Inside the Artist’s Sketchbook: Matthew Davis ’12

This feature was conceived as a foray into the hearts/minds of Kenyon’s finest artists through the pages of their sketchbooks. Not all artists catalogue their inspiration in such a tightly bound style, however. The following is an account of the thoughts and processes of art major Matthew Davis ’12.

If you were here during the fall semester, you may remember the one day when suddenly the entire length of Middle Path north of the Gates of Hell was bordered by little blue envelopes labeled with students’ names. There were 1782 envelopes total, one for each Kenyon student, each containing a single phrase that offered a brief glimpse into the life of Davis, the artist behind the installation. Catch yet another glimpse into Davis’s life after the jump.

Besides the envelopes (which you can read more about here), Davis’s art comps include a wooden slope marked with nails with flattened tops.  The piece was created to convey the sense of the artist’s body as it engaged with the wood and metal: Davis marvels at the way each individual nail flattened as he struck it with different strokes and varying strength. Davis enjoys art as a product of strenuous activity—each nail took about 25-30 strikes to flatten and the several hammers and anvils he utilized were ruined in the process.

Davis’s most recent artistic venture involved a run from Gambier to Granville while wearing a Holter monitor to count the journey in heartbeats rather than in miles. Davis might be a former cross-country runner, but this was by no means an easy expedition. He feels the prints of each heartbeat going up and down were worth the effort, however. Davis additionally wore the Holter monitor to sleep, allowing him to compare the different states of arousal that the body can endure within a natural state of slumber.

Originally studying philosophy at Kenyon, Davis re-declared as a studio art major this past spring. He found that he was far more captivated by the representation of the human body and its remarkable functions than with John Locke’s theory of morals. For Davis, philosophy is only the study of what has been said in the past, whereas art is a thrilling “live investigation” and a truly personal form of exploration.

Davis is fascinated primarily by the human body not only in its functions but in how it expresses each person differently and reflects the personality of the person in how they portray and display themselves. He describes his interest in the body “in terms of how it moves, how it conveys information, how it tells our stories … it’s a lens into our past.”

Though Davis kindly described the motivations and processes behind his projects to me, he ultimately recognizes that observers will interpret his work through their own experiences.

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