Skateboard culture helps shape the artist's approach to painting

Clint Davidson's exhibition of new paintings at 934 Gallery finds the artist getting, in many ways, back to the roots of his art, so it makes sense that the title is derived from a song by the Roots.

“‘Respond and React' describes the process in which the art was made,” Davidson said in an interview at an Olde Towne East coffee house. “The name comes from the title of a Roots song that I thought very concisely explained the way I was making these [works].”

Not content with a single music reference to help explain his work in “Respond and React: New Works by Clint Davidson,” the artist likened his method for making these paintings to improvisation.

“I start out painting a [solid wood] panel one color, and then I just started making some marks or putting a few pieces of collage on there. Then I'd sit back and look at it and figure out the next move,” Davidson said. “It's more freeform. I don't like to say intuitive, but compare it to maybe jazz music, where you play a note and respond with another note. It sounds kind of corny, but my concept for this show was ‘unplanned paintings.'

“Deciding when they're finished is the hardest part of the process. Some of these will have 10 paintings underneath by the time I'm finished. Some are so layered with decisions I edited out, but that gives the pieces their texture and presence. One of the things I've learned is to never be scared to paint over something.”

Paintings and collage have been Davidson's mediums through his high school years in Louisville, Kentucky, and as a student at CCAD (he graduated with a Fine Arts degree in 2000). In the years since, Davidson has made his mark making street art, murals and signs. (His work includes the Franklinton mural at 400 West Rich, the Milo Arts mural adjacent to 934 Gallery and the Glen Echo birds mural, as well as the logos for Seventh Son Brewing and Yellow Brick Pizza.)

“I've been doing collage for many years now, so this is going back in a retro sense and revisiting some old themes and ideas,” he said. “I feel like these collages and these paintings are a collage themselves of all the things I do, and give an insight into what my other interests are. I hope that makes them personal and honest. That's what's most important to me. I try very hard to be a no-bullshit artist.

“I enjoy the process of making these kinds of images. It really goes back to just painting and enjoying making something. The point is still to make a beautiful painting. … So when I make the decision [a piece is] done, hopefully it's successful. That's subjective, I guess.”

Another longtime influence on Davidson's art is skateboarding. Already an avid skateboarder when his family moved to Louisville when he was a teen, Davidson found community among other skaters and the music, art and ethic that was embraced by that community. His interest in both lettering and graphic design was influenced by skateboarding — Davidson began his studies at CCAD as a graphic arts major before switching to fine arts. His interest was built on a desire to someday work for a skateboarding manufacturer or publication.

“Skateboarding had a big impact on the way my art looks, that influence of being out on the streets skateboarding and seeing graffiti,” Davidson said, at the same time acknowledging his own street-art past and recalling his since-abandoned reputation as an artist working in what he called, with an implied wink, “non-commissioned work.”

“Skateboarders are innovators, and I hope I'm following in that path,” he said, adding that he rarely skates these days. “I'm a little brittle now. I'm almost 40, and I'm afraid I'll break a wrist or something and be out of work. But I do love it and I feel guilty every day that I don't ride my skateboard because it did inform so much of my life and cult identity. Art is my skateboarding now. It replaced skateboarding, but you could say skateboarding gave me my art.”