The High-Flying Art of Sam Davis

Lonely robots. Lost spacemen. Lingering rockets. The existential sci-fi crises that Sam Davis’ photographs and sculptures evoke are impossible to forget. This time, however, his new solo exhibit at Trifecta Gallery, False Horizon, focuses on aircraft soaring out of reach, fading into memory, disappearing like ghosts into the ether.

False Horizon is a generous gathering of traditional gelatin black-and-white prints of blimps that Davis—who earned his MFA from UNLV in 2006—has chased around Los Angeles. There are also several wetplate collodion tintypes (think old-school 19th-century portraiture) of UFOs and other space-related missiles. Slightly removed from his earlier fantasy-tinged work, the sculptures consist of iron blimps coupled with silkscreened backgrounds.

“Some pieces might seem unexpected,” says Davis, 36, during a recent phone chat. “But it’s definitely in line with what I’ve done before.” There are also a decent number of laser-etched, painted wood panels referencing aircraft—specifically, how they appear and disappear in the L.A. haze. False Horizon is very much about gazing at objects in the sky and how the act of searching the heavens is akin to dreaming of loved ones, other distant places, other worlds.

Growing up in Florida clearly had an impact on young Davis’ imagination. His work reveals an intense interest in Pensacola. His frequent visits to the National Museum of Naval Aviation as a kid explain an ongoing fascination with spacesuits and space capsules and, because he lived along the east/west flight path of Naval Air Station Pensacola, he recalls watching low-flying aircraft and always anticipating the next one to zoom by. The experience instilled a longing to see airships in person.

“Every Florida kid feels a connection with, or an imaginative bond to, Cape Canaveral,” Davis says.

After making a name for himself locally during the “aughts” with a run of well-reviewed student shows in several spaces including UNLV’s Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery and the original Trifecta, Davis moved to L.A. five years ago to take a full-time faculty position at the Art Center College of Design. His focus is now on teaching and selling his work, but not in the high-art arena. And his heart still belongs to Vegas, where he sees increased opportunities for young artists.

“I think it’s still possible to put your work out to a fairly large, receptive audience more easily in Las Vegas than in other big cities,” he says. “I’m excited about new downtown spaces like Emergency Arts and Brett Wesley. I hear from my students about things they’ve seen in these places. Vegas locals should be aware that what they’re doing isn’t just homegrown, that it has a reaching effect.”

Davis looks forward to his frequent trips to Vegas because he can easily connect with many of his old art-school buddies, have drinks, discuss art and even enlist friends to help him from time to time on photo shoots. It’s difficult to develop a support system in L.A., where fast-paced commuting to and from work, getting up early to squeeze in studio time and staying up late to create art makes interaction challenging.

“I’m constantly amazed with my friends in Vegas who are producing such finished work, displaying that work at First Friday, and constantly sticking to the dream. I’m proud to maintain a connection with them.”

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