Terrell Davis on his pop, cute and euphoric design practice that calls back to the early noughties
Creating all sorts from posters, videos and identities, the New Jersey-based designer and digital artist tells us about his y2k aesthetic.
- Ayla Angelos
- 19 August 2020
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
It’s often that we hear of a creatives first love of their medium starting from childhood. But, for Terrell Davis, there’s one thing that really solidifies it: often, his mum will show a picture of him drawing on an easel she got him when he was just four years’ old. “I started out painting and drawing, of course,” he tells It’s Nice That, “then I would collage pictures, logos, characters and anything I found interesting online, and just mash them all into this chimera of a drawing.”
When the New Jersey-based digital artist and designer looks back on these creations, his instant reaction is that he’s surprised at how connected his work from middle school is to what he creates now. In 2013, that’s when Terrell launched his artist brand terrell®, an outlet launched alongside his learnings in graphic design and 3D modelling in his spare time – initiated during the summer while he was transferring from an all-boys Catholic school to public school. Shortly after this period of self-teaching, Terrell was gifted an iMac by a famed art curator Diego Cortez – “by way of Nick Dangerfield of Planeta (who I still owe the world to!)” – and that’s when things really started to take off. “That was such a cool experience I’ll never forget, because I remember him telling me about how he used to work and collaborate with Basquiat,” he continues to reminisce.
Then, over the course of his final year in school, he was able to narrow down his field and hone in on his digital skills before transitioning into the university environment. A load of noteworthy experiences went by, including the opportunity to “navigate the streets of NYC by [himself] and going to gallery openings and networking,” as well as working as a “‘gallery owner’” for his virtual gallery, then named Tensquared – launched with best friend Joygill Moriah. Not to mention the chance to host various openings at the now-defunct Superchief Gallery Soho, with thanks to the owner Ed who loaned the space for free. The funny thing is, although Terrell has naturally had his foot firmly held within the creative industry for years, none of his friends properly understood what he did, “and neither did my parents really.” He continues: “I think they probably thought I was doing something more sinister, because I was really secretive about my whereabouts (I was never too open about it because I just assumed no one would get it), but I remember the smiles on their faces when I took them to my first solo show at Stream Gallery in Brooklyn in 2014. That really was one of the best days of my life!”
Above all, Terrell always knew he wanted to get into this field of work: “I know little me would be so proud of me now, he probably wouldn’t even believe it!” Now working solely in the realm of digital art and design, his portfolio broadly spans logos, album art, posters and identities. Inspiration can arrive from all sorts of retro-infused sources, including music videos, video games, Myspace projects and especially the video for Boyz by M.I.A that he’d seen for the first time in Foot Locker at the age of eight or nine. Roaming the internet on sites such as Myspace, Xanga, Facebook and Tumblr was an inspiration past time for Terrell, who cites this as a major influence to the work that he creates today. “I was really into spunk and vapourware in high school but of course it gets popular and people begin to co-opt it to become something that it’s not, so then I moved on and really got into what’s now described as ‘y2k aesthetic’ before it even had a name.”
One of Terrell’s most favoured projects is the imagery created for singer Andrea Valle for her new Ep, Lovergirl, released in June. Working with alongside Andrea and stylist Marita Owens, the aim was to create a lifelike representation of her for the cover and title single. “It was a really fast-paced but a great learning experience in how to make realistic humans in 3D – it’s something I’m immensely proud I was able to pull off.” The inspiration for this project came from 70s post-modernism and furniture designer Verner Panton, which ultimately transpired into the set design. Otherwise, Terrell created the visuals for musician and friend Doss, during which he built virtual live sets for the likes of Secret Sky Fest and Chromatica fundraiser for Lady Gaga, hosted by Club Quarantine. Then, there’s the collaboration with Opening Ceremony which celebrates Pride all year round. “Me and about five other artists had quotes that we had to interpret; mine was ‘Gay people in solidarity with all oppressed peoples’, which I particularly liked.”
Although currently working in the continuous daily cycle of lockdown, Terrell’s future looks bright – despite the obvious freelance worries that the current climate might bring. “I’m just taking life day-to-day and doing with the flow at the moment, so I’m not thinking too hard about what’s next.”
Terrell Davis: Cover Art for “Lovergirl” by Andrea Valle. Styled by Marita Owens