First published: Summer 2010
In the spring of 2008, Raw Vision photographer Ted Degener and I visited the home of Churchill Davenport in a wooded suburb of Baltimore. We had been in the mountains of North Carolina for a week, and had visited a number of rural, Southern artists along the way. Having grown up in a similar, middle-class suburb myself, Davenport’s comfortable Maryland neighbourhood was the last place I expected to find a yard activated with the unmistakable charge of visionary art. Before we even got out of the car, we began to spot Davenport’s brightly painted, angular wooden birdhouses, hanging here and there in the trees surrounding his family’s house. Maybe it is more accurate to say that they manifested their presence to us, one by one, on their own time, with a palpable energy generated by their formal dynamism.
Davenport’s parents are both successful, well-respected artists who took care to nurture his talent. Yet his work does not resemble theirs in the slightest. In the course of a birdhouse-spotting stroll in the yard, his mother, a painter, explained to me how her son completely reinvented the instructions in a birdhouse-building manual while working on a grade-school project. Her child, she told me, had immediately recognised the limits of the standard American birdhouse and exploded the basic form in his how-to tutorial into the jagged, crystalline forms which we were now craning our necks to see, and which the birds had claimed for their own. During our photoshoot, Davenport, a teenager still living at home at the time of our visit, related to his birdhouses much in the way a beekeeper keeps tabs on his hives.