UHCL alum expressing untold stories through art
Caleb Davis came to University of Houston-Clear Lake unsure of what to study. After taking some art classes, said Lecturer of Art and Design Lauren Yandell, Davis found his voice as an artist — and since graduating, he's also found his path forward.
"Caleb came late in his academic career to UH-Clear Lake and he was trying to find his direction," Yandell said. "Last year, he really found his voice. I mentored him in drawing, painting and sculpting classes, and helped him build his portfolio. He found his influence as an artist during an advanced art course, studying Jean Michel Basquiat."
She said he'd found his niche in black urban cultural art. "He got very serious and made a fantastic body of work," she said. "We strongly encouraged him to apply to graduate school and with the drawings and paintings he did in my course, he gained admission to the prestigious Pratt Institute."
Pratt Institute, located in Brooklyn, New York, is nationally ranked and has a longstanding reputation for educating great artists, Yandell said.
"When he came, this wasn't necessarily his goal, but he definitely got inspired and worked very hard. Through the act of creating a lot of work, he stumbled upon his voice, and figured out how to make his experiences into visuals and symbols. Opportunities opened for him," she said.
Davis received his Bachelor of Fine Arts with Studio Art Concentration in December 2020 and moved to Indiana to begin an internship at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
"I am fortunate to be plugged in and be able to work around artists and talk to people about art all day," Davis said. "My original plan for moving here was to work with my dad, who has an engine supply and distribution company. It's not related to art at all, but I know as an artist I need to learn about the business side of things, and this is valuable experience in a different industry, but with transferable skills."
Davis said that he'd begun his academic career studying film and broadcasting, but it wasn't for him. "I knew I should transfer, and after researching it, I came to UHCL," he said. "I thought creating art was what I was most suited for in life."
He said he described his art as generally rebellious. "I like to ruffle feathers and do things differently," he said. "In my classes, I gravitated toward street art because it spoke to me. It felt more expressive and louder. There's something in those artists' work that you don't find in typical painting movements. I'm not sure how I found my own voice, but it developed when I figured it out and I've coined a term to describe it — Negró Expressionism."
The basis of this term, Davis explained, is his desire to create work that tells stories of people who are of African, Indigenous, and Latino descent.
"I found those stories are not represented as much as they should be," he said. "I'd like to bring to the forefront a more truthfully oriented perspective. In history, the victor writes the story, so I want to use my platform to tell the stories about the African diaspora and other ancestral stories that aren't told."
Now that he's enrolled at Pratt Institute, Davis said he feels fortunate and very well prepared. "Prof. Yandell and (Associate Professor of Art) Jason Makepeace pushed me to expand, which I really needed," he said. "They kept me motivated and allowed me the freedom to explore. They encouraged me to find what I wanted to paint, and I got more confident. Without that, I would not have gotten into Pratt."
He said he'd always felt a pull to go to New York, and to Brooklyn specifically."I always wanted to get my master's degree. It's the only school I applied to and I had a feeling I'd get in, and I did," he said.
Two of Davis's works are currently on display in UHCL's BFA Art Show, open through April 30.