We had the good fortune of connecting with Isis Davis-Marks and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Isis, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
I ultimately decided to pursue a career in art because I love that visual media can communicate things that words cannot approximate, and I’m curious to see how my visual practice grows.

I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember—as a child, I’d design clothes for fun; in elementary school, I’d take classes in ceramics, photography, and fashion design at the 92Y; and in high school, I took painting courses at the Art Students league and stayed up at night sifting through Tumblr and copying drawing tutorials that I found on the internet. However, I saw my creative pursuits as mere hobbies, and I didn’t expect them to progress beyond that: I saw myself as an academic first and an artist second.

I think that things began to change once I began to formally study art in college. I decided to take a basic drawing class in the spring of my freshman year. I had a death in the family, and I always felt that art was something I took solace in. Drawing felt more visceral and expressive than the traditional academic studies that I was pursuing. In the beginning of the semester, I wasn’t that good—my teacher made us draw hundreds of circles and lines, and I didn’t understand why she was making us do this. There were a lot of assignments I had to completely redo because I just missed the mark on them. Eventually, with more practice, I improved by the end of the semester. This was an eye-opening moment for me, and the drawing class introduced me to a different educational model where I was rewarded more for my progress than for automatic talent. I also liked that making things was a way for me to process my emotions in a way that words alone couldn’t, and I was curious to see how I could combine poetry, philosophy, photography, painting, and other media.

Since graduation, I’ve continued to develop my art and writing practice. I’m fortunate enough to live in New York City, where I’ve met several other artists, curators, and critics. This has helped me to form a group of like-minded people, and I’ve felt free to experiment and try new things. Some artists who I’ve met along the way who are doing interesting work include Braden Hollis, Sammy Bennett, Lena Ruth Schwartz, Lauryn Levette, Na’ye Perez, Aliyah Bonnette, Christina Nicola, Ambrose, and many more.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My work primarily focuses on philosophy, education, and ecology. I like to use a variety of different media—including fabric, paint, and drawing—to tell intricate stories about race, gender, and class that relate to more universal themes like love and ancestry. I often depict objects and people that I have close associations with as a way to ponder wider political quandaries.

I’ve always used both writing and art making as a means to examine the world. In college, I majored in visual arts and philosophy, and I also received a certificate in journalism. When I graduated from Yale College in 2019, I began to look for jobs in writing and media, which gave me my start in art criticism. I began to contribute freelance articles in October 2019 while working as a private tutor and educator in New York City and developing my painting practice. Since them, I’ve contributed written pieces to Smithsonian magazine, Cultured magazine, Phillips Auctions, Artsy, Frieze, the Art Newspaper, Hyperallergic, Communication Arts, and elsewhere.

Given that my practice is so interdisciplinary, it wasn’t always easy to figure out where I belonged within the art world, and sometimes this resulted in overwork. I’ve always considered myself a hard worker, but over time I’ve learned how important it is to sleep, rest, and spend time with friends and family. I learned this lesson the hard way: In April 2021, I developed a repetitive strain injury. I wasn’t sure what was causing the pain in my hands, but it seemed to be related to carpal tunnel syndrome or ulnar nerve overuse because I was working for 12 or 16 hours on end without taking many breaks. During that time, I was writing an article every weekday for a publication, tutoring for around 20-25 hours a week, and showing my art in New York and Los Angeles. My grandfather had also been diagnosed with dementia, so I think that this contributed to the tension that I was feeling in my body.

The only way for me to heal was to rest and to integrate lower inflammation foods into my diet. That experience made me reckon with the fact that there are only so many hours in the day, and that eventually you must stop working or else you will risk injury.

Even though my path initially resulted in overwork, I’ve learned how to maintain a better work life balance over time, and I think that the interdisciplinary nature of my practice makes me unique. I try to use my arts writing practice to give my flowers to those who are creating innovative and thoughtful work, and I feel that having an understanding of materials gives me a unique perspective as an arts writer. My experience as an arts journalist has also helped me as an artist because it’s enabled me to see my work from a more critical perspective and understand the inner workings of the gallery system.

I do find art itself to be healing, so I often depict plants with therapeutic qualities—like lavender and chamomile—in my work. I also include books like Toni Morrison’s Beloved or Sonia Sanchez’s poems because I feel that these works pose thoughtful questions about interpersonal relationships, generational trauma, and love. I draw a lot, and the action of moving a pencil across a paper is often meditative for me, so it’s been good in my own physical and emotional healing journey. However, I do believe that you can have too much of a good thing, so I balance making with resting.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
There are a lot of places that I’d take someone who wanted to visit New York—some of these places would be dependent on the time of year. I haven’t been to the beach much this year, but it would be nice to go to Riis Park or another beach in the city. I always love going to the Conservatory in Central Park during the spring when the flowers are in full bloom; the Met Cloisters is another great place to go in the spring. I also like vintage shopping, and there are a few stores in the lower east side that I’d take that friend to. I also enjoy eating at Thai Diner and Kiki’s (which are both in the lower east side).

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Sammy Bennett

Website: https://www.isisdavismarks.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/isisdavismarks/

Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/isis-davis-marks-017904181

Twitter: https://twitter.com/IsisDavisMarks

Image Credits
Eden Chinn

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