Artist: Jan Talmadge Davids
Exhibition: To Hold A Letter to The Light
Media: Paperclay Porcelain Slips
Gallery: CSULB School of Art, Dr. Maxine Merlino Gallery
Artist Jan Davids is an undergrad currently in her senior year at CSULB School of Art pursuing her BFA of Ceramics. She is a native to California having been born and raised in Huntington Beach. She is a 40-something woman with two daughters. Prior to majoring in Art, she had majored in Anthropology in the early years of her education. She has now pursued her interests in ceramics for about 6 or 7 years now. Prior to ceramics, she had been doing some writing on the side which lead to her idea of To Hold A Letter to The Light.
Jan’s exhibit contained letters molded from paperclay porcelain slips to imitate the look of actual written letters both unopened and opened that hung from the ceiling from what looked like string and a clothespin. For the unopened letters, the writing was not seen unless there was light held directly up to the clay letters hence the name “To Hold A Letter to The Light.” For this, she provided mini flashlights by the entrance to use for that purpose. What looked like ink used for the writing was actually black underglaze. Jan had been working on this exhibition for a couple years prior to its debut. She first had to pick out the what writings she was going to put into the exhibit, how to form the envelopes, etc.
What started Jan’s idea of To Hold A Letter to The Light was the fact that she had been writing lists on the backs of blank envelopes. She then moved from lists to private, intimate thoughts on the backs of these envelopes. These private thoughts were meant to convey the message to other people who often think the way she does that they are not alone–she thinks them, too. These thoughts reflect her own personal experiences from when she was much younger to more recent years. Jan is continuing to contribute to this exhibit as far as adding more of her thoughts and personal experiences. Her writings evolved from lists to thoughts to her own memories as the project went on. In the far right back corner of the exhibit, there were crumpled up clay slips containing the same writing as ones that were hung up; this represented Jan’s way of conveying that they were too memories of hers, but memories she rejected and disregarded. The idea of putting up a light to some of the letters displayed was a metaphor for peeking into someone else’s thoughts, life experiences, and emotions–some more murky and less clear than others. The flashlights represented these thoughts and emotions coming into the light and being known by others. What inspired her to carry on this project was her own feelings of not knowing her own past due to secrets that were kept from her by her own family as she grew up; so she put her own secrets and thoughts out publicly in an attempt to allow her own kids to feel the opposite of what she had felt growing up. She didn’t want to hide anything from her kids. Each letter included in her exhibition was meant to portray key moments and glimpses of her past that define her. Although these thoughts are intimate, Jan hopes that the displaying of these thought allow her audience to question and relate to what was going on during these moments of her life as a lot of the thoughts displayed were very personal and intimate but somewhat vague which in turn allows for questioning, clarification, and understanding.
I thought Jan’s exhibit was beautiful and intimate. Her writings were so simple–most of them pretty vague; but they stirred up a lot of emotion within myself. I felt a lot of sadness, love, and happiness from her letters. Her idea of what holding up a letter to a light meant to her and what she was trying to convey was really beautiful to me. Her willingness to put out her most personal experiences to the public as her own form of art was really inspiring. I wish I had a chance to talk to her personally instead of her gallery sitter, but I applaud her for her bravery and willingness to expose herself. I really enjoyed the entire exhibit and the idea of it overall.