Afrocks Interview – Kay Davis, Artist & Braider: “Transitioning from chemically relaxed hair to becoming natural is a journey! One that can be extremely liberating and often emotional”
We had a chat with Kay Davis, London-based artist and afro hairdresser – using design to celebrate and pay homage to black childhood/upbringing.
Can you introduce yourself
Hey, My name’s Kay Davis and I’m an artist and part-time Hair Braider based in London. I create artwork and designs that are about culture and community, often vibrant in colour and reminiscent for those of African and Caribbean descent. I use my talents and platform to uplift Black Girls and Women, whether it be through my illustrations or having a client visit my studio for a chat and tea whilst having their hair braided. Quite therapeutic actually.
Your paintings are fascinating – how did you get into painting and art, in general?
Thank you! I come from a background where growing up, my Mum was into Textiles and Hairdressing, whilst my Dad was a painter. Not an artist but home decorator. So I became hands-on quite quickly, just watching them at work. Anywhere creative is where my spirit wants to be, which lead me to study art subjects in school by choice. As time progressed, so did my skills.
“I’m nostalgic in every sense of the word! I love vintage clothing, TV shows, music videos, artwork and a lot more. The ’90s have a lot of influence on me.”
We noticed that you mainly use acrylic and gouache painting technique. Is there a reason behind it?
I think overall patience. I appreciate the fast drying time on both mediums and how I’m able to mix them together. With acrylic paint, I’m able to manipulate it for different surfaces. As for gouache, it’s a pleasure to use when mixing skin tones.
You also said that your paintings are celebrating black childhood/upbringing. Are feeling you nostalgic?
The kind of feel my artwork gives is similar to the vibe you get when you open up a children’s book: super colourful and vibrant. The colours I use are playful and the characters I create often have hairstyles reminiscent to the ones I had in my youth. I’m nostalgic in every sense of the word! I love vintage clothing, TV shows, music videos, artwork and a lot more. The ’90s have a lot of influence on me.
Living from your art is tough…probably even harder when you are a black woman. How do you cope?
It’s been real! Between creating art and braiding hair I also work with young people as a workshop facilitator.
You’ve been featured in Vogue and Buzzfeed. Did this coverage actually help you get more clients?
I’m definitely grateful, as it’s helped build an audience that understands the quality of my work. But this also comes hand in hand with being proactive. I feel some of the best opportunities come from real-life conversations and getting out into the world physically.
“I’ve recently started to loc my hair and it’s become a really sentimental process. Even going to the loctician has bought me to a community which I love being around. Transitioning from chemically relaxed hair to becoming natural is a journey!”
Your portraits usually feature girls/women with natural hair. Is there a message behind it?
It’s who I am and what I know. When I first started painting I began with self–portraits out of share curiosity. Over time I started creating different characters, which organically developed as I began understanding the importance of representation, and how much power art actually has. This has had a massive influence on me in terms of intentions and purpose.
What kind of relationship do you have with your hair, and what are your thoughts on the natural hair movement?
I feel like my hair often reflects where I’m at mentally. Some of my most fun times took place when I had variations of short haircuts. I don’t know what was in the air but I felt a sense of freedom. I didn’t take myself too seriously because I knew it would grow back and I guess that lack of fear changed my outlook on many things.
I’ve recently started to loc my hair and it’s become a really sentimental process. Even going to the loctician has bought me to a community that I love being around. Transitioning from chemically relaxed hair to becoming natural is a journey! One that can be extremely liberating and often emotional as there’s also a lot to unpack and unlearn. When I see people on that journey, I can relate and I feel proud. But also, it makes me happy to see a decline in hair relaxer kits as the chemicals are lethal and can cause risk to our health.
You are also an amazing braider. The afro hair industry is often criticised for its lack of professionalism – what’s your take on this?
Thank you! Even though I may have this talent, there’s also a lot that I’m learning in terms of this industry. Braiding is a skill that I’ve learnt from home just like many of us, and I have the luxury of taking one to one bookings in my studio when requested. So for me to comment on the industry, when I’m not fully engaged in it means I don’t feel like I’m able to have that say as yet.
Do you think we are heading in the right direction though?
I think we are becoming a lot more conscious which is opening doors and opportunities for us to create changes we would like to see. And that’s exactly what’s happening.
What would be your advice for young black women who want to start a career in arts or afro hairdressing?
Being proactive is key. Get out and learn, ask questions, read books, invest in what you can and practice the skills you’re curious about. Prepare yourself for the things you pray for.
Last question: do you say ‘cornrows’ or ‘canerows’? 🙂
Get in touch with Kay