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The Art of the American Dream

July 27, 2016 9:56 am0 commentsViews: 115
The Charm of Miss Hepburn (2016, Mixed Media, 40x48)  by Jon Davenport

The Charm of Miss Hepburn (2016, Mixed Media, 40×48) by Jon Davenport

by Rebecca M. Alvin

It’s been said that in these highly charged political times, Americans are engaged in a battle over the very meaning and purpose of our nation. While some see us as a nation of immigrants who rose up through the ranks against the backdrop of freedom and democracy and working together as a large community, others see us as a nation of hard workers who pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and make it work as rugged individuals. What we’re really battling are varying definitions of the “American Dream.” We all agree there is such a thing and that it has to do with upward mobility, but how one moves up, what moving up really means, and whether or not that mobility is equally accessible to all, those are the questions.

In American Dream, a new exhibition at Kobalt Gallery, British artist Jon Davenport looks at that American Dream through the lens of his background in advertising and nostalgia for that moment in our history that seems incredibly removed from the realities of today, the 1950s and early 1960s. He recalls looking at LIFE magazines from the 1950s, which gave him an interesting idea about what America was all about. “They’re so polarized, how they display this utopian future life in the advert and then their news articles are all like ‘how to build a nuclear shelter’…I was always interested in how the advertising was quite false and trying to hide what was really going on.”

Davenport, who moved to Atlanta, Georgia, to be with his American wife (who is also an artist), got his start in London in the advertising business. Watching his wife, he felt the pull of his own creativity. And while he still does work as a consultant in the ad biz from time to time, he decided to pursue art full-time….pursuing his own American Dream, if you will.

Although he says he was always aware of the American South “from watching The Dukes of Hazard and such,” actually living there has shown him other aspects of American culture that are distinct from his own homeland. One thing Davenport finds very interesting is the ways in which art is appreciated here. “It’s very different selling art here than it was in London,” he says. “There everything is either in a museum or in some unbelievably rich person’s house who has like thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars. But over here there’s [regular] people who buy art just to put in their houses. That was a bit of a shocker as well.”

Upon looking at the work for the first time, it looks like mixed media encaustic painting. In actuality, there is no wax used. “It’s good old glue, basically,” Davenport laughs. He explains that he prints images out and attaches them onto the board and then paints over the images and finishes with glue. The images he begins with speak of a certain version of the American Dream that comes from the American advertising that Davenport has always found so interesting.

Blue Tie Pink Rose (2016, Mixed Media, 24x24) by Jon Davenport

Blue Tie Pink Rose (2016, Mixed Media, 24×24) by Jon Davenport

While those of us who live in New England may see the American South as a vastly different part of the country and one with which we share little, culturally, Davenport, seeing both regions and having visited other parts of the country as well, says we don’t seem that different to him.

“They seem a lot closer together than if I was from here,” he says. “I think the biggest differences are you get the city life and you get the rural life.” Davenport says he enjoys the rural because it’s so different from the cities he’s accustomed to and also more interesting.As an example, he offers, “My wife and I used to go on trips to little towns in the mountains…I loved to go the back way [rather than the highway] where you get to go through all these funny little towns, and my wife would say it was embarrassing because it was all the crazies, the rednecks, and I loved it, it makes the trip so much more interesting.”

Perhaps we get too focused on the details to recognize our shared Americanness, whatever that is. But looking at Davenport’s work, which sells well here and in Atlanta, we might start to understand what it means, at least to him.

“Probably in my younger days I would have done something a lot different in my art career… I probably would have been a little bit less subtle and sort of change the world, but after working hard in the industry for so long,… really now you don’t want to try to say too much. You’re doing it for yourself rather than for other people. And if other people like it then they like it. That’s the only thing you can do, really.”

Jon Davenport’s solo show American Dream is on view at Kobalt Gallery, 366 Commercial St., Provincetown July 29 through August 4. There will be an opening reception with the artist on Friday, July 29, at 7 – 9 p.m. For more information, call 508.487.1132 or visit kobaltgallery.com.