the San Francisco Bay Area, Rachel’s art reflects her diverse experiences and profound insights. let’s get into Rachel’s captivating creations, exploring the themes of femininity, memory, and silence.

Rachel Davis

Before moving forward to the interview, let’s take a moment to get to know Rachel through her bio. Rachel Davis is a mixed-media artist. In figurative work celebrating women and exploring memory, and in Asian-inspired botanical abstraction, her work evokes layered stories and strong moods. The freedom to move back and forth between mediums and subjects keeps joy at the helm of her creative process. Davis’s award-winning work has been juried into the De Young Museum Open twice, the Salon at the Triton Museum, and multiple international and national shows. It is in collections across the US, Europe, the Middle East, and Australia.

1. Rachel, your journey from New York City to the San Francisco Bay Area is fascinating. How has each of these vibrant cities influenced your art and subject matter?

The diversity and constant stimulation of New York City match my high energy level and insatiable curiosity. It’s also where I grew up and where my parents came as immigrants. My mother continues to be my most important muse, with her incredible beauty and love of beauty – still these many years after losing her to Alzheimer’s. The San Francisco Bay Area – with its breathtaking and wild natural beauty – provides endless inspiration – particularly for my botanical and Asian-inspired work. It’s where I’ve studied Ikebana, Japanese flower arranging for three decades, and that has informed almost everything I know about composition.

2.  How do you incorporate the concept of silence into your pieces, and what do you hope viewers take away from it?

During my first Ikebana class thirty years ago – my teacher said something cryptic and powerful, that I’ve been decoding ever since: “There’s a difference between emptiness and space.” Diving into the nuances of that difference – is how I think about silence. Silence and space are the opposite of emptiness. They provide the pause, the moment that allows you to breathe and appreciate the beauty in the surroundings. Debussy’s quote – that “music is the space between the notes” – is another way I think about silence and its profound ability to amplify beauty.

“Rachel Davis” Alice & Hartley, 2024, 27 x 27”, acrylic paint

3.   Can you tell us more about your connections to the themes of women’s portraiture, memory, and Asian-inspired abstraction in your work?

Long before being an artist even occurred to me, I’ve been drawn to images of exuberant, charismatic women. Women who know their power and relish it, who enjoy their bodies, delight in speaking their minds. I’m continuing to explore this interest in a series called EXUBERANCE: Women Taking up Space with joy, attitude, and no apology. I only recently recognized what is glaringly obvious in retrospect. All my representational work of women over the past several years – the tiny Post-its, the Esther paintings of my mom, the Scrappy Women celebrating unsung female artists – all of it has been about the same thing. It’s been about answering the question asked in silly sing-song jest around my childhood dinner table when my mom had a lot to say: “Esther, do you wanna shut up?” The answer is a resounding no. Hence the work continues. Asian-inspired abstraction is a direct outgrowth of my Japanese arranging practice – with its focus on finding beauty in unexpected places, it’s recognition of the reality that everything passes and so we need to dive into deep noticing and appreciation of every moment we’re here.

“Rachel Davis” Keep Dreaming, 2023, 36 x 36”, mixed media

4. As a retired psychologist, your background brings a unique perspective to your art practice. How do your experiences in psychology inform your creative process?

I’m always interested in the backstory, history, and mystery. There’s an awareness of complexity and nuance, shirking away from easy answers. I strive to imbue my work with questions and layers to keep people lingering to discover more beyond the initial read.

I pay a lot of attention to my body – to whether I’m holding myself stiff or loose – to the quality of my breathing. I’m very lucky in that I have a tell that happens when I’m in the zone. My breathing slows and my mouth waters. For me – joy is about that. It’s not about happiness per se, though it might be. It’s about being immersed and lost in the best possible way. Of course, there are times when the zone is elusive. I do not try and force it – have no problem stepping away till the conditions improve.

6.  What is one piece of advice that you would give to aspiring artists?

Don’t go it alone when you’re grappling with the imposter phenomenon. But do go it alone when it comes to deciding if your work sings. It needs to sing for you.

As we bid farewell to our conversation with Rachel Davis, we carry with us a sense of wonder and gratitude for the insights she has shared. Through her work, Rachel reminds us of the transformative power of self-expression and the profound connections that unite us all. To learn more about Rachel, click on the links provided below to visit her profile.

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