Stainless sculptor and artist, Alex Davis
February 14, 2023
The first thing one notices about Alex Davis is how unassuming he is. Whether it’s his wavy salt-and-pepper hairstyle or his simple all-black attire, the complete absence of exaggeration and vanity in the artist is endearing. Adding to the modesty is his view that it’s not really the person who chooses his vocation, but the vocation which chooses its protégé.
The creator and his creation stand in stark contrast to one another. His work is a statement in grandeur. As we walk into his studio and store – the Indi Store – we’re stunned by the shining splendour of the place. A bare jasmine tree, glistening in rose gold color, welcomes us at the entrance. Inside, furniture and life-size sculpture in stainless steel and other metals are glistening to a fault. Stainless steel in all hues, from gold to silver and pink to purple, give the effect of standing inside a glittering modern palace.
Since about any corner of this place is a pretty one, we settle down on a stainless steel charpoy (which is amazingly comfortable and flexible!) and get talking:
Tell us something about your roots and your background
It’s been a long route, going all over the place, and then finally settling down to do what I like most, which is practicing art.
I started out as a Mechanical Engineer and realized soon that it was not what I wanted to do. I then joined National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. I did my study at NID, and then I thought I should do better, so I went off to Milan, Italy and did post graduate studies at Domus Academy. After that, I worked in Milan for some time, practicing design at design studios. I came back and set up my own design studio, which is Indi Store, as a venture with a friend of mine, who has moved on to Goa for good things (laughs).
It took me a while to realize that design is not what I really want to do, but it’s art. So of late, for the last 10-15 years I have been practicing art, mostly doing sculptures and currently I also do 2D canvases and wall works. And I do various shows with art galleries all over the country, and show my work at art fairs, and commission art works. So that’s where I am currently.
Art is a great choice for a profession. And we know that Indian culture is infused with art and design, yet this country does not see a lot of professional artists, though there is no dearth of talent. Coming from a non-art family, in such a context, what compelled you to take art? How did you take the leap of faith?
It don’t think you choose (art). It’s not a matter of choice. It’s what you are. You learn over a period of time that’s what you want to do. I did choose Engineering, I did choose design and realized later that’s not exactly what I want to do. So the choices you make is not exactly the thing, it’s a natural call. Being an artist is an attitude. You’re either an artist or you’re not!
You moved from design to sculpture, so does the art form also choose you?
Yes. Your attitude guides you. To say that art form chooses you is a bit dramatic, but yes, you will follow your path and eventually settle in what you like to do.
So one does something because one likes doing it. But art also evokes emotions among those who witness it. So what is the most satisfying emotion that you have come across in displaying your work?
It’s a given, you need appreciation. You need a certain fan following, a gallery, to do what you do. So whenever there is an appreciation coming from an onlooker, it’s always encouraging and satisfying. When you get dramatic reactions on a new piece of work or a show, it keeps you going. That’s true for any artist, or any creative person.
Which are your bestselling pieces? How do tastes differ between your Indian and international audience?
The Champa Tree and the Olive Tree have been there for a long time. I used to show my work at Maison Et Objet in Paris and Salone Del Mobile in Milan, this whole series and the Cacti, the Olives – this whole series has done extremely well in the Europe, in both Paris and Milan. Because we don’t see much Olive trees here, for us it’s an exotic plant, for them it’s like a Champa tree. The cactus is also very much a part of the Mediterranean landscape. Whereas we don’t have it much here, except in the Himalayas. South Americans also love their cacti, all kinds! Taste is very regional, especially when it comes to botanical works. Each region has got its specialty. The Champa trees, the leaves, the bamboos and all are loved by Indians. The Charpoy has an universal appeal.
What is absolutely thrilling and delightful for a representative of Jindal Stainless, India’s largest stainless steel making company, is to see this artistic application of stainless steel. An artist has many choice of material, like clay, ivory, stone etc…what made you choose stainless steel?
To start with I’m not very material specific, even though a lot of my work is in stainless steel. And I started off sculpting in stainless steel because at that point, I realized it is one material which is very contemporary. Other materials have a lot of bias being classical. They have been used in art for a long period of time. So, stainless steel has got less history that way, fact I liked very much, that I could do contemporary things with it. Now I work with all metals, bronze, copper and brass etc.
And that fact that it’s a very strong material, so I can do larger installations using stainless steel rather than with other materials, which are relatively softer. Stainless steel can hold up. Like if I’m doing a 20-30 feet tall trees which I have done, you need a very strong material for the structure to hold, it can’t be done with other metals unless they are made very thick. With stainless steel, you can achieve that strength. That’s a huge advantage.
How about working ease with stainless steel as a metal, compared to traditional materials?
You know, for me working with stainless steel is as good as working with clay. It’s malleable and ductile, I can pull and push it. And my mechanical engineering background has given me the confidence to work with the material. I sometimes invent how to work with it. How to get particular irregularity built into that. Which is what adds character to all my work. So yah, I don’t look at stainless steel as a performance metal at all. I look at it as an art material; it’s my medium.
How and when did your association with Jindal Stainless happen?
The most significant one is that the Stainless Gallery opened in August, 2007 with my solo show, The Lazy Forest, where I showed the Champa tree which became synonymous with my large scale works. In addition I had the bamboos. It was like a forestscape, and was a good show. And that was one of my most serious shows in Delhi in stainless steel.
Plus both Ratan Jindal and Deepika Jindal, who have a few of my works, have been extremely supportive of my practice, and I have a very good relationship with them.
What will be your message to aspiring artists who want to make it big in art like you have, irrespective of their choice of material?
A good chef would tell you that. You need to be consistent, do what you like to do over a longer period of time where your work develops a certain character, which becomes your identity. You stay with it and it attracts a lot of eyeballs. So Time is the primary ingredient if you want to make it big. Consistently putting in the time. Discipline and Time is something which you can’t bypass.
An outdoor seating area in the classy 5-star Lodi Hotel in Lutyens’ Delhi flaunts a bamboo day-bed created by Alex, made with stainless steel bamboo frames. Alex has installed a 40-feet tall bamboo screen as a feature wall in an office building. Alex’ works have been chosen as Editor’s picks in top lifestyle magazines such as Elle Décor. To quote from the magazine, “Moody Blooms by artist, designer and former EDIDA India Designer of the Year Alex Davis are life-sized, sculptural works that convey the iridescence of Himalayan irises. This series of stainless steel installations traverses the color palette – going from dusky mauve to deep plum, inky indigo to an intense purple.” Alex is currently working on his favourite collection which is called as Himalayan series. It’s going to be a solo show in Delhi with the art gallery Exhibit 320 around July 2023 which will be a combination of his sculptures and paintings.