You can’t touch that!

David Davis

Photo by Larry Dalton

Midtown Sacramento is teeming with interesting characters, if you know where to look. Take that guy rolling by on a funky old bike. He could be a bedroom-studio Brian Wilson or a free-jazz artist who builds reed instruments from discarded plumbing parts found in a junkyard. Or, he could be Dave Dave, short for David Davis, a Renaissance guy who moved here from Edison, N.J., back in the 1970s. Remember that laser shooting from the sky at Downtown Plaza in the mid-1990s? That was Dave. On a recent visit to his Midtown home, where he creates sculptures from metal and glass, among other things, SN&R found him tuning in to New Jersey outsider-music bastion WFMU over the Internet and musing over everyday weirdness.

Do you like outsider music and art?

Yeah, my record collection has always been wild. When we first started collecting records, we used to go to auctions and thrift stores, and people didn’t know the value of what you were buying. I got this record that I saw on Letterman recently. It’s a dictation record at varying speeds; it’s from the ‘50s or something. I thought I was the only one collecting that stuff, and they played it on the air and everything ‘cause this stuff’s hilarious! What we used to do on the show Benson and the Mole on KVMR—this was before rap—is we used to mix stuff together. When I first started listening to that stuff, I thought my radio was bleeding onto two different radio stations. But they were planning it, and that opened up the door. Then the Mole started at KVMR, and we would show up there with two tape decks each and another turntable, and we’d bring all our records. And then he had a show here at KYDS when it was at K and 23rd streets in that church. And the church had a window, and people would come up with albums. One guy showed up with this album Green Acres, and the Mole just takes it out of his hand, and it goes right onto the turntable and over the air. And I just love that direct stuff, where it goes right away—boom! It’s not all prettied up, going through some committee that has to get together to determine whether it’s all right.

Like gatekeepers?

Yeah. And I like when there are no gatekeepers, when it goes directly from the artist—boom!—'cause whenever you go from the actual idea, whether you’re an architect or an artist, you start with an idea, and it gets moved around and molded. Certain buildings in town have had their whole tops lopped off. “Oh, that’s too tall,” they tell the architect. So, the architect has to go back and lop the top off, or the artist has to tone it down. I just love that direct line from the artist to the people.

Yeah, if someone can take direct inspiration and turn that into something tangible without having somebody messing with it, that’s pretty cool.

Yeah. Like WFMU. These guys pick what they want to do, and then nobody says otherwise, really. Where do you ever get that opportunity? I would love to have that opportunity. Basically, I’m happy that [a public-art commission] picked me for outdoor art projects. … It’s kinda like my “in” to the people and the kids. I’m purposefully doing this piece that’s going to be geared toward children.

Tell me a little about that.

See those four bicycles in a row? [Points toward four metal models on the mantle.] That’s the evolution of the bicycle. The first one, on the left, is a bone shaker, which is the first bicycle ever made. They used to push it off a cliff, and you’d hold on. It’s got no brakes and no steering. And the second one would be the calliope or the penny farthing, the high-wheeler. That one was really dangerous, and a lot of people used to fall off. The third one they called the safety bicycle, or paperboy bike. The other two were dangerous; this one you could actually ride. And the fourth one was really big when I was a kid in the ‘60s: the banana-seat bike or stingray. So, what I’m going to do is make those in steel, and they’re going to be along the road in this park. And, obviously, kids are going to be able to sit on them and interact with them. The first time I’m there, and a kid sits on one, that’s it—they won’t even have to pay me. That’s everything for me. That was my goal, that they have to be able to interact with the piece. I don’t want some sculpture where they go, “Oh, kid—don’t touch that!” That’s the furthest thing I ever want. I remember in my childhood, my brother used to take me to New York, because he went to Pratt [Institute, an art college in Brooklyn]. He used to take us on the weekends, and I remember this one time, I saw this chair in a museum, and it had really cushy arms, and something compelled me that I had to touch it. I just had to! So, I looked around, went up … and a guy saw me. And he was like, “Oh, you’re not supposed to do that.” He took me aside and talked to me, like, “Don’t touch it.” I understood that if everybody touched it, it would be all greasy and screwed up. But what I couldn’t understand—why is this chair so important that I can’t touch it? It was almost calling me to touch it.

What do you think people get from art?

I don’t know what they get from art, but what I get from art is a personality. Art gives people and life a personality. Otherwise, life would be so damned boring. Whether you like the art or not, it’s an expression of something that’s going on. And, nine times out of 10, it’s something that either you never figured out before, or it draws you to open your mind to other people’s ideas of what the world should be like or is like. In a nutshell, it gives the world a personality.