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But it is his first show in Fresno, and for fans of lowbow pop art and graphic design (good, graphic design), it shouldn't be missed. The show features a collection of Davison's freelance work (some old stuff, some new) and runs through Oct. 21 at Corridor 2122.
Davison talks with Famous about art versus design, Monkey VS. Robot and making toys.
You do a lot of design work (Web sites, posters, T-shirts, etc.). Do you consider yourself an artist? A designer? Is there a difference to be made?
My art professor once said that you can't call yourself an artist. Only someone else can call you that. So I don't really classify myself at all. I just like making stuff. There's great satisfaction in producing something from nothing. Traditionally, there's a difference between an artist and a graphic designer. The artist generates artwork, while the designer may just utilize the artwork in a layout with other elements such as type and other pieces of art. But, as with a lot of things presently, the dividing line between artist and designer is becoming blurred. I guess maybe I fall in that gray area. Which is fine by me because I like doing a little bit of everything.
I had been doing posters for Tower District events like Halloween night, Brews and Blues, and the car show. That was swell and I was thinking it would be cool to do gig posters or album covers, because music was always a big inspiration for me. Around that time I finally got Web access at home, so I went phishing on the Internet and sent out some e-mail letters, with samples of my work, to record labels that featured bands I liked.
One guy from Fueled By Ramen records actually replied. At the time I wrote, they were forming a street team and were in need of a logo to promote it. If I wanted to do something up, and they liked it, they would use it. I took him up on the offer and sent him the logo. He liked the design and passed it on to the label co-owner, Vinnie Fiorello.
Besides being co-owner of the label, as it turned out, Vinnie is the drummer and handles the art direction for Less Than Jake. So he calls me up. He was really down-to-earth and we hit it off. The band was gearing up for a tour and Vinnie asks if I'd be interested in producing a T-shirt graphic. Of course I was! I put it together and Vinnie was pleased and continued to hit me up for shirt designs, promo stuff and CD covers. Vinnie is a remarkable individual. He's very creative and brimming with ideas. Besides writing for the band and running the record label, he started another project called Monkey VS. Robot to produce shirts, art and toys. Since we had such a good relationship and similar sensibilities, he came to me for work on that new enterprise. It's been seven years now and I really enjoy working with him and I'm honored to call him my friend.
Pop-art toys are becoming a big trend. It seems like you're doing a lot of toy designs. How did you get involved in that scene (Circus Punks and whatnot)?
Working with Vinnie on the Monkey VS. Robot venture (which has become Wünderland War), opened doors. He dropped my name with toymaker Mike Becker, founder of Flapjack Toys, and we got together to work on the Spooky Kookys and Symptoms toy line. I met Paul Cruikshank, who does the Circus Punks, years ago but was re-introduced to him when working on a Circus Punk design commissioned by Vinnie. One thing does lead to another, and I've been fortunate to work with some great people.
I had been interested in designer vinyl toys for awhile before the opportunity arose. They were, to me, like little pieces of art that were accessible more so than a painting or print. The imagery was appealing to me, plus they were tangible like cartoons you could actually touch and feel. I collect a few but I'm no fanatic by any means. It takes up space and there's so much out there now, that you have to be selective.
By the traditional ideals they're probably not considered art. If that matters to you, fine. But if you like it and it makes you happy, that's what's important not whether it fits into an institutional definition of something. There are a lot of established lowbrow and urban artists designing toys now, and I think it's being accepted by more people as another form of art.
Can you describe your style? What are your influences?
I suppose my style would be considered lowbrow. I'm influenced by punk music, hot-rod street culture, horror and sci-fi, B movies, vintage ad art, tattoos and cartoons. There are so many contemporary artists out there now that I dig. At the onset of my current style, I was really inspired by Robert Williams, Mark Ryden, and the Clayton brothers, while more recently it's been Tim Biskup, Gary Baseman, Camille Rose Garcia and Shag.
How'd you get into art? What were your earliest experiences?
I was a shy kid and would spend a lot of time drawing. My parents were really supportive and encouraging of my Crayola creations, so I just kept at it. It was fun, and seemed to bring a smile to their faces. I entered a couple of poster contests in grade school. One of them I won was for fire prevention and I was presented a Smokey Bear figure/pen holder. The other was for the local cable-TV provider and I won a small cash prize. But being at a young age I thought that was pretty nifty. I guess I responded to making people happy and enjoyed the recognition.
What's the state of design in Fresno? You've got a day job, but do freelance work. Is there a market for young designers in town?
I'm not really up on the scene in town, but I'm trying to change that. I think there's more out there than most people know about. ArtHop seems to becoming more popular and that's great for Fresno. There's always a market for designers sometimes you just have to look hard, or carve your own niche. The Internet makes opportunities a lot more accessible.
Any advice you'd give to artists looking to do what you've done?
Work hard and keep trying. It can take time. Do whatever, whenever you can to get noticed, like contests or pro-bono work. Even small seemingly inconsequential jobs can lead to something else particularly if you do it well and treat people professionally. Versatility is really important, too.