We had the good fortune of connecting with Cherie Benner Davis and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Cherie, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Choosing to be an artist, particularly a fine artist, is considered a risky thing to do–and it is, for any number of reasons. To my mind, this choice is best left to those who feel compelled to do it–the likelihood of acclaim or remuneration being so uncertain. For me this choice, this life, has the great reward of enabling me to do something that gives me meaning, satisfaction and a sense of purpose in the world.
Early in college I was lucky to meet a mentor, a professor, who saw in me the potential to be able to do this thing called art–to be an artist. Fortunately, he also gave me a roadmap for how I might do it. Around that time I got this idea into my head that I wanted to study in Paris, so I moved back home, worked two jobs and saved as much as possible. I found a school, and at the age of 21, off I went!
In subsequent years I continued on the track that my professor had suggested and earned a master’s degree, a MFA, and started what became a career of teaching in the capacity of adjunct college teacher. That choice is also a risk. It is no-job-security contract work that comes without great pay or benefits. What it does allow, however, is for a measure of freedom–time to develop and make one’s work, and to potentially have a career.
Over time I have self-educated in other categories, and have taken calculated-risks with an eye toward achieving further independence, the goal being to increase the proportion of time that I can allocate to the art-practice side of my life. This is the truth for an artist: there is always risk-taking, whether it be in the studio or in the manner in which one crafts a life. There is no guarantee of success no matter what one does, and if achieved, how much and for how long. My own choice is an embrace of dedication and of passion. I do it because I must. Beyond this, I let the chips fall where they may.
My work as an artist is a dedicated practice. On one day there might be a giant leap forward and on another day a seeming catastrophe might prove to be a welcome surprise. Failure and discovery are part of the process. I work, develop, and try things. Mostly it is a slow-going labor of love.
I am excited by complexity. I love it when there are multiple levels of engagement happening at once: subject and content, imagery and abstraction, material qualities and technical application. If several of these exist in a single work, and they sing together beautifully, it moves both the mind and the heart.
In my own work there is always a multiplicity of things happening: development of idea and design; masking and hand-painted rendering; poured, troweled, or extruded paint. Each piece is approached as an unique entity.
The current work with which I am engaged merges my interest in painting approaches with a love of the (mostly) drought-tolerant plant specimen that I have used in landscape re-designs at several LA residences. These specimens are gorgeous and they inspire me. In my paintings I play with the images, altering them from their original, “natural” states: parts have been removed, re-arranged and enlarged; the color has been re-interpreted or exaggerated. Abstraction and the almost-natural interact within a single space, resulting in paintings that play on the surreal. This, for me, is a nod to the conditions in which we find ourselves today.
This moment in history feels especially fraught. Personally I feel compelled to make work that operates as a counterpoint to that which is happening around us. I want to insist on beauty—a sexy, high-chroma, delicious and indulgent one. I want my one voice to join with others in asserting, insisting, that beauty after all, should trump all.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My best friend and I are especially fond fine art and fine dining. There are a lot of great galleries and museums in town, places like Hauser Wirth, the Hammer, LACMA, MoCA, the Getty, the Broad, plus a whole laundry list of excellent contemporary art galleries. I would research to see what exhibitions might be happening at the moment and put together an itinerary based on what might be most of interest. Same for Dining: There are so many great chefs and restaurants in town these days. For something special I might take her to Bazaar or Providence. Both are fun and delicious.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I have so many friends and community members in the LA art world as a whole–a wonderful circle of powerful, fierce women champions in the arts and who love the arts: Kiim Russo, Rebecca Niederlander, Mary Anna Pomonis, Siobhan McClure, Elizabeth Valdez, Karen Rosner, Angela Jones, Shelley Goldstein, Lisa Adams, Kelly McLane, Melissa Klimek, Elizabeth Baldwin, Samantha Fields, Mei Xian Qiu, Eve Wood, and many more. And then there are brothers-in-crime: Cole Case, Andre Yi, Matthew Carter, Peter Frank, Craig Deines, Lester Monzon, Kirk Pedersen …
I would send a special shout-out to Michael Solway, a genuine believer in artists and their work, who continues to championed my work since he and Angela Jones started working with me in 2006.