Multidisciplinary artist Kay Davis tells stories of childhood and identity
In utilising a variety of mediums, the artist creates artworks “that are a reflection of my personality, lifestyle and history.”
- Lucy Bourton
- 28 June 2021
This article has been curated as part of Yinka Ilori’s guest edit of It’s Nice That exploring the power of storytelling. To view the entire series head here.
The work of Kay Davis, a multidisciplinary artist, skater and model, is a balance of the personal and relatable. Creativity for Kay has always been an outlet where naturally she creates artworks “that are a reflection of my personality, lifestyle and history,” she tells It’s Nice That. With this approach, storytelling becomes a red thread through Kay’s practice. “It’s usually during the process of making that a theme and story starts to unravel,” she explains. “And that’s something I love about craft making. There’s an element of trust because even though essentially I am the ‘creator’, I also feel like I’m part of the audience and learn along the way. I think subconsciously a high power guides the story and I’m just the vessel.”
Thematically, Kay’s visual storytelling is relayed through themes of childhood and identity. At first exploring this theme from a personal point of view, the wider potential cultural impact of these works initially never occurred to the artist. Yet, over time and through sharing these pieces, “I began to realise the sentimental value nostalgia has and that collectively we share some of the same memories,” she says. Elements like childhood also allow the artist a level of experimentation as “there’s an element of innocence and playfulness that gives me the opportunity to explore and be vibrant with colours and designs... It’s something that young people can see and feel inspired by, but also has the power to evoke beautiful memories with an older audience.”
Utilising childhood as a vehicle for creative connection, one project, The Fruit at Home, embodies this sentiment. An illustration-led series, each drawing by Kay tells a story of 12 characters “who are unique in their own way, just like fruit.” As a viewer, your eye is first led to Kay’s illustrative portraiture as she creates detailed and uplifting portraits of each of her characters. Taking a step back, you then take in the context the artist provides by sketching repeating illustrative backgrounds of fruit, like bunches of grapes or slices of pineapple. “It highlights Black beauty and its diversity, whilst using the reference of fruits that often grow in tropical climates and connects to home,” the artist elaborates.
Elsewhere in Kay’s practice, this motif appears again, further pulling upon nostalgic themes of childhood. Sometimes it’s through the detailed drawing of a bead, or hair clips and ties, each hand-painted with gouache. Despite these different details, all are “extremely intentional” and showcase stories “that represent and uplift Black people,” says Kay. “Black joy is always at the heart of what I do and what I love about this series is how affirming it can be.” Once a piece is finished, Kay’s multidisciplinary approach also leads her to find various entry points for an audience so that her work is not viewed “just as art but as functional gifts that have sentinel impact and value, such as wrapping paper, greeting cards, stickers, colouring sheets and more.”
This is also a reflection of Kay’s multifaceted creative path, originally starting in textiles design before moving over to painting and illustration. Jumping between these practices – whether she’s creating shoe accessories for Dr. Martens or a collection of accessories on the theme of finding home – is simply a reflection of “the way my brain works,” adds Kaye. Never limiting her self expression or creative curiosity, she finds that “often each medium inspires the next,” she continues. “I’ve been this way since I was a child and I’m so grateful to have such outlets that teach me how to adapt, pivot and find solutions. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
It also means Kay is such an exciting artistic talent to watch. Continuing to hop between mediums and themes, this year has also seen her “welcome storytelling that doesn’t just revolve around childhood or femininity,” she says. “I’ve spent a lot of years developing my style as an artist, and now I’m at a place where I can still be youthful in my creative approach but expand my dialogue.” And while she will pivot into new creative realms, Kay adds “a signature style and narrative that explores Blackness and identity,” will always be present in her creative output.
GalleryKay Davis: The Fruit at Home (Copyright © Kay Davis, 2021)
The Power of Storytelling with Yinka Ilori
This story along with many others are part of a guest edit of It’s Nice That by the artist, Yinka Ilori. To read further pieces from Yinka’s curation click on the link below.
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Kay Davis: The Fruit at Home (Copyright © Kay Davis, 2021)
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.