What do a popcorn kernel, a cheese grater, and a potato have in common? They have all made an appearance on local artist Brock Davis’s Instagram page. Taking everyday items and capturing them in a new and creative way inspires Davis, and his artistic explorations have been shared around the world, with his presence on Instagram attracting nearly 200,000 followers.
Growing up in Marietta, Georgia, Davis was surrounded by artists on his mother’s side of the family. “My mother is a good illustrator and painter, and I also had family members who did a lot of video and photography work,” Davis says. “I’m one of five, and my brothers and I were always inventing our own games.” With creative inspiration all around as a child, “I was always drawn to the idea of taking what you’re supposed to play with and making it more fun and more unique,” he says.
Davis moved to Minnesota in 1995 to pursue a professional career in advertising. While advertising was a great outlet professionally, he wanted to find a more creative niche where he could create various forms of art. “I worked in a variety of different mediums,” Davis says, reflecting on a time in 2007 when he returned to doing more creative artwork. Photography, sculptures, graphic design, typography, and painting are a few of the ways that he expressed himself, with photography being at the forefront of his efforts. “I’ve been called a visual artist and a conceptual artist,” says Davis. “Most of the work I do is rooted in a bigger idea and I bring that idea to life.”
In 2008, Davis embraced a challenge that would be a turning point in his artistic career. “I tried to make one piece of art every day of the year, for 365 days,” Davis explains. “I didn’t miss a day.” Davis was one of two artists to complete this project, and he did it while married with children, and working a full-time job. “It was like daily exercise, but I was exercising my brain instead of my muscles,” Davis explains. “That project helped me to focus on the unique qualities that everyday surroundings and objects have inside them.” During this project, Davis gathered a fan base of people interested in his art, which opened doors leading to specialized projects and editorial work.
Last February, Davis was asked to participate in an exhibit headed up by Banksy, one of the world’s most famous street artists, who has an unknown identity. This project, a dystopian amusement park set in the UK, was called “Dismaland” and was open to the public for five weeks in late summer 2016. “It was pretty surreal and a lot of fun,” Davis says. “I worked pretty much all of last year, sending ideas and receiving feedback from Banksy via email.” Many of the pieces he worked on involved making “creative extraction out of ordinary things,” as Davis calls it. One contribution he made for the exhibit was a collection of photographs he captured around the Midwest of a 1950s turnstile with vast landscapes in the background. In the images, it appears that you can pay a ticket, and walk through the turnstile into stunning Midwestern nature. “It was the natural beauty of the earth waiting for you on the other side,” explains Davis.
When he is not working full-time and preparing exhibits for Banksy, Davis maintains his popular presence on Instagram. “When Instagram came along, I wanted to figure out how they wanted people to use it, and I figured out a different way to use it,” Davis says. “Instead of using my phone to take pictures of my food, pets, and family, I tried to think of more conceptual ideas using ordinary objects, like a kiwi.” A toothbrush, Q-tips, a coat hanger: name the object and Davis has likely reinvented it in some way using photography. “It takes something familiar to people and helps them to view it from a different perspective,” he says.
Not only is his photography causing followers to think differently about everyday items, it is also a means of documenting unique, personal moments for him and for his family. “When I see certain pieces, I can think about what my family and I were doing at that time of year,” Davis says. He and his wife Alyn have two children, Ames, 11 and June, 8. “Those pieces are powerful because of that personal connection.”
When asked about some of his favorite pieces, he mentions how they are always spontaneous and quickly captured with his phone. “I will be cutting vegetables or washing dishes and an idea will strike,” Davis says. “With my phone there, I can execute it, and the curiosity that fuels the idea is kept intact.” One particular day, Davis was grating cheese for his kids’ tacos when inspiration struck. “I realized the grater looked like a burning building and the cheese was like fire,” Davis says. Nearly 5,000 followers liked this photo, tagged with the simple caption “burning building/cheese grater.”
When asked about the driving purpose behind his art, Davis responds, “Definitely to give people something to smile and talk about, especially when it gives them a new way to look at something – that excites me.” Last fall, he helped teach a workshop on what he calls the “art of observation,” paying attention to simple things and experiencing them as a child would, with fresh excitement and a wild imagination. Davis compares this practice to learning how to “stop and smell the roses,” exercising creativity and encouraging people to slow down when it may not be natural. During the workshop, he provided participants with everyday foods and objects to see what they would create from these items. The participants would then capture the objects using a notepad, or a camera, and hopefully walk away seeing things in a different light. “It’s a good exercise to jostle your brain if you’re in a creative rut,” Davis says.
Though Davis’s art has taken him to New York City and overseas, he also maintains a strong presence locally. “We love living in St. Louis Park,” Davis says. “We’ve been there for 10 years. I love the people and I love the community.” With a desire to be more involved in the local community with his artwork and instruction, Davis also has an interest in reaching and teaching young artists. “A lot of the work I do is kid friendly, and kids really respond to it,” Davis says. “When you’re a child and you’re absorbing creativity, you are inspired.”
With many projects in the idea phase, Davis’s work is reaching people around the world with his simple, unique approach to capturing the everyday. “Someone once described my work as ‘taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary,’” Davis says. “I don’t know that that always happens, but that’s the hope.”