Provocative, unapologetic, vibrant, beautiful. These are a few adjectives that come to mind when referring to Dave McClinton’s art. A savvy and highly experienced artist–who happens to have spent 10 years of his life compiling issues just like this one as TODO Austin’s graphic designer and co-founder–McClinton has spent much of his life creating and experimenting with multiple forms of art. Since 2015, audiences have been able to publicly admire his art pieces, which are inspired by his passion for photography, art and graphic design.
Seeing his works on Instagram is powerful, though not quite comparable to an exhibit. The Austin community will have the opportunity to experience McClinton’s work through a solo show titled “Despite It All,” January 11 to February 9, 2019 at the Dougherty Arts Center. Here’s a short conversation with the artist.
Please start by giving us some background on yourself—where you were born and raised, your education and upbringing.
I was born in Santa Barbara, California. My folks, both from Texas, brought me back to Texas a few years before my dad retired from the Air Force. I went to New Braunfels High School, then two years at Incarnate Word and another three at Texas State U. I graduated with a BFA in Graphic Design. At both universities I took a ton of studio art classes. I was hesitant to jump in to art full bore. My parents are both very practical and instilled that in me. I’ve protected them from things in my head. Hahaha. I didn’t want them to worry about my future life choices. I always kinda knew I’d seek out an artist’s life.
What or who instigated your passion for art and how did that lead you to your journey as an artist?
It bothers me when people answer questions the way I’m about to. I just always knew. I cannot find a particular point or moment when I knew. It was just a feeling that never went away. I liked sports, and the military interested me a bit. But my major problem is I do not like being told what to do. So, sports and armed services were out. In the end I just knew I had something to say visually. When I was really young, I would stare at magazines and album covers, movie posters…. books. I didn’t know how, but I knew I’d be doing something creative.
Tell us about your multimedia approach to art and how you first began exploring different techniques—including the use of crumpled paper.
I was a traditional artist. Drawing some, but painting was my game. Then I graduated college and needed to make a living. Twenty years later I had worked on just about every type of project I had ever wanted to. That urge to create without someone dictating the terms and subject matter was always there. So, when the first forays back into fine art began I used the tools I had in front of me. An iPhone and a computer. I started by combining family photos, found images and the bottomless pit of texture based photos I take almost everyday to create portraits. Invented faces.
The crumpled paper. Mountains of paper. I noticed a pile of discarded tissue paper from Christmas gift wrapping was starting to look like a mountain range. I took a few photos and a series was born.
Much of your work deals with identity aspects of the African American community. Where do you draw inspiration to tell stories about the life experiences of this community?
This art was sparked by the living history I grew up with in New Braunfels, Texas. The older generation at Live Oak Baptist Church had lived through the Jim Crow era and the sense of pride in the face of that was inspirational. They taught us our history and implored us to excel in every endeavor. They were living monuments. That education in Black History far surpassed anything Texas schools had to offer. So the knowledge was always there. I also had access to JET and Ebony magazines. That’s where I first learned of Emmett Till as a young boy. The happenstance of my geographic location meant that I didn’t have many African American peers outside of my cousins, my family. Truth be told that was enough, but my own identity was a hodgepodge of cultural references filtered through my imagination. The inspiration comes from looking to understand my place in the world.
From the beginning of time, art has played an important role in opening conversations about social change. Can you elaborate on what drives you to encourage dialogue on black identity through art?
In the African American community, we are slowly rediscovering our history that has not been fully illustrated. It’s my job as visual communicator to review historical information and inform the community by bringing these concepts to life and help visually define our identity. And to distribute these stories about the strengths and trials of the African American community.
I want to illustrate the life-cycle of the inner life of a black person. From innocent to informed. From recklessly defiant to determined. How the weight of American history can either crush you or harden you. And, how either result often has to be hidden from view just to get through the day. The anger of the African-American community is often portrayed as a threat. The anger of “traditional’ communities is depicted as righteous. This paradigm feeds stress and despair back into black lives and thus stokes the fires we try to simultaneously hide and harness.
Austin has seen a sharp decline in the overall African American population in the last few decades, particularly as gentrification continues to expand. What role do you think the work of artists like yourself can play in a city that struggles to prove it’s as welcoming to communities of color as it claims?
As artists we can create conversations and opportunities for the sharing of experiences. If you understand me a bit more and I also learn and understand the motivations of others maybe that can bridge some gaps. I also think it might be easier to leave. 🙂
The Dougherty Arts Center will display “Despite It All,” a solo show of your artwork, starting January 11. What do you hope viewers will take away from this exhibit?
Saying black is beautiful doesn’t mean that other cultures are not. That demanding justice for us doesn’t require lesser justice for anyone else. Don’t touch my hair. The usual requests.
For more information on Dave McClinton’s work and the “Despite It All” show, please visit davemcclinton.com.