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Check Out Davon Brantley’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Davon Brantley. 

Hi Davon, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
When I was very young, I had a really great interest in creating. I would draw my own versions of cartoons like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dragon Ball and etc. Making these cartoons into my own trading cards, comics, and posters. I would fill notebooks with drawings, I even would pause movies and draw them in the middle of my family watching them as I developed haha I even almost got expelled from middle school for selling drawings of Dragon Ball Z characters outside of the lunch room haha I always loved creating but when I got into High School it became secondary to my love for science and discovery. Though, I continued to be the person who “draws” in school, I wasn’t super serious about it being a career because I just didn’t know that that was a possibility. This all changed when my grandmother passed, my grandmother and I were very close and she had always supported my creativity, she loved seeing what I did. Before she passed, we were sitting in the hospice together, I was showing her my sketchbook and the characters I had made up and before I left, she told me to never give up on art, continue it and make something out of it. From that point on, did all the research I could on art; I taught myself how to do 3D modeling, how to use photoshop, I created movie trailers and music videos with my sisters, I learned about dynamic drawing and portraiture. I even took an interest in going to college for it so I researched what school would be good for it. This was during my Junior and Senior year. So, by the beginning of Senior year my skillset just kept growing and growing. The bad part was that all through High School, I was never able to take an actual Art class to help me develop or understand what a portfolio was. I was able to take acting, theater, and Digital Video Production, which helped that creative itch but couldn’t fit an Art class. So, I ended up seeking guidance from the Art teacher at my school; I asked them about different colleges, opportunities for Scholastics, and what makes a good portfolio. I already had a lot of art created, just needed to curate it into a great portfolio to apply for Art College. That teacher helped me so much and I appreciate them so much for taking the time to allow me to stay after classes were done to work on still lives and other things regarding the arts. I ended up having two top choices for college; The Cleveland Institute of Art and Pratt Institute. I decided on the Cleveland Institute of Art because of how comfortable I felt on campus, it was small and the resources were phenomenal. Though it was really hard at first because I literally didn’t know much about the arts besides my own research, I found my footing eventually! Now, I have taught high school students on how to develop as artists, I have curated exhibitions around Cleveland (one being in the Museum of Contemporary Art), I have exhibited in and outside of Ohio, and have participated in murals around the city! I am so excited to do even more. 

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
It has not been a smooth road. It has been a great journey through but it is always a rollercoaster. I love the great things that I have done in my career but I cannot honestly say it has just been the smoothest possible route. It was difficult getting started, at one point I was in college dealing with A LOT, not knowing what I wanted my art to say, not knowing how I wanted it to look. I felt stagnant and my art just looked like every reference that I had on Instagram. I wanted to be my own person and I didn’t feel that way. Until I was able to go to therapy and talk about my repressed trauma from childhood. As I struggled to grasp that and form a sense of identity; I would sit with myself, discuss how I felt and who I wanted to be. I decided to grow from that trauma that had affected me well into my adult self. I used this as a vehicle to start a narrative for what my art would be and do. This landed me into the realm of self-portraiture; allowing me to tackle the different mental identities that can occur after trauma(s) happen. These mental identities can correlate with a range of emotions: Sadness, Manic Happiness, Anger, Jealousy, Greed, Hopelessness etc… I struggle with all of these things in the midst of trying to be normal and create a cathartic space within my art. Which is not the easiest to talk about sometimes let alone show the world through your art haha I have experienced imposter syndrome and feeling like “Wow, you do these great things but you don’t deserve it” and these feelings of “I must do everything or people will forget that I exist! I must say yes to everyone! How else will I succeed”. So, a lot of feelings of doubt and the need to stay relevant. Which aren’t inherently bad …but can be when I brood on them! 10/10 do not recommend brooding on those things haha 

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I am an Artist! Which makes me kind of a superhero haha I implement self-portraiture and psychology within my work and I take reference from the dissociative behaviors that happen as a result of trauma plus the repetition involved with those experiences/behaviors. I guide the audience through my own narratives involving experiences with colorism, stereotypes, and meditations on life, death, sexuality, masculinity, and emotions. Through the use of my own image, the viewer is presented with images of someone who is not themselves, who may or may not share the same experiences as them and someone actively disrupting expectations based on identity. I want the viewer to see that the acknowledgment of these emotions and experiences should not be taboo. We should learn more about our feelings and express them in order to find out who we truly are. 

I specialize in Oil Painting and Drawing for my work. For drawing, I primarily utilize charcoal, oil pastel, and graphite. I have also utilized video and installation within my practice but my dominate mediums are charcoal and oil paint. I create typically at a large scale; my pieces are usually 6ft tall by 4 ft wide for my main body of work. I am known primarily for my large-scale self-portraits! 

The thing I am most proud of is that I’ve created a name for myself, though it’s my name haha People know my artwork when they see it, and not just because it’s a portrait of myself. The mood my art sets, the topics I discuss, and the very rawness of it all really helps set me apart from others. I’m completely vulnerable in my pieces. The audience really gets to see how I interpret my own vices and theirs. It makes them not feel alone and to have them think “maybe I should explore these different parts of myself… Maybe I do need to understand them.” 

What were you like growing up?
I was a very “unique” kid growing up and by unique, I mean weird … but fun weird haha I loved activities and going outside but was very quiet in school; still made a bunch of friends somehow haha I literally spent most of my time outside, finding new things in nature to marvel at, I would play with the neighborhood kids and enjoyed showing athleticism. I tried out every sport I could when it came to growing up. I loved being around the neighborhood kids and making groups to play Basketball, Football, Soccer… I ultimately ended up joining actual sports teams in middle school but hated how organized they were. It felt not fun anymore and that there was so much pressure to be a “star.” 

That says a lot about my personality actually, I enjoy when things are just organic and there’s personality to it. I would draw a lot as a kid, look at bugs underneath a microscope, read, play video games, create YouTube videos and make sure I was myself if I could be. I was heavy on learning and discovery, it’s very important to me and is probably why I did well academically haha Though being book smart helped a lot in school, I had always just had this sense of wonder and play. What happens if I run this way? What happens if I practice shooting the basketball this way? How many stars am I looking at right now? When will moon be thrown out of orbit? Can I make a movie about the moon being thrown out of orbit? Can I draw it? Haha, I think my sense of wonder just came from this void of the unknown and wanting to know but being open to the many perspectives! I also REALLY loved animation and anime, the worlds created through them, the environments, the stories, and the colors always had a special place in my heart. 

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