The Collector: Rob Davis, Toronto

POLICE INTERROGATION #3, Stephen Fakiyesi, 1995 lino cut.

Hearing the many stories about how Rob Davis, a governmental relations consultant in Toronto, came about each piece of art in his home, one would think that his collection was amassed over many years of unintended purchases:

One piece from a road-side vendor en route to Kwamaritane game reserve in South Africa; another on a chance meeting with the artist; yet another from a thrift store in downtown Toronto. Intentional or not, Davis has assembled an impressive collection from international and local artist and craftspeople.

The Red Door painting by Leyton Franklin

In Toronto’s west end where Davis shares his home with Lena, a Border Collie-Retriever rescue, wall real estate is limited. Nevertheless, Davis manages to display a selection of his favoured pieces which he juxtaposes with a few pieces of his own works of art. For each piece he creates, he intentionally challenges himself to experiment with different mediums. “Exploring different mediums is a visceral, tactile experience, and in doing so, I feel more measured in the way that I produce the work rather than trying to master it”.

On one chilly day, I sat down with Davis to ask him a few questions about his collection from the perspective of an occasional experimental artist.

Does your collection have a specific theme or focus? I am almost exclusively interested in afro-centric images. I am intrigued by the exploitive imagery used in advertising and marketing of products in the last century and contrasting that with more positive images created by members of the diaspora. My works consist almost exclusively of images of Black strong men and women which contrasts against the media images of Black people in roles of servitude. Images on the Uncle Ben’s rice box or Aunt Jemima pancakes is a social commentary on the state of how Black folks are perceived by mainstream society. Those companies spend millions of dollars portraying people of colour in a demeaning way in order to make money.  I think it’s incumbent upon those of us with the means to support creators of works who are reflecting the truth about racialized people.

Self portrait by artist Neville Clarke
SELF PORTRAIT, Neville Clarke, watercolour.

What is your most treasured piece of artwork? That would be the equivalent of asking a father which of his children does he loves more. I think each piece brings its own special meaning which serves its purpose at different times in my life and during different times of the year. I appreciate all my collection, equally.

Kpele kpele sculptural mask
Kpele Kpele Mask, Ivory Coast.

Do you rely on art advisors or critic when making a decision concerning a purchase? I listen to my gut. I look for pieces that speak to me and reflect where my consciousness is at the time. My aesthetic and understanding have evolved as I have grown. My appreciation for the arts was developed at a very young age by a family friend, Canadian-Hungarian artist Zsuzsa Bucsanyi, who took me under her wing and exposed me to a vast array of expressions of visual arts.

Self Portrait by Marc StMartin
SELF PORTRAIT, Marc St Martin, 1974 acrylic on canvas.

What work of art do you wish you owned? I wish I had any piece by Basquiat.

How will your collection change in the next 10-years? I am hoping to be able to support more avant-garde works by some of the many up and coming artists who need support. When all is said and done I am hoping that my collection reflects the times in which I lived. I am hoping that the collection is also reflective of the true diversity in the diaspora.

South African Child's Toy
South African Child’s Toy.

What advice would you give to new art collectors? Be daring. I think that if anyone wants to take the leap from buying prints and posters to original works that they consider being somewhat daring. It is also import to do research. There are many really smart artist and academics who can assist you in making an acquisition. I think this will help you decide what you like and what you want your collection to be. The numbers can seem daunting, but they don’t have to be. I have purchased pieces for as little as $15 and as much as $1,200. I enjoy those two pieces equally. Collecting can be fun and provide you with a window on a whole new way of thinking.

If your art collection had a soundtrack, what 10 songs in your music library would make the cut?

Unknown Toronto Photographer
Unknown Toronto Photographer.

Untitled Bust by the owner
UNTITLED BUST, by owner Rob Davis, 2004 terracotta.

Yoruba beaded sash
Yoruba Beaded Sash.

Untitled by owner
UNTITLED, by owner Rob Davis, unfinished.

Rob Davis, Art Collector at Home in Toronto

Thank you, Rob!



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