Joshua Davis is a graphic artist based out of Ann Arbor, Michigan where he designs his self described “decrepit visuals”. A lot of Joshua’s work is picked up by hardcore and metal bands in the Midwest, and there’s a certain grit and gore to the work that definitely likens itself to the genre. We exchanged emails and talked about his work as an artist involved in hardcore.
It started back in 2004 as just doing favours for friends and friends’ bands around the immediate area of my hometown. I was just one of those people they knew that happened to have image editing software, so they’d come to me for something quick, like a simple design or website layout. None of my early work is really all that memorable or had a refined style, but it got the job done, I suppose.
Towards late 2007, maybe 2008, is when I attempted to take it a bit more seriously (although, to be bluntly honest, I’m terrible with attempting to be professional) under various pseudonyms over time. So, simply put, I’ve only been around for a handful of years.
I’m a huge fan of the work I’ve seen you do for hardcore bands in Michigan, and there’s definitely a dark quality to your work that lends to a sound inherent in hardcore and metal. Is this a relationship that was in place from the beginning of your commercial work? How’d you come to work within that scene?
Involvement with aggressive music has been right from the get-go, at least for the most part. It really only became a more solidified relationship when I started to develop a (somewhat) recognisable style. I’ve also been in a band (Rescuer/Discerned) which fell into that particular scene, so connections generally came naturally as I met more people. It’s mostly been a word-of-mouth, snowball-esque effect (I’m not one to go out of my way to promote myself as it is).
Addressing the darker qualities: gloomy, bleak themes have seemed to be my most preferred approach. I’ve never exactly been an extremely vibrant person, so it surfaces in what I do rather naturally. It’s not just dark for the sake of it. I believe it sets a far bolder and more dramatic tone as opposed to anything else.
In terms of platforms, what’s your favorite medium to work with? Do you do a lot of work by hand, digitally, or is it a constant back-and-forth?
As lazy as it may sound to certain art purists, I’ve become most comfortable with working digitally. While illustration and painting is something with which I’m familiar, the amount of control, flexibility, and organisation involved in digital work is a far more pleasant experience, personally; however, it definitely doesn’t mean I shun physical or mixed-media art. Nothing can truly replace working by hand.
Who do you look to in terms of influence for your work? Are there any classic or contemporary artists that you take a lot of interest in?
Influence comes from a number of directions. The list of classic influence is rather bare, though, as my own work tends to lean heavily towards the latter. That being said, I’m fond of Harry Clarke (if he falls into the ‘classic’ category) and Francisco Goya, particularly his “Black Paintings” series.
In terms of contemporary: Zdzislaw Beksinski, Vania Zouravliov, Takato Yamamoto, Give Up, Jacob Bannon, Leif Pohadjsky, John Dyer Baizley, Brian Schroeder, Justin Bartlett, Glyn Smyth, Sin-Eater, Junji Ito, and Ryan Patterson are all individuals I equally take influence from. If they count as well, I’m also a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.
Beyond those, I also take inspiration for more recent work from avant-garde fashion and their respective designers (e.g. Rick Owens, Julius_7, Boris Bidjan Saberi, InAisce, Damir Doma), something which is also an interest of mine.
As a graphic artist working with album art, band t-shirts, show flyers, and the like, you must have some sort of structured process for creating something that’s reflective of a band’s sound or image. Can you talk a little about that process?
Initially, I prefer to seek out and discuss whatever themes or vibes the band/client is trying to convey in order to get a better idea of where to start, unless they happen to give me free reign (which is, of course, always more fun).
Afterwards, a key element of my work usually involves a base subject of some sort; I don’t like overloading on imagery, as it potentially causes you to lose focus on the theme or subject. Minimalism is key; at the same time, my attempt at balancing that with intricacy is to involve a lot of noise and ‘deterioration’, so to speak. I really enjoy going for a decrepit, fuzzy, worn-out look, similar to an extremely aged and weathered photograph or print. In contrast to that, though: lately, I’ve been really adamant about using simple, clean typography (sometimes none at all) whenever possible; again, minimalism. Another bit of mine is using a limited colour scheme, which helps add to the general theme instead of cramming in as many hues as possible.
Besides that, it’s usually up in the air. It mostly depends on who I’m working with and how open-minded they are. I tend to be at my most creative and efficient when a client isn’t too specific and knows how I work (as one should figure).
Most recently, I would say I’m extremely content with what I did for Steamroller’s album, I’m Sorry But This is the Way It Has to Be and Dredd’s Recurring Nightmare. Neither were fussy by any means and pretty much let me go about these projects as I pleased, which gave me a chance to experiment instead of just following random guidelines. Hopefully they’re just as happy with them as I am.
Another band, Traitor, has been really lenient towards me, so any new work I do for them is some of the most enjoyable. The apparel designs I’ve done for them lately seem the most unconventional, but they appear to be into it, so I can’t complain.
Where do you see yourself a few years from now in terms of creating art? Do you have aspirations for a studio or anything like that?
I see myself just perpetually attempting to perfect or refine my style; hopefully with consistent work, albeit keeping it low-key and personable. I don’t mind demand, but I’d honestly probably lose my mind if I tried to be the equivalent of a full-fledged professional or business. Art and design to me is more personal than just ‘doing work’; it’s a reflection of whatever creativity I have (if any). In turn, I’m rather picky about who I work with, because I care about what I’m putting out and I want to know that it’s going towards something I actually have genuine interest and concern towards. Otherwise, there is no point in doing it.
With all that said, having a small, personal studio wouldn’t hurt.