Beards, Bullets, and Boomboxes: Fantastic creations at Pilsen’s newest gallery

Artpentry; courtesy of Floyd Davis
Floyd A. Davis IV, owner of Pilsen’s newest art gallery, Artpentry, is a modern day renaissance man. His artwork reflects a diverse set of interests: pieces on display include woodwork, painting, drawing, and several printing techniques. The range of media gives one the impression that Artpentry is composed of several artists, but while Davis plans to host more artists in the future, the majority of the work currently on display is his own.

Despite this variety of forms, a shared humor runs through many of Davis’s pieces. One of the most bizarre themes in his work is a series of hand-carved wooden beards, which can be hung on a wall or worn. Davis started this project about a month ago: “The whole thing started as I was talking to this girl,” he explained. “She said was going to drive through a rough neighborhood and wanted to borrow my beard to look tougher.” Davis’s beard is indeed of impressive size and stature; he noted that “the alternative to removing my beard, which would actually be really gross, was to build a wooden replica.” Beards are also featured in his prints. Printing is an appealing process for Davis, who says that sometimes “art can become too precious” if the artist becomes attached to his work and, as a result, feels that he must sell it for more money. “There’s something about being able to create 20 of one thing… it becomes a lot less valuable, but you can really go a lot further with it.”

A photograph of one of his wooden facial hair creations successfully sold the T-shirts on which it was screen-printed during Artpentry’s opening at the beginning of the month, as part of Pilsen’s Second Fridays tradition. On the second Friday of each month, all of the galleries in Pilsen open their doors to hordes of fellow artists and art lovers alike for a night of fun, accessible culture. Davis has already started to plan the exhibit for next month’s show. An inconspicuous antique trunk in the corner will become “A Gentleman’s Boombox.” Davis described the mechanics behind this notion: “I have a bunch of old antique suitcases and trunks that I install speakers into and iPod docks…so they’re classy.” It’s an effort that every steampunk should appreciate.

Another one of Davis’s projects, entitled “Slumbergunner,” is a series of paintings of an anthropomorphized bullet with dark-ringed eyes and a grim mouth. The figure is painted on every material, from canvas to cardboard to wood, and the style has elements of cartoon illustration and graffiti. Far from being an attempt to make light of violence, “Slumbergunner” is one of Davis’s few works that have a clear message: “Violence is tired.” For every “Slumbergunner” piece that is bought, Artpentry donates five percent of the sale to CeaseFire, a Chicago-based organized that strives to stop violence, especially shootings. “I’m using the idea against itself.” Davis reflected. “I’m selling bullets to aid anti-violence.”

The basement of Artpentry is home to Davis’s self-described “grown-up” works. They were made earlier than the “Slumbergunner” paintings and beard sculptures and show more thematic restraint and greater emphasis on technique. Stencil-like paintings of trees over complex lattices were achieved by taping off sections of the canvas: the edge of the masking tape is still visible in the paint. While the process is different, the concept and resulting effect are similar to those of printing. Downstairs are also several early prints, from Davis’s years at Northern Illinois University, that depict old wooden boxes. Davis is hesitant to attach a meaning to these images, explaining, “My only method is just that I like art…Whether it’s a carving or a cabinet or a painting or a print. I’m all about composition and aesthetic as opposed to ‘this is my message.’” He is more interested in the viewer’s own personal interpretation of his work: “The whole idea really is that you can put whatever meaning you want into a box.”
Artpentry, 1827 S. Halsted St. By appointment only. (312)624-8687. Free.