IDENTITY IN FOCUS: DEVYN SPRINGER

Devyn Springer

For this particular ID in Focus, I decided it was imperative to turn the focus to Devyn Springer, who initially created the ‘Identity In Focus’ series, and also curates and edits our written content.  Aside from being a talented writer, a passionate activist, and quite simply a magical being, Devyn is in my opinion a blooming and unique photographer.  My initial reaction to his visuals, particularly his self portraits, was long stares at each photo as I scrolled through his Instagram feed.  Long, thoughtful stares because each image provoked feelings within me.  Feelings are important, and any form of art that provokes them within me deserves further analysis.  Looking at his self portraits made me feel as if I was staring at someone’s sensibility, someone’s vulnerabilities and hidden emotions out on display telling me a story about this particular being.  They tell stories untold.  Each image makes me imagine what circumstances or experiences triggered the creation of each image.  They tell stories of heartbreak, love, growing pains, joy, anger, confusion, self discovery, evolution, and the exploration of his own creativity and identity.  Although I prefer to allow art and artists to remain mysteries to me to allow my mind to remain in a state of endless curiosity and uncontrolled imagination, I decided to dig a bit deeper and learn more about Devyn.  

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Who is Devyn Springer?

Well, I am my passions; art, activism, education, and writing. So I guess that makes me an artist, organizer, educator, and writer.

When did you discover your love for visual arts?

I can remember as young as elementary school always wanting to draw, and paint, and make stuff with clay, and I would make my mom buy me those cheap disposable cameras and I would take pictures of everything. But it wasn't until high school, when I got my first DSLR camera, that I really realized how much I love visual arts and art in general. I began reading about other photographers who came before me like Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, Coreen Simpson, and then that lead me into a deep love for Black art in all forms.

How would you describe your art?

This is always a strange question to answer. I think my art is a way for me to communicate what's going on in my head - my emotions, feelings, experiences - to the rest of the world. In my photography and poetry, I only want to stay true to my self and communicate my identity to the world for others similar to me to relate to.

Is art a form of survival for you or a form of expression?

I think expression is the highest form of surviving. I believe that art steps in to confront dehumanization, right? Because that's one thing that separates us from animals - we create art - so when oppressed people create art, we are confronting dehumanization.  Art is what reminds us we human, so when you are fully and freely expressing yourself, your identities, your experiences, you are surviving and you are living.  

What's the importance of identity and have you discovered your own sense of identity?

One's identity influence everything they do and create, even if they don't realize it. When I create art, my race, sexuality, gender, class, all of that comes alive through my creations one way or another. So the importance of identity in art begins at the moment that you realize your art is essentially a constant exploration of identity, whether that manifests as an identity crisis, or challenging of identities placed on you, or whatever, it is a constant exploration. Most art from the renaissance 'til now have all been focused on portraying, or creating, some identity.

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What's the symbolism behind your self portraits?

Oh God, I can talk about self-portraits all day long - LOL. I was first interested in the art of self-portraits in high school when I went through a phase where I obsessed over Van Gogh. A lot of people don't know that Van Gogh left behind thousands of letters between him and his brother, and in high school I read all of them. They are very sad at some places, and very inspiring in others, but what really stuck with me was how he talked about painting himself, specifically when he said "it is difficult to know oneself, but it isn’t easy to paint oneself either.” So here we have a man who describes in detail his struggles with mental illness, poverty, traveling, love and loss, and then he takes the extreme emotions from those things and places them into his portraits through vivid color and exaggerated brush strokes, powering through the difficult nature of painting oneself. So in high school, I wanted to be like Van Gogh and communicate my own emotions through the vivid colors and exaggerated styles and forms in my photographs. Another artist who really inspired me was Carrie Mae Weems, whose work like the "Kitchen Table Series" and "Portraits of Myself As A Revolutionary" were so brutally honest and intriguing, they stepped in to create a narrative. I learned from the ways artists like her that used self-portraits to not only show themselves to the world how they want to, but to create and define their own narrative around their image. So on one end, the symbolism behind all of my self-portraits is simply to portray my own emotions and experiences in vivid colors like Van Gogh did, and on the other end it's about owning, crafting, and perpetuating my own aesthetic narrative.

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You recently shared on social media that you had your roommate punch you in the mouth for art, tell me about that and how that result manifested in your art.

LOL - okay, I have to admit that was just a joke that everybody believed! I used fake blood for one of my self-portraits and after setting up the tripod, had him capture the photo. I used a lot of props in my self-portraits; paint, string, blood, flowers, fruit, etc. so I didn't think people would actually believe I let someone punch me for a photo. Although, I have to admit, I do have a new series in mind now that involves being punched.


 

What or who inspires you to create?

I'm inspired by a lot. People who inspire me are artists and writers like Adrian Piper, Basquiat, Carrie Mae Weems, Myles E. Johnson, Shikeith, Taj Francis, Cakes Da Killa, Narcy, Mojuicy, and Emory Douglas. I'm also deeply inspired by Sufism, hip-hop culture, and myself.

I will continue to stand by the sidelines with an eye or two on Devyn’s evolving visual arts and watch as he continues to bloom and evolve.  You can keep up with Devyn via his IG @halfatlanta.jpeg and his site www.urbansoulatlanta.com