" I like tearing things down and starting over. New paths form: new adventures to be had, mistakes to make, triumphs to rejoice in." NoPattern's Chuck Anderson interviews the legendary technologist and designer.
Joshua Davis is hardly a typical artist. He's hardly even a typical person. His life is fascinating any way you slice it. The travelling, the stories, the clients, the live events and speaking, the work, the attitude, the ideas, the vision... Few artists in recent times do it all with such style and individuality. Chuck Anderson speaks to Josh about his work both new and old, his thoughts on the current state of design, personal life, and more.
CA: Recently we had the good fortune to work together on a project for the AMP Energy drink with agency Tribal DDB. What was the most challenging part of this project, what was the most fun and how much, honestly, do you enjoy collaborating with other artists?
JD: I'm so happy we had a chance to work together. I guess the challenging part was explaining how my generative process works and how I needed your drawings handed off to me.
When you work 99 per cent of the time in Photoshop, there's a bit of a learning curve working in Illustrator - the lines need to be a clean as possible. The more vector points an illustration has, the slower and heavier the program will become. A second hurdle was trying to re-create the glows you are so well known for, which were originally created in Photoshop. So I had to re-create them using vectors in Flash to the best of my ability, so that the final animated composition had the same aesthetic feel that your original Photoshop files had.
For my own personal work, 50 per cent resides in the programming and 50 per cent in the drawings I feed it. So collaboration, for me, is very exciting because I get an opportunity to let my programs work with other styles to create new compositions. I've had great success with you, James Patterson, Derrick Hodgson, Sougwen Chung and many others.
CA: Your site, www.joshuadavis.com, has gone through several makeovers over the years. The latest one, based on Wordpress, seems to be the most straightforward to date. I'm a fan. What's the appeal for you to keep it so simple versus doing a more graphic, Flash-heavy site?
JD: Well, first of all it's so important to change. It's so easy for any of us to fall into complacency. I like tearing things down and starting over. New paths form: new adventures to be had, mistakes to make, triumphs to rejoice in. I have this sick fascination with re-arranging my office every six months, just moving furniture, equipment and always testing the arrangement of objects in order to achieve harmony among space and content... my website is no different.
In the past I used Flash to control space and content. Later versions used Flash in conjunction with XML to control space and content. This latest version of my site is a total start-from-scratch undertaking. And I'm loving Wordpress - it keeps the content in a database, and the use of a theme to skin that content is brilliant. It means that I can tear down and re-skin my site at any time, which is wicked.
In terms of layout, I'm always looking for the most efficient way to present content, so that the work is the object that shines and the layout is a quiet vehicle to deliver the content. Wordpress has a community of people creating features that make it easier for a guy like me to update easily, while at home or on the road, from my phone etc.... If we could rally the Flash community to work on a Wordpress-like platform, I would probably work on it and display my portfolio using it.
CA: I understand you're also working on a project for an Australian client called Majans, doing print ads. Going back to the AMP project, which was entirely web-based, do you enjoy working on one over the other? That is, creating a single piece of art versus a more dynamic web-based project?
JD: I like getting my work and process out in any medium. The web offers a format of participation and interaction, but pure aesthetic beauty can, at times, be sacrificed.
With print you can completely control the beauty and layout. The downfall of the format, however, is that when most people see the work they have no idea about the gorgeous process underlying its creation - no idea that the static print is/was a living, moving work - and what they hold is a frozen, beautiful accident... a moment in time. Another challenge of taking my work to the web is that the amount of clean-up and presentation adaptation I typically put into print has to be optimised so it doesn't become too processor-heavy as a web animation.
CA: You've become well known for your speaking at conferences, schools and the like. What is it about sharing a part of yourself and your work by speaking that excites you? Why do you do it?
JD: I love the work I create, and I enjoy performing. I'll share experiences and stories with anybody who's willing to listen.
For one hour, I get to open myself up and share my work and process with strangers in the hope that when I'm done I will have made new friends, new adventures, new stories - stuff that I'll share in future presentations. I have nothing to lose, but everything to gain, by sharing my experience, strength and hope with others who in turn connect with me about their experiences, strengths and hopes. As a collective and a community we have a chance to engage each other and make this medium a better place to work in.
Hoarding a process or style, keeping it locked away, will only last so long before it implodes, ripping you from the inside. I'm confident enough in my work and my style to share it with as many people as possible in the hope that my peers will drive me out of my comfort zone, pushing me to take my work to new places.
CA: You've been inducted into the Smithsonian. In your mind, is digital art and design now being genuinely recognised as an art form or does it still have a way to go before it's legitimised?
JD: I don't know the answer to that question. I know photography took 70-plus years to be recognised as a viable art medium. I don't think digitally created projects will take 70 years for this type of recognition.
I was in a restaurant recently, and it was packed. I was waiting for a table to free up so I could sit and eat my food. After scanning the room I found a table of two older women finishing up, so I went up to the table and waited politely for them to leave. One of the women saw me and made a remark about my tattoos - "Did that hurt?", "Why do you have so many?" - Finally she asked me why I'd done this, and my response was that I wanted to pursue beauty. "Don't you think they are beautiful?" I asked, and she said, "Do you want my honest answer?" I said, "You can answer however you want, because I won't care."
I think if you spend time thinking about these things, you're taking time away from making work. How you are viewed in the art world, or in the eyes of any industry, is usually dictated by people other than yourself. Inducted into the Smithsonian, I still make things; not inducted into Smithsonian, I still make things. I think I'll stick to making things and leave the thinking about things to the people who think about things.
CA: The internet. It's a serious business. What do you believe artists and designers have gained most from the internet? What has it been to the detriment of? And how important to you, at this moment in time, remain art galleries, books and tactile products?
JD: In the past, it was a dream to be able to show my work to a local community, especially in New York, but the internet has provided me with so much more: a global audience. We have a place to share our work and ideas on QBN, Yayhooray and Computerlove. However, this anonymous openness needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Not everybody is going to be cool - usher in the trolls and haters. You have to have thick skin and just remember haters are haters - haters are not clients, haters are not employers.
Because I work in the medium of technology and the internet, I don't use it much to draw inspiration from. I get a ton of my inspiration from art galleries, openings, books and tactile products. You have to get a good amount of time away from the computer if you want to keep a fresh perspective on your work.
CA: Finally, you've done a lot in your life and career so far, but what's next? What do you see or want for 2009 and beyond, both personally and professionally?
JD: So far, the past year and next year have been about products: starting a housewares line with Umbra and a paper goods and bags line with Miquelrius. To be able to work on graphics, illustration and design that gets away from the client work, galleries and museums and gets into everybody's home and life is very exciting for me.