From Canvas to Paper to Pen: an Interview with Devon West

There’s something special about a painting that feels like home. It feels familiar. It feels alive. It feels not like ink or brush strokes but flesh and a beating heart. This same experience applies to both the canvas and literary world of Devon West.

West is a writer and painter. West was also one of the many artists I came across on social media when I first joined the writing community roughly a year ago. However unlike many of the writers who came and went as quickly as they appeared, leaving the platform in the midst of embarking on personal rehabilitation, frustration with the so called algorithm or, in general, frustration with their own work, what stood out about West then remains evident now: West’s work is unique not only because it was produced by a unique mind. A poem or painting is unique because it came from a unique worldview of reflecting things just as they are, just as they were, and just as they carry on—only to grow old and die or dance along the wind.

The following is yet another masterpiece of recollections and ponderings.

The Interview

Hughes: Tell us about yourself. Where are you based? What was your childhood like?

West: I live in New York. I studied in a private school, and my family travelled frequently.

Hughes: Is anyone else in your family creative?

West: I view a difference between creativity and artistic ability. Although both can be intertwined, they are not necessarily exclusive to one another. To answer your question, my father was primarily creative, and my mother a natural artist yet not creative.

Hughes: Describe your earliest memory of creating something that caught the attention of someone else. What was their reaction? Were you expecting this?

West: When I was four years old, I did an abstract version of the Holy Mother. My mother loved it. I had no reaction to it.

Hughes: Those who follow you on social media would know that you carry a unique passion for both painting and poetry. Did your interest in these crafts take root at the same time? Or was the occurrence sporadic?

West: I began painting on and off in 2016. By 2018 I made a commitment to pursue it more arduously. As for the poetry, I see myself as a writer not a poet. I began formally writing in grade school because they were assigned projects, mostly consisting of essays and short stories; this continued through the remainder of my education.

Hughes: How would you describe your paintings to someone who is blind? For example, what adjectives would you reference?

West: Intimacy and emotional closeness, which is all that matters to me at the moment.

Hughes: How would you describe your paintings to someone who is colorblind? For example, what feelings would you reference?

West: I would hope that the painting isn’t relying on a vibrant palette and the subdued version they are seeing will suffice.

Hughes: Define the role of an artist to society.

West: A mouthpiece.

Hughes: Define the role of society to an artist.

West: Society is the backdrop upon which everything falls, some land on two feet while others are destroyed upon impact.

Hughes: The following is a quote by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo: ‘’Painting completed my life. I lost three children and a series of other things that would have fulfilled my horrible life. My painting took the place of all of this. I think work is the best.’’ What is your interpretation of this—as far as painting being the completion of one’s life? Do you relate to this feeling at all?

West: I think in her case art saved her from falling into the void of despair. It served as a vehicle, taking the place of traditional roles many women particularly see themselves destined to fulfill. And no, I do not relate to her unique circumstances.

Hughes: Describe your overall relationship to painting. For example, does it serve as a mode of relaxation? Distraction from conflict? Both?

West: Neither actually, in a similar vein to writing, they act as a method of getting a better understanding and closer to my subject.

Hughes: I’ve noticed you paint a lot of faces. Is there a reason for why you always return to people?

West: The faces are part of the one hundred heads challenge. My main interest lies in people, they will always be the focus of my work.

Outside of the challenge I enjoy the full figure itself.

Hughes: The following is from your poem House Plants:

Taken to rubber and balls, obscene lights on the floor, drowsy like house plants in the tub. Paint chips sweet in our mouths

The mystery and imagery of this piece always intrigued me (for various reasons!) What was the main inspiration behind it? Is there a backstory?

West: There are places we enter only through imagination, sometimes our physical lives are a tamer counterpart, more so by choice than natural tendency.

Hughes: What makes you most content?

West: Moments when I’m consumed by love for something or someone, although if I’m honest they also make me equally miserable.

Hughes: Name the first painting that made you stop and think. Why do you think you felt this way? What was going on in your life during this time?

West: It was a painting by artist Emma Hopkins of Ann Bates. The piece spoke for itself, as I think all art should. I like work that forces a confrontation from the viewer, while being respectful of the subject. The online world is heavily influenced by art work that doesn’t depict individuals in a natural form, neither internally nor externally. People are characterized, the work itself becoming another object to merely look at, because it gives nothing nor asks of anything.

Hughes: Favorite painting from your portfolio thus far?

West: That I have shared online? Would be, portrait number ninety-four of my friend Jessica.

Hughes: The following is a quote by American painter Margaret Keane: ‘’I finally got to the point where I decided I don’t care if it’s good art or bad art—it’s what I do.’’ Do you relate to this at all? If not, how do you acknowledge imperfection?

West: In some ways yes, of course. Paintings make sense often times on an emotional level. The best paintings appeal to us in a manner that do not rely on descriptive abilities.

Unless a more impressionistic approach is being considered, the deciding factor regarding an imperfection is based on inaccuracy of either proportion or character.

Hughes: Do you ever grow restless if you can’t create or taken away from your creative resources?

West: If I have something that’s pending and I don’t have the mental space for it, I feel a sense of unease and tension. I consider these emotions a valuable part of the process as a whole—is how I tend to consider any project.

Hughes: Do the ideas of an artist ever sleep? Or are they leaking faucet?

West: The best work emerges from a deep sleep, from turning everything off.

Hughes: In regards to the previous, is this a good or bad thing? Why?

West: What is regarded as art comes in concentrated efforts. Creativity by itself is the leaky faucet, always grabbing for our attention.

Hughes: Now for a fun one! Extraterrestrials have invaded Earth. The leader approaches and demands you to recommend the one person who can give them one reason to abort their mission of destroying mankind. Who would this individual be? Why?

West: I would love to know someone with such powers of persuasion to be able to communicate with a more advanced life form and save what is already doomed. If such a person existed, they’d be quite dangerous.


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