Interview by Sally Linn
Ordering a licorice and salted caramel ice cream cup for an 11am treat, Devon Damonte maintained his personal unpredictability and whimsy when I met to interview him for this issue. Teacher, community member, and artist, Devon has no singular medium for his work. His focus is in cameraless film making but spans the gamut of printmaking, rubbings, fiber arts, paper craft, sculpture, photography, writing, poetry, painting and all things textural.
Himself an Evergreen grad, once he finished school, he began volunteering with the Olympia FIlm Society in downtown Olympia, though only for his “devious means” of trying to get his films shown on the big screen. He inevitably succeeded and was started on his path to becoming a core member of the Olympian arts community and beyond. After working for a number of nonprofits and other scenes like museums and film festivals, he eventually landed in Boston. Due to fortuitous circumstances and knowing that soon he would have to vacate his apartment, he began teaching there, hosting free workshops in direct animation film.
Direct animation, Devon’s primary medium, involves creating images on film without the use of a camera, computer, or other image-generating technology. Instead, the film is manipulated by any number of inventive ways that span having other materials applied to it like barbecue sauce or patterns on paper, etc., or by using a darkroom to create photographic transfers of objects onto the film. Because the film is then played back through a projector at 24 frames per second, the results of direct animation are often chaotic, spontaneous, and generally a non-representational whirlwind of color, shape, and sound.
Reflecting on his path as an artist, Devon states his personal manifesto: “I’ve chosen freedom over success. It’s what allows me this perspective [of broadening my ambitions.] I’ve chosen a lifestyle that’s pretty cheap and low risk in a certain bigger societal way and that’s how I cobble together my livelihood. I’m not terribly ambitious in the normal ways. My ambitions are more under the radar. I’m more interested in getting things done than getting ahead and that allows me a lot of freedom both practically and in a philosophical sense around art.” For a life of freedom and making art, it “isn’t just making art; showing art, promoting your work, networking—all those awful words—are important pieces of living this life of freedom.”
Because he’s chosen this kind of lifestyle that has minimal practical requirements and allows him to focus on creating rather than consuming, art for him “is like food, like air,” something both necessary and a common requirement for human existence. He shared a sadness with me over the increasing trend that the word “art” and the money around procuring art has acquired a bad rap, especially in communities like Olympia. He’s recognized that to be able to have money associated with art requires a certain degree of privilege and exclusivity of the art world. But without buying, selling, and trading art, it severely limits the artist’s ability to produce art. For Devon, collecting art of all kinds is his “responsibility and joy as a human being to be able to earn money and spend it on art.” The idea of paying for art is often is connected to a pursuit of the usefulness of art, Devon says. Art shouldn’t be only non-utilitarian. It should be across all spectrums and applications. In spite of this, Devon professed, “most of the art I do is useless.”
The results of direct animation on film are highly abstract and are something which Devon is attracted to and something that allows for a small and close community of people who really appreciate it. “My film work is normally radically abstract, beyond abstract, like non-representational, like nothing. What I want out of that is a unique experience and something that’s dazzling and can transport me and other viewers to another dimension of body and mind and experience. For those of us that are into that, I want to do that. I’m into that,” Devon says.
For Devon, “art is a dance between the intensely personal and ineffable and the awkwardly public meeting of minds and diverse experiences and you can’t really have one without the other. We’re [alive] in order to interact and engage and learn about ourselves. It’s a personal and human need that I feel, but I don’t like to limit the dazzle.”
Devon’s activities are as diverse as his range of mediums. These, he says, keep his life balanced. “There are day jobs,” he says, “and then there are day jobs. At some point, you’ve got to pay the bills.” In the process of art, Devon explains that it’s more than just making things and working all the time. There’s planning, showing, cleaning up, and getting organized. He’s currently engaged with the latter after completing his latest project, “Bird Seed Bags,” which is a film made using materials from the titular contents and was shown on 35mm film at the Capitol Theater during Visual Music’s second of two shows this summer.
Each summer at Evergreen, Devon Teaches a program called Visual Music in 16mm and 35mm Direct animation. Students have the opportunity to have their work shown in two shows during the course of five weeks, one of them being in the historic Capitol Theater. This was where I was introduced to him as the class’ program aide. The capacities of this transcendent class are not something I will not soon forget.
Devon’s advice for the kids, was to “keep making work. Some of the most important studio days are when you make terrible work. That’s what makes you go on and make something brilliant the next day.” For new ideas, Devon has his rule of the three day test where he will conduct material tests for three days and if by the end of the period if the idea is still physically possible and just as ingenious and beautiful, only then will he seriously pursue it. “It’s important to let your production rest too,” he says, “and use that time to clean up and lighten your load.” It’s a kind of work that isn’t production oriented. Rather, it’s an aspect of an artist’s lifestyle.