Shelley Davis Discusses her Artistic Career and How it Led to the Creation of “Photo Fusion”

Written by Clare O’Brien

Edited and packaged by Brandi Sutfin

Students in Professor Lindsay Lennon’s feature writing class were assigned interviews with New Paltz artists who were featured in Wired Gallery’s “Golden Age of New Paltz” exhibition. Here is what they found:

Shelley Davis is a woman of many art forms, including a style she created herself as a graduate student. Her groundbreaking “photo fusion” art has travelled the globe, featured in galleries across Europe and at the prestigious Pratt Institute of Art in Brooklyn, New York. After a career teaching at New York University, the Hudson Valley local has earned a spot in the Saugerties Art Tour as a featured artist. The event features innovative projects that blend several elements of art, including photography, painting, and sculpture. “The Golden Age of New Paltz” is another step for Davis, who looks forward to the next chapter of her career.

Q: How do you define “photo fusion”?

A: I actually created the term during graduate school when I was earning my Master of Fine Arts degree. I always thought of it as “not exactly the fine art to show in galleries.” It came about when I had a professor who was very conservative, but they gave me the green light to do what I wanted in the dark room. I would spend all day and night in the darkroom doing experimental artwork. I would paint on photos and create collages. I remember I was inspired by jazz fusion. I was also inspired by a friend of mine who was creating sculptures with photos on the clay. “Photo fusion” was really born from all of that. I was the first to do that, so since then you’ve seen it stolen. It gained a lot of notoriety in England and Europe through different curated shows.

Q: Did you start in painting or photography first?

 I was a painter first. I took all of the painting and drawing classes during my undergraduate years in college. When I took photography, though, I completely fell in love with it. Everything just exploded for me during my photography classes. You just know when something hits you. The whole point of art school is to find out what speaks to you.

 

Q: What brought you to New Paltz?

A: This is very funny. I had actually gone to school for a little while at a college out west. When I got there, I spent money like crazy, and the school turned out to be too expensive. My parents also thought I was “too wild,” so they wanted to send me to a teacher’s college to whip me into shape. SUNY New Paltz was close to home, too. However, it all backfired on my parents because New Paltz was all hippie artists and townies. It was all of them and all of us. My parents wanted me to settle down and chill out, but that was not the case.

 

Q: Had you always planned on being a teacher?

A: Oh no, I always planned on being an artist. My parents talked me into being a teacher in order to support myself financially after college. I taught for a few years at public school before teaching at NYU. I knew I needed to get back to art. I needed to get back to doing art on my own.

Q: What was the art scene like in New York City when you taught at NYU?

A: I wasn’t in the art scene much during my teaching in the city, but nowadays you can be part of any art scene with connections on Facebook. I left the art world for 20 years to work on creating a design company, and when I came back, everything, and everyone, was on social media. All of the cliques and art crowds that existed before, like the feminist groups, the Andy Warhol groups, the Tribeca gallery groups, those all came together on Facebook for us to keep in touch and see each other’s stuff. Even if we may never see each other in person! (Laughs)

 

Q: How did you decide which pieces to include on your website?

 I was actually just going to change them! I choose pieces that are very strong, both visually and emotionally, and artwork I feel passionate about. Some of them have won awards, but usually I like to choose artwork that’s timely and feels appropriate to what’s going on in the world.

 

Q: What advice would you give your younger self about your career?

A: Wow. That’s a deep question. I would probably have told myself to put some money away as a safety net. I wish I had planned on being an older person and not having to worry about money at this age. I should have been financially smarter at a younger age. It’s the opposite advice of “taking one day at a time.” No! I should have planned ahead. Some people put their lives on hold for getting married and having kids. I decided to live a very interesting and experimental life for my art and be free.

 

Read about other #GoldenAge artists here:

Fern T. Apfel is a text-based illustrative artist who constructs collages using various mediums. An alumna of SUNY New Paltz, Apfel reflects on her growth, inspirations and favorite artists.

Jo-Ellen Trilling is an artist from the era of protest art in 1968 to 1971 who intertwines magical realism with art to reflect life within the political climate at the time.

Bruce Pileggi is an alumnus of SUNY New Paltz who delves into his past and explores themes that motivated him to pursue a career in art.

Jerry Vis is an architectural designer who, at 79 years old, still remains creatively curious when it comes to making art.

Ed Samuels began drawing early in his childhood after being influenced by his family of artists. He found his niche during the ‘60s and ‘70s after seeing the beauty in all environments, from New York City streets to Sante Fe’s cliffs and beaches.

Jon Ellis Stevens is an award-winning photographer and New Paltz alumnus. He discusses his desire to show that photography is more than capturing still images and how the radical times of the ‘60s inspires his artwork.

Sevan Melikyan is a native from Turkey who journeyed with the dream of becoming an artist to America, where he became enthralled with the rich artistic history of New Paltz.

Eileen Cowin is a multi-medium artist from New York who creates politically charged work inspired by the 1970s and today and connects them in abstract ways.

Robert Crimi is an artist from the Bronx who is inspired by jazz music and creates colorful oil paintings with techniques his muralist uncle taught him.

Rosalind “Roz” Zarr creates wearable art. Her jewelry is the only of its medium featured in the “Golden Age of New Paltz,” a testament of her prolific experience at the university in the late ’60s.

Rosalie Rossi, an alumna of SUNY New Paltz, has taught art to students from preschool to the college level. She believes every student she teaches should do a self portrait.

Jack Murphy offers a snapshot of what it was like to be an artist in New Paltz during the “Golden Age,” and his inspiration behind curating the exhibition.

Michael Velkovich, an alumnus of SUNY New Paltz, uses printmaking to express his artistic vision. He reflects on his journey as an artist, how he faced critics and how he has given back to the arts community.

Aletta Vett is a costume designer who defied rules and honed her craft at New Paltz. Her art designs prove just how creative and talented she has been over her decades-long career.

Win Bottum-Morgan took a drawing class hoping to learn the mechanics of art but was instead taught how to see the world in a different light. This perspective ignited his passion for painting. He continues to pursue art while practicing as a clinical psychologist in Corte Madera, California.

Larry Audette, not only an artist but a Jazz musician, talks about his memorable time at New Paltz with an array of artists who felt like family to him.

 

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