It’s Cross-Stitch, Bitch: Davey Gravy Interview

Like most people, I tend to associate cross-stitch as an activity my grandmother might enjoy in between the time she spends napping and doing other elderly things. However, upon seeing the work of Calgary-born artist Davey Gravy, I was astonished to see how such a conventional craft could suddenly be transformed into an unconventional work of art.

Gravy flips the traditionally feminine pursuit of cross-stitch on its head by introducing the lyrics of rappers like 2Pac, Biggie, Jay-Z, and Wu-Tang (which FRANK coincidentally posted to Instagram to great acclaim) alongside ornate designs and the kitschy imagery found in embroidery. Unique and above all hilarious, Gravy’s artwork is an unexpected mash-up that creatively showcases such oppositional components.

FRANK was lucky enough to learn a little more about the artist and the reasoning behind his work.

Can you tell us a bit about your artistic background?
When I was 15 I noticed tags around my neighborhood and started copying them. I tried writing my own name all fancy and went through a few nicknames before settling on one. I didn’t take it too seriously until I got to high school, where I met other kids who were into graffiti too and was motivated to improve. I drew every night, experimenting with different letters, color combos, extensions, and before I knew it I had filled a few black books. I was too scared to go out and paint, but found a few legal walls to practice on.

After high school I knew I didn’t want to learn a trade or enter the “real world” yet, so I went to art school. Right off the bat I was introduced to a whole new world I didn’t know existed. I learned how to use different mediums, work larger, think conceptually, be intentional, use narratives, do my research, and work hard. After graduating, I told myself that I was going to be part of that 10 percent of graduates that continued to make art after art school.

Why cross-stitching? What brought you to that medium?
It was something I had been considering doing for a while. During my third year at art school, I was working a retail job a few days a week. It was slow at times, and I didn’t want to bring my collage and drawing supplies into work because of the mess I would make. At the time I’d never seen anyone embroider anything worth looking at and was ready to try something completely different. Hip-hop is near and dear to my heart, so I pixelated a photo of Common on Photoshop and just went at it – not really knowing what I was doing. I worked on it during all my spare time and it took over a month to complete. It was messy, but I was pretty pleased with the result and felt obligated to explore it farther.

What's the process when creating one of your pieces? How and where do you get your ideas?
I collect cross-stitch magazines and flip through them regularly, looking for inspiring borders or motifs that I can borrow for my own work. Sometimes I see a wreath and know exactly what words need to go in it. Other times I find a great frame and challenge myself to make something that will fit comfortable and look visually appealing. I always want to work bigger and have more elaborate patterns, but I enjoy the process of stitching so much that most of the time it doesn’t even matter what image I’m creating.

Your work possesses a sense of irony with the use of hip-hop and rap lyrics in relation to the old fashioned/feminine medium. You completely twist things around. Can you explain your reasons for such a contrast?
As much as I love hip-hop, I think it’s so twisted and humorous. Looking past all the flashy cars and catching hooks, the mainstream side of hip-hop is about being respected, having power, not showing weakness, violence, masculinity, etc. Yet the same guys have their shirts off, all oiled up for a predominantly male audience.

Feminism in hip-hop is not widely welcomed. Cross-stitch is known for being woman’s work; it’s soft and cozy and makes you feel warm inside. I’ve found combining both worlds on one canvas not only provides a laugh, but raises questions about what is acceptable in hip-hop, what is masculinity, how is hip-hop evolving, where does legitimacy and respect come from, etc. I love pointing out stupid phrases and lyrics rappers say or thinking about unconventional ways to twist it, all the while, keeping it subtle and under the radar.

How did you get into rap and hip-hop culture?
It must have been in junior high when my friends introduced me to Ja Rule, Jay-Z, Puff Daddy, and Ludacris. I remember I was attracted to the heavy beats and how all their words would rhyme, unlike the alternative and punk stuff I was listening to at the time. I would visit the library, check out all rap CDs or anything that had cool cover artwork. I’d take them home and rip them to my computer.

At some point I came across the Scratch soundtrack and heard full tracks of turntablism. For a while there I thought I wanted to be a DJ and was even taking lessons. Meanwhile, I made sure I attended any graffiti art show or breakdance jam and began to make friends and wanted to contribute to the hip hop community in my own way.

What do you hope people take away from your work?
I hope viewers enjoy looking at my stuff as much as I enjoy making it. It’s encouraging to know that people actually laugh out loud when they see it. That’s what I want. I’m proud to spend hours and hours on each and every piece and it’s fantastic when people notice. Stitching has taught me that patience and dedication can go a long way. I’m a young white kid from the suburbs. I hope others can be inspired by to create without limitations.

What are you currently listening to?
I used to listen to strictly underground/backpack rap, but hip hop is evolving. I love that street sound, there’s so many talented new producers and rappers. The rap that is coming out lately is not as lyrically technical as it used to, but it’s great to turn up loud and party to. Right now I’ve been playing Kendrick, Gucci, 2 Chainz, Flocka, Big Sean, Tyga, Big K.R.I.T. Joey Baa$$, Danny Brown, Rick Ross, A$AP, and Meek Mill, to name a few.

Are you working on anything at the moment?
I just finished a 22 x 12 foot pixel painting that I’m unsure what to do with. I’ve got a 3 x 4 foot wooden portrait made with yarn on the go. Sled Island Music And Arts Festival asked me to do a silkscreened poster for Joel Plaskett Emergency. In the meantime, I’ve been working on commissioned work and trying to stockpile artwork for my next show.

More from Frank:

Chapter 14: Futura - George Dubose Interview

Ricky Powell Interviews Artist TTK