I've been obsessed with this lonely songwriter lately. "Obsessed" is an understatement, actually. I want to know how he wound up where he is and how he's feeling. I see him amid a pink-hued landscape, plaintively strumming a guitar as a confused-looking herd of sheep emerges from a nearby canyon. Soaring above them all is a single-engine plane, which has no pilot. The little blue flying machine looks lonely, too, and I'm pretty sure its presence is spooking the wayward sheep. The moody illustrative images are part of an 8-by-12-inch collage called Song by local artist Jennifer Davis that sparks a number of questions: Where is this pastel-colored place? Why did those beasts wind up in an empty gorge? And why is the singer's face cracked like the head of a timeworn porcelain doll?
"That's my boyfriend," Davis offers sheepishly. "I cut out his face." Of course she did. Because that's what Davis does. She collects images from all over: vintage and fashion magazines, antique books she uncovers at thrift stores, and, apparently, her personal photo collection. Every tiny space of her hundreds of paintings and collages is filled with her collection of paper scraps.
None of her artwork is planned, she explains. Instead, Davis pulls the cutouts from the overflowing drawers and plastic containers that fill the art studio in her south Minneapolis home. The final elements piece together like a found-object puzzle.
Today, Davis, a 31-year-old with a soothing childlike voice, is visibly nervous. She tugs at the hot-pink strands of her hair extensions and lifts her shoulders to her ears. "I can't draw. I feel like such a fraud," she says with a timid laugh. "But I guess I find the joy in putting it all together: the colors and the textures. I can't deny that the images are really narrative. But I usually only discover it afterward."
Davis might be the isolated character in Song, but she has a comrade in artist Amy Rice. The two artists create similarly "girly" artwork and are currently sharing a show called "Delightful" at the Rosalux Gallery in Minneapolis's Open Book.
Rice grew up on a southern Wisconsin dairy farm and drives a 1949 Ford pickup that precedes her by a few decades (she's 37). She's obsessed with her dog, Ella, and her Bianchi Milano bike, which she outfitted in red accessories and often rides while wearing a skirt. She used to run an organic farm and even wrote a vegan cookbook, but for the past five years she's managed Spectrum Artworks, a program that integrates adults with mental illness into the larger art community.
Like Davis, Rice is a faithful fan of the scissors, but instead of cutting up magazines, she designs stencils for her mixed-media artworks. She doesn't craft the same piece twice, but her vocabulary of images—bicycles, alien plants, pears, Brussels sprouts—reappears in her storybook pieces. Many of these appear to have been inspired by nostalgia and burnished childhood memories, everything from a bike ride to her grandparents' dairy farm. "Some of it turns out to be ridiculously cute and girly," Rice says of her collection inspired by the farm. "But my memories of it are ridiculously cute and girly."
Both of the artists' pieces possess a feminine, boutique aesthetic. They are filled with tiny birds and women in long skirts. While Davis's collages are dreamlike, Rice's stenciled paintings are playful. Davis, for example, has a collage called Voice that features a bird-human hybrid outfitted in a floral dress standing before a dreary setting. Rice, meanwhile, has spray-painted a whimsical bird clinging to a tree in her painting Take-Off. Their collaborations in "Delightful" find the pair coincidentally and oddly obsessed with fragile, winged beings.
Though their art-making has always been solitary, Rice allowed Davis to cut into her pieces, and Davis permitted Rice to create stencils from her work. The end result of their joint effort can be pleasantly perplexing.
"It's gotten a little bit weird," Rice says. "I had a picture of a sheep, Jennifer gave it a dress, and then I took that sheep and made it into a three-foot-tall stencil. People have a hard time figuring out how we put it all together. And I like that. Artists really inspire each other all the time, but they pretend they don't."
Of course, taking someone's art and making up your own story about it can be beneficial for the weak-hearted. In that spirit, can we pretend that the songwriter in Davis's painting is enlightened instead of lonely? And that though his face is cracked, his heart isn't broken? "The images can be whatever you want them to be," Davis concedes, before offering this little nugget about my fixation: "I can't wait to tell my boyfriend. He is going to be so embarrassed."
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