American Masters


Damon Davis: Apologue for the Darkest Gods

Filmmaker Elissa Blount Moorhead provides a look into the art of award-winning, post-disciplinary artist Damon Davis, the St. Louis native whose work spans across illustration, painting, printmaking, music, film, and public art that explores the African American experience.

AIRED: October 05, 2020 | 0:11:52


("Darker Gods" by Damon Davis Feat. Karl Livingston)

♪ I'd rather eat the illusion

♪ Than to see that we are losin ♪

♪ Who's in charge of the stars

♪ Thought it was just memories of them bloomin ♪

♪ Hear the strings play our movements ♪

- [Damon] I done have some hard times

because me choosing to be an artist,

you know, but that was a choice.

So I'mma walk through it.

("Sad Panther" by Damon Davis)

♪ Yeah, yeah

(warped singing)

But I have always somehow been okay.

(warped singing)

(waves crashing)

- [Narrator] One day, a stranger falls from the sky.

("The Stranger" by Damon Davis)

- My mom was a sharecropper from Louisiana.

Creole lady.

My dad was, he was super militant and to a degree,

super bitter about what life had dealt him.

What he could control and what he couldn't control.

And he took that out on a lot of us.

And as much as I don't want to make that part of who I am,

it is very much a part of who I am.

It's how I learned how to protect myself.

So I'm trying to unlearn and undo a bunch of stuff

that was, at one point, was what I thought

being a man was supposed to be.

I grew up in East St. Louis crack era.

Yeah, a lot of people didn't make it out of it.

Growing up, the things that I got made fun of saved my life.

Being a nerd, being too emotional.

I used to think I was so much different from the other boys,

young men I grew up with.

But nah, I wasn't, the mask get better for them.

It fit better on their faces.

It didn't fit as good for me.

(light music)

- And that's what a lot of my work is about.

Being black means a lot of things, right?

Being a man means a lot of things.

Not being a man means a lot of things.

You know, all of these myths, it's a myth.

It's a fucking story that you've been told

and some of it fits you and some of it doesn't.

("The Garden of Low Hanging Heavens" by Damon Davis)

♪ Garden, in a garden

Darker Gods is a big thing for me

that took me about three years to make.

I like to think it's like a little universe.

It's a multilayer thing, music, art, photography.

Basically about either accentuating to a mystic degree

or negating these tropes and these cultural norms

that Black people say what makes Black culture,

but taking these things, and deifying them, you know.

So, you could see yourself in these guys

and see these everyday Black things

that you think are mundane and look at them

as the mystic and rethinking and reimagining

just life on a surreal level.

("The Garden of Low Hanging Heavens" by Damon Davis)

Miles Davis.

When I look at interviews,

I think the energy of East St. Louis,

I got that same sort of energy sometimes.

And I don't know if it's the city or it's my last name

or it's the house I grew up in, but I really respect his,

I am black and I don't care.

And I am going to be black until I am done.

And like, and I'm not finished.

And I'm not no new age, you know, it's,

I have ascended past that and all that.

Like he was, he was on that, for real.

(upbeat music)

Music is a big thing to me.

I can make a beat by myself

and I'm not thinking about the rest of the world.

It takes everything away for a second.

The art that influenced me the most was like rap, though.

And that's how I learned most of the skills I got,

it's 'cause I was rapping.

And I used to like new taggin', lettering

and graffiti sort of stuff.

This teacher, instead of like thinking

it was a problem or whatever,

he would let me do, like my chris like that.

He was giving me jobs with like these

rich white ladies in Bellevue.

They kids want they bedrooms painted.

That stuff didn't come from this, this, this, this,

this high class cultural sort of lens of art.

It came from regular people and finding a utility in art.

So if you, if you could paint a sign for somebody,

if you could draw a tattoo for somebody,

if you could like those things, airbrushing shirts,

like stuff like that, like it's more utility

than I've been hanging it on the wall.

So this is my work in particular.

And it's called All Hands on Deck

and I do, I did it

during the Ferguson uprising.

♪ We ready

♪ We ready

♪ For y'all

♪ We ready

♪ What

♪ We ready

- Let's move to the sidewalk.

♪ We ready

- You need to go to the sidewalk.

(yelling) - We are human.

We are willing to (indistinct).

- It's going down on your watch.

- But treat like humans.

- Don't look down. - And not like animals.

Don't treat us like dogs when you do arrest us.

(crosstalk in the crowd)

We will continue to fight for our rights.

We will continue

to fight for our rights.

- I was trying to figure out how to help

and I'm makin' things.

I didn't know that this was gonna be the thing

that people wanted to see,

especially with all of the stuff that was going on.

It boggles my mind sometimes when I sit in spaces like this,

and when I hear you explain it and what you got out of it,

'cause it was real simple to me.

And I felt like it was a state of emergency.

I didn't make that up.

Like that was already there.

People with their hands up.

I just was trying to channel what was going on.

The deeper meaning. I thought it was self-explanatory

to the people that was being,

that was going through it, right?

("Bloom of Ease" by Damon Davis Feat. Bloom)

I'm a success story when a lot of people,

a lot of homeys ain't, and a lot of people lost a lot

and there's people still dying behind.

What happened there?

And so I'm grateful for the fact that it did, you know,

it did open doors and it's something that people will

remember the work that I did for a moment in time.

But at the same time, this is all,

this is the only thing anybody

ever want to talk to me about.

It's as a painful time of my life

and a painful time in a bunch of other people lives.

This was me weaponizing my talent

for a specific moment in time.

("Prime Fire" by Damon Davis)


It's about 130 small six-by-six works of mixed media.

That was like my therapy while the protest was going on.

I'd go home and draw what I saw

and the words I was hearing, the philosophy.

And I was playing with a lot of like crossing words out.

So I'll only let you see what I want you to see

'cause that's usually how history go.

("Prime Fire" by Damon Davis)

- [Narrator] The stranger remembers his long journey

and the place of war he has come from.

He longs for peace and rest.

He hopes it awaits him in his castle.

(light xylophone music)

- The short film I did, The Stranger.

The short I did in Ghana when I was there for a residency,

a man falls from the sky one day

and he was brought back to earth because of a dream.

He's searching for a castle and a queen.

There's an analogy for what I thought I was getting into,

going back to the continent.

We need a more realistic way of looking at the diaspora.

At this point, we don't belong nowhere

'cause we not from over there

and they'll let you know you not from, you, not from here.

You're not one of us.

But here, they don't really want us either.

We like landless people

and I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

I mean, you can adapt to a bunch of shit.

(light music)

- [Narrator] As he slept, a dream comes.

In the dream, he is visited by a great spirit.

(light music by Damon Davis)

The spirit offers a gift to the stranger to guide his way.

(light music by Damon Davis)

- I know that I'm right at being me.

And I know I'm the best one at being me.

And it took me a long time,

a long time to get to that.

And I'm not worried about if I fall off

or if I get paid or if I blow up.

And I can't remember the last time I really cared about that

and I feel good about that.

(light music by Damon Davis)


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