A self-described history nerd, Mike Davis is a San Francisco-based artist who paints scenes stuck in another time. His detailed oil paintings are rife with personal symbolism and minuscule narratives, evoking Renaissance painters such as Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Aertsen. Though he emulates the Northern Renaissance masters, Davis is entirely self-taught. He forayed into painting in his early twenties as an off-shoot of his tattoo career. The founding owner of esteemed San Francisco shop Everlasting Tattoo, Davis currently splits his time between his craft and his fine art, using his paintings as a cathartic processing tool to digest the events of his personal life.
Davis invited Hi-Fructose into his basement studio to get a glimpse of his new work for his solo show “A Blind Man’s Journey,” opening at San Francisco’s 111 Minna Gallery on October 3. Tucked away in an industrial neighborhood, he paints amid odd collections of art books, World War II war helmets, upcycled furniture and his wide array of guitars and other musical instruments.
Though he was quick to point out that his work is largely symbolic, the artist was hesitant to go into detail about what the animated skeletons, two-legged ears and sunken boats stand for in his work. Each painting is meant to be an enigma for the viewer to decipher, he insisted, “People who know me well might be able to put the puzzle together.” The detailed paintings will be presented in hand-carved wooden frames that Davis created to amplify the cryptic imagery in each of the works.
Whether one understands the symbolism or not isn’t the point. The artist leaves plenty of visual surprises within the works, tying in folkloric elements with off-kilter humor and sometimes grotesque details. Each piece is a tiny microcosm to explore, no field guide necessary.