Artist Profile: The wonderfully strange works of Jennifer Davis

Artist Jennifer Davis // Photo by Jenne Westrick

A roaring lion, steeped in vivid colors of bubblegum and coral. A humanoid cat wearing gray slacks, standing against a sparse cream-colored sky. A female figure, dressed in a pale green blouse, as a black, vintage rotary phone defines her facial features. These characters look like they live in an enchanting, yet eerie, pastel-hued Candyland gone weirdly and wonderfully strange.

It’s weirdly and wonderfully Jennifer Davis.

When Jennifer recedes into the cove of her mind, (and into the creative depths of her Minneapolis studio) she emerges with kaleidoscopic, dreamlike renderings with layers of acrylic paints, ink, and graphite markings from her favorite pink mechanical pencils for the finer detailed line work. “I usually start by putting down a few layers of color. Then I sand and scrape with straight razor blades,” she says of her process. “Sometimes, a ‘ghost image’ appears in those markings that inspires the direction of the painting—a face, a set of eyes, or a full blown composition.”

A fine line between charming and cryptic, silly and surreal. Fairy tales torn out of a beautifully strange storybook.

Above: “Aqua Lung.” Below: “Cat Cars” // Art by Jennifer Davis

“I’m very drawn to horror-gross-creepy-strange things,” Jennifer says. “Everybody has their quirks, right? I just regularly display mine on the canvas so they’re more visible. […] I’d say my paintings are a study in contrasts—I like the juxtaposition of varying textures and patterns, the play between bursts of bold color and intricately drawn details and line work, the balance between playful humor and an undercurrent of darker, more mysterious emotions.”

Her stance in the Twin Cities art world came as a brush of luck, for in 2003, Jennifer was laid off from her day job at an advertising agency. “I thought I’d just make art full time until my unemployment checks ran out,” the University of Minnesota alum recalls. “I ended up using that time as a springboard, and have not had another job since.”

Since that nudge of fate 15 years ago, this self-proclaimed “accidental full-time artist” has leapt into some fantastical opportunities. Her paintings have been widely exhibited in the United States, from Los Angeles to Boston. In the summer of 2013, Jennifer hit eight East Coast states in eight days, visiting dozens of vintage carousels, circa early 1900s, thanks to a Next Step Grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council and the McKnight Foundation. What followed was her cranking out 11 four-foot exuberant paintings of carnival culture, plus an additional eight oval-shaped artworks, showcasing quirky ostriches, snarling tigers, and wild horses, all displayed at Minneapolis’ Public Functionary.

From left to right, “Sloth Cat,” “Phone Face,” and “Scaredy Cat” // Art by Jennifer Davis

Come 2015, local choreographer Chris Schlichting brought Jennifer on as the set designer for a six-city tour of a Walker Art Center–commissioned music and dance piece, “Stripe Tease,” turning spare stages into a vibrant, vertically-striped horizon with stenciled tiger images. And just this last October, Jennifer painted her first big mural at Uptown’s Champagne bar, Trapeze—splashed with bursts of hot pink, lime green, and aqua.

“I work spontaneously and intuitively. I don’t do much planning—I just sit down and start painting,” the 43-year-old artist says. “I try not to focus on developing a style. I’m more interested in dabbling in many things.” In addition to paintings and drawings, Jennifer makes custom pet portraits, custom painted shooting targets, painted sculptures, big painted earrings, and hand-pulled prints. “If anything, I’d say I gravitate toward variety and experimentation. I like to work a lot so I need variety to keep it interesting.”

Only Jennifer Davis would describe a half-puppy-half-human wearing orange high heels or long-fingered, red ogres fighting within a forest upon purple grass as merely “interesting.” To the rest of us, it’s equal parts unsettling, whimsical, haunting, alluring, and eccentric.

Name: Jennifer Davis
Hometown: Plymouth, MN
Currently Resides: Minneapolis, MN
Medium: Acrylic paint, collage, graphite, ink, found objects

Below is Jennifer’s cover art for Issue 55 of The Growler Magazine. Click for more.