Marcus Davies is a British artist based in Surrey known for his abstract portraits. Whilst I'm lucky to be able to call Marcus one of my best friends, work and life have made it harder and harder for us to sit down and talk shop face to face. Yesterday, I was able to spend a few hours doing exactly that.
In the last few months alone, Marcus has been selected as Artist of the Month at Dark Yellow Dot, had 'Genie' (one of his most prominent works) chosen to appear in a lookbook for Eporta and was also chosen to be featured by London Design Fair.
Isaac Jean-Francois, a PhD student at Yale University, Departments of African American and American Studies and recent collector of Marcus' work was influenced by what he saw in the 2019 work, 'Self Portrait'.
'The poet and scholar Fred Moten writes about blackness in relationship to "an ontology of dehiscence." The chromatic spill in Marcus's Self Portrait reminds me of that vibrational flow. His work has got me thinking!'
Thanks for taking the time today mate. So tell me, why did you decide to ditch the 9-5 and pursue your career in art?
It was quite a natural progression as I started out as a freelance graphic designer, mainly working in the music industry. I’ve always been drawn to art and have painted pretty much all my life. A lot of my design projects were geared towards providing artwork to suit a brief, whereas record labels would often give me free rein so I was able to create work which was more experimental by nature. I found more joy and passion in working this way and found myself creating every day, eventually without a brief or client involved. It wasn’t really an overnight sort of thing. More an evolution/falling into.
So what drives you to paint what you paint now?
I’d say it’s two fold. The portraits came about as I wanted to tackle issues and topics close to me. Namely mental health and how we function within the realm of society's expectations. I believe that we are moving forward and things are being spoken about more these days, but not necessarily expressed or depicted in visual terms. This coincided with my abstract experiments where I’m really focused on discovering/uncovering ‘beauty’. Another factor is the thrill and risk of the process. That’s definitely something that keeps me going - essentially I spend the vast majority of time on the portrait, then it all comes to head when I introduce the large abstraction on top at the end, if that goes south then it’s game over…
Well fortunately for us both, it never goes south! Quite understandably, your portraits have fast become some of your most prominent work. Is the inspiration behind them constant or fluid?
Definitely fluid. First and foremost I’m inspired by the subject I’m working with. That could be a well known leader who has influenced and helped shape the world we live in, for example Malcom X. Alternatively it could be as humble as a student activist working to make change in a world which desperately needs it. I always start a piece with the subject first, then I’ll choose the colours and composition based on my thoughts and feelings around that particular character.
So who will be next on the easel?
I have two in mind that I want to bring to life. One is a fellow artist (comrade). They’re doing crazy good work honouring marginalised people in society whilst breaking down gender norms. The other is a supremely talented musician who I’ve collaborated with a few times in the past, they’ve been a constant inspiration in my life and I just want to celebrate them. I won’t name names, at this stage -you’ll have to wait and see!
Can't wait mate - I'm always excited to see your latest work. Your work is pretty unique. Would you say that any one particular artist has helped influence your style?
I hate this question! I’m certainly inspired by a lot of the masters as well as my contemporaries, but ultimately the core of my work has come about as an amalgamation of design thinking fused with personal themes. Having said that Jay Jermyn is someone who’s work I’ve been following for the last few years. He’s based out of Australia and we came across each other's work via Instagram. He’s constantly pushing the boundaries fusing art and technology to devise new techniques and expressions. Artists like him who have a natural progression in their work always push me to look at my own work and process differently - @jay_jermyn
Yeah I can see that. So time for a proper cliché. If you could have a beer with any artist, past or present, who would you choose?
This is a tricky one. Partying with Francis Bacon in Monaco would be pretty cool, but to sit down for dinner with...I’d have to go with Vincent Van Gogh, just to tell him that all the work was worth it and that he became insanely successful despite the hardships he faced.
Good idea. Monaco would be bloody wild. Now for the artwork. Is there any one piece which has really stuck with you and resonated?
The Broken Column by Frida Kahlo, the way she was able to use symbolism to document her pain and anguish but still create something so beautiful. I’d love to travel to Mexico and see it in person someday.
Understandable, yet not at all the direction I thought you’d go. Do you have a particular piece by a contemporary artist you’d like to acquire?
Yeah absolutely. I’d love a piece by Inès Longevial. Just any of her portraits. They’re all phenomenal.
So obviously we have sold your work and sent pieces out to America, Europe and the UK. Did you ever see your work selling to these other markets?
Honestly, no- it’s been incredible. I think the beauty of this digital world we find ourselves in has connected collectors with artists all over the world, who’s work they may not have had the chance to see otherwise. Being able to engage with people remotely at the touch of a button has never been so important - I’m intrigued to see what else the art world comes up with to tackle the downturn of gallery visitors in a physical space for the time being, too.
It’s been an exciting journey mate. Finally, what advice would you give your younger self?
I would definitely tell my younger self to be more open and engage with folk that interest, inspire and push you to be better. My move from the world of freelance graphic design to art meant that I was kind of starting from zero. I didn’t have a network of comrades and allies that I could collaborate, bounce ideas off, share problems with. I guess this gave me a unique edge as I had to carve out my own style. Gradually though I’ve been building a small community of ‘art’ pals - some are local to me, some are based on the other side of the planet but yeah, I would definitely tell my younger self to build that community from the very start, I think that goes for life in general and transcends the art world.