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It takes a certain kind of personality to cut out quarter-inch squares from magazines and glue them onto canvases up to 5 feet by 4 feet in size. It’s a process that’s tedious at best—each piece takes about 150 hours to complete—and obsessive-compulsive at worst. And that suits Anna U. Davis just fine. “It’s almost like meditating,” she says. “You get into it and get really focused.”
“Sashimi Me: Frocasian Paintings by Anna U. Davis,” an exhibit at Studio One Eight in Adams Morgan, presents 25 such pieces. The sushi-inspired title of the show means that the paintings are like “thinly sliced, raw pieces of me,” Davis says.
Davis, 30, moved to the United States from Lund, Sweden, in 1998. She earned her bachelor’s in art from the University of the District of Columbia in 2002 and lives in Van Ness with her husband and 9-year-old son.
“Frocasian” is Davis’ own portmanteau word (borne of “Afro” and “Caucasian”) and is inspired by her interracial marriage. The gray characters represent her inner demons. The figures, almost always naked, gouge their own eyes out, assault their lovers, and binge and purge. They’re all intensely personal and often—though not always—autobiographical. “The canvas, it’s kind of like a shrink, and you get it out,” she says.
Davis’ most personal piece is called Why? Its eight candid scenes tell the story of a woman losing a child or perhaps undergoing an abortion. “It’s a long story,” is all Davis will say about Why?’s inspiration. “They’re very hard things that I’ve gone through that are easier to express with pictures than talk about.”
The artist says she wants to “capture women’s issues,” such as those involving weight. Davis hasn’t had an eating disorder herself, but a friend of hers has, and her piece Confessions From the Fridge shows a woman sprawled out naked on the kitchen floor in front of the refrigerator, bingeing on “food” that consists of mini-Frocasians that Davis says “represent sides of her that she doesn’t like.”
Davis says her favorite magazine to cut up into tiny squares is Vogue because of the quality of the paper, but given her strong views about how the media influences body image, one suspects that the fashion bible’s subject matter comes into play somewhat too. “Losing a child or having an abortion or weight issues—that’s something a lot of women have gone through,” Davis says. Her painting Perfect? shows a Frocasian setting a magazine on fire.
Davis doesn’t cite any visual-art influences; when pressed, she’ll cop to enjoying a Wolfgang Laib beeswax installation at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden five years ago, but mostly she finds inspiration in musicians such as Bloc Party, Cody ChesnuTT, and Laleh. Without a good beat going while she works, the paper part of her work can get very stressful, she says.
“But when I see something I like, it makes me want to work more,” Davis says. “Like, I have to go home right now and work.”—Rachel Beckman