Danny Davies is an outsider artist. His work is a potent mix of the spectral and disturbed - like the love child of Francis Bacon and Mary Shelley who found work in a video store, mainly working in the horror section and the pick and mix.
He kindly answered some of my questions:
Tell us a little about your background and how you have come to be the artist Danny Davies Hello! I was born in Bristol, about seventy-five percent of the way through the 20th century. I was raised in Somerset, in the town next to Glastonbury, so weirdness has never been far from my life.
Currently, I live in Cambridgeshire – M.R. James country – up what passes for a hill round these parts.
Art has happened in waves over the years. Like most kids, I drew a lot – I had an eye on working for Marvel and that sort of thing. That fell by the wayside as karate, then trying (and failing) to impress girls became primary interests (not with the karate, I hasten to add). After that I was playing bass in bands, tried a hand at stand-up comedy, and eventually working day jobs – bookselling, then publishing.
Over time I became a father to two amazing daughters, so I wanted a creative activity that kept me close to home. Playing in bands means trudging around toilet venues for pennies, which seemed like a non-starter when I’d be needed at home. For a while I’d been a podcaster, making a homemade comedy sketch show called, I hope ironically, ‘A Disappointment’. It was just me, doing the voices, editing the audio, and I fear in my ego mania I’d become the Kevin Shields of homemade comedy tat. Spending hours at a time splicing the theme from ‘The Two Ronnies’ into 45 seconds of drum and bass was no longer viable either.
So since around 2014, I’ve been painting in earnest (I won’t say seriously, because I don’t think that word is really warranted). Painting is a fantastic and direct route to conjuring something unusual and bringing it into the world. That’s really all I want to do. Populate the world with wonderful and frightening things that aren’t already there, and arguably shouldn’t be.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
I have a day job in technology, so nowhere near as much of my day as I would like is spent at the easel. Art happens in stolen time.
I used to beat myself up about not being a professional artist, but over time I realised that might actually be its saving grace. Having the roof over my family’s heads depend upon my rather wonky muse feels like a potentially injurious path. If the work isn’t obliged to be anything other than itself, I think it will be better for it. Billy Childish talks about the amateur doing things purely for love and I absolutely agree.
Also (and perhaps in response to a lifetime of OCD), I work in a way that happens very quickly. Ideas emerge and are followed there and then. If I don’t act fast, get something down then move on, I’ll be staring at the canvas for hours, fretting about getting it right. So while the notion of having a whole day free to paint is very appealing, I’d probably get very little done. I’m also beginning to suspect that it has to feel a little bit like I’m skiving.
I’m lucky enough to have a space where I can leave paint out, canvasses up, spillages untended, between stolen moments. This helps because I can get straight to work when I get the chance.
Your work has a spectral quality to it. What are some of your influences and inspirations?
I’d say it’s quite easy to discern the various artists to whom I’m indebted. Francis Bacon, Clive Barker, Bill Sienkiewicz, David Lynch, Billy Childish, Jean-Michel Basquiat & Dave McKean are probably the biggies.
With regard to what inspires me, this is a messy topic, which is likely to spill off the table, and onto people’s shoes, if I am not careful.
Childhood wall coverings seem to loom large in my imagination. The tapestry of a stag that hang on a stairway of the house where I lived as a toddler, seen almost exclusively at night. Some Star Wars wallpaper that used to come to life when the lights went out. My gran’s bedroom wallpaper – ostensibly, a repeated floral arrangement in white on cornflower blue, but in reality, a sea of grinning flowery skulls leering out at me. Normal things become odd and sinister through the right lens.
Then there is the media intake over decades – fractured memories of ‘Robin of Sherwood’ and ‘Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World’. ‘Alien’. ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’. ‘Nightbreed’ and ‘Hellraiser’. ‘Suspiria’. ‘A Ghost Story for Christmas’. ‘The Invisibles’. ‘Doctor Who’. ‘Sapphire and Steel’. Sebadoh. Nirvana. Public Enemy. De La Soul. The Fall. Boards of Canada.
It’s an odd brew, but all there in some way. Things that are startling, or otherwordly or kinetic and exciting in some way. Things that can overlay your reality.
You are hoping to have some sort of exhibition of your work this year – how is the preparation and planning for that going? Deathly slow to the point of paralysis, I’m afraid.
Having declared this intention on my Substack, I haven’t been able to actually figure out how to go about exhibiting. I didn’t get my GCSE Art (not even an ‘Ungraded’), and I abandoned academic art from that point onward. So I didn’t go through those channels, I don’t really know how to move in the world of galleries etc. Social media is the only way anyone knows what I’ve been up to all this time (unless you are hiding in my garage while I work, in which case, can you please stop). So, I think I may have to appeal to a grown-up to come and help me.
Obviously, I’m making art, and pieces are accumulating (yet again, like mould), but the connections between them are slender.
Plan B is to slowly start sneaking my own work into the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge one piece at a time. They will call me the Cambridge Cuckoo.
Is there any advice or words of wisdom you can offer to others who want to pursue their art?
1) As a human being, art is your birthright. You have an inalienable right to express yourself, hopefully in a ludicrous and idiosyncratic way. It genuinely is for everyone, regardless of class, ethnicity or upbringing. While it’s more and more difficult for young people to make art a career without certain kinds of financial help, I think we’re seeing the culture shrink. I think we’re losing voices. In times when bad actors profit from dividing us, we need to be reminded what an amazing and varied animal the human is. It’s not just mucking about, it’s being the most human you can be. Even if you are mucking about a bit.
2) You are your own audience. Other people are cool, and all, but your name will be attached to what you make, so do your best to make something that inspires or moves, or tickles you above all others. I think self-indulgence is much maligned and is actually where the most enticing worlds are built. Be delighted, but make that delight shareable. 3) Don’t worry about originality – go instead for authenticity. You will steal things as you learn. That’s natural and to be encouraged. Once you get going in earnest, they’ll become a single note in your unique chord.
4) Ignore gatekeepers. They are afraid of change. If they won’t open the gate for you, find a ladder and hop over the wall regardless. Just make sure you leave that ladder where others in need can find it.
Hunstanton at Night
Do you have any other plans for your work coming up this year?
I’d like to work much bigger, stupidly and prohibitively big if I can, perhaps requiring the fire brigade to cut them out of the garage. For a long while, also, I’ve been hankering to work in 3D. Overall, though, the plan is to continue the pursuit of a certain feel. Inelegant, perhaps, but resonant, sometimes funny, sometimes nightmarish.
Do you have any recommendations you would make for books, films, or music that you think people should explore?
In no particular order:
I’d like to suggest that while we all rightly love ‘The Thing’ and ‘Halloween’, ‘Prince of Darkness’, of all John Carpenter’s works, really don’t think it gets the love it deserves. Time travel via dreams. Mirrors as portals. Evil green liquids. That’s a hell of a mix. Also, Alice Cooper.
Harold & Maude’ is also a joy, and a complete oddity, and should be seen by all.
Bill Drummond and Mark Manning’s ‘Bad Wisdom’ is a hugely entertaining and unreliably narrated travel book of their quest to bring about World Peace by taking an icon of Elvis to the North Pole. It’s instilled a love of futile heroism in me, embers of which still glow today.
Jim Moir / Vic Reeves’ two art books are a particular delight (I have been a fan since ‘Big Night Out’). The first is a collection of hundreds of his paintings – many what you’d expect (absurd/funny), many not, but all vibrant and Properly Art. The second is a small hardback collection of watercolurs of birds, and that is just joyous.
Music-wise, Softcult are a current favourite – a very new band who reference shoegaze/grunge bands of my distant youth in an extremely pleasing way.
Lou Barlow has never had the recognition he deserves - for my coin one of the greatest songwriters of the 1990s and still very much active with Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr. ‘Bubble and Scrape’ by Sebadoh from 1993 is a perfect document of a certain kind of low-fidelity indie-rock particular to that decade. Melody, chaos, punkish noise, and amateurish glee.
I recently, and belatedly discovered Cardiacs, and I fell completely in love with them. Much of their 80s output sounds like a collapsing fairground (the bits that Blur stole) but they were capable of making genuinely wonderful pop music and creating a beguiling world for the listener. The songs ‘Tarred and Feathered’ and ‘Dirty Boy’ are the two starting points I’d offer.
Danny Davies can be found on Instagram @artofdannydavies or at www.dannydaviesart.com
The next blog post will be on 7th May.