Speak to Me

Story by Colette Levesque
Photos by Kaylee Brown

Davey Cadaver is up. It’s 8:59 p.m. and he is just now saying good morning. Crossing his small studio apartment’s paint-spackled hardwood floors, he says hello to his live-in girlfriend, Hillary. Recently having rid himself of booze and cigarettes, Cadaver has replaced those habits with maté and strong coffee. After pouring himself a cup, Cadaver takes his first sip. The caffeine high, essential to his daily routine, hits his body, and he is ready to paint.

Cadaver is an artist who, before the age of nine, had already lived in two countries, five states, and ten cities. His father, one of his biggest inspirations, was an artist and a military man who changed bases frequently. So at a young age, when most children were playing outside, Cadaver was reading books, creating worlds in his head, spending his money on graphic novels, and falling in love with painting. “The first thing that I ever wanted to be was an artist,” Cadaver says. “I wanted to be like my dad.”

Now 27 years old, Cadaver creates art that is known for its dark, ominous figures, heavy strokes, magical realism, and words that are layered with vivid colors, haunting lyrics, parking tickets, and sometimes spit. The more basic elements of his works incorporate combinations of acrylics, oil pastels, and colored pencils, along with spray paint, markers, glitter, eyeliner, nail polish, and mirrors. To Cadaver, being a painter is like being a magician. “It’s kind of the same thing, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat and making something that wasn’t there before appear out of thin air,” Cadaver says.

Cadaver is a black palette with messy jet-black hair, creamy white skin, and tattoos that peek out from beneath a black V-neck and hoodie. He has gauged ears, and his fingernails are painted to match his black jeans. It’s his day-to-day wear and traditional garb at live paintings. It gives a look of goth or darkness, but it’s not a reflection of the inner Cadaver. “I don’t think Davey’s external self is reflected in his work,” says Chris Moon, a friend and fellow artist. “There is a controlled spontaneity about him that shows up in his work, but his work is really aggressive and unplanned.”

Each painting has a story, Cadaver says, and most of the time, its concept emerges as he works. A word in a song. A sentence uttered by someone a year ago. A conversation had earlier that day. These words stream through Cadaver’s head as he paints. Occasionally they’re jotted down on a piece of canvas or wood, or if he remembers, a piece of paper. “Those words are what I use for the piece and I play off those emotions,” Cadaver says.

In one of Cadaver’s larger pieces, It Can’t Rain All the Time, vivid colors, dreamlike qualities, and feelings of the supernatural cover the canvas. Next to two human-like figures Cadaver has written 6:19. He explains that the number was inspired from the lyric in Marilyn Mason’s song “If I Was Your Vampire,” in which Manson sings, “6:19 and I know I’m ready.” Cadaver believes painting words and numbers allows viewers to interpret them openly. To him, 6:19 represents a beginning—the moment that he’s ready to paint more, ready to elaborate on the story he’s creating, and ready to let go and give everything to his art. “I think about things a lot and try to find duality, juxtaposition, and multiplicity of meanings behind things,” he says.

To promote his name, sell his art, and demonstrate his process, Cadaver paints in front of live audiences. At first, Cadaver thought that live art shows were events for sellouts. “Once I confronted my true feelings though, I realized that I was just pissed off for not having the balls to do what they were doing,” Cadaver says. Since then, Cadaver has performed live paintings in studios across Portland.

At a recent show, Cadaver recalls feeling as if he was directly influencing the lives of others. Cadaver says he has always wanted to inspire people and remind his audiences to follow their passions. When he paints live, he feels as if he’s doing just that. Though Cadaver is reclusive by nature, through his live art performances he’s able to communicate to multiple people, allowing each of them to interact with the piece. “I can do a piece, but if only one person [buys] it, then only one person sees it,” he says.

The last time Cadaver performed a live painting, he says a five- or six-year-old boy was standing in the crowd. Cadaver isn’t used to having many children in his life, and is not used to having them at live shows. The unusual experience, he says, helped him discover that he could also influence young people. Cadaver remembers thinking, “Wow, this is an interesting feeling, this environment for kids. I don’t really see many children, or interact with many children, but [the boy] became so fascinated. I just hope he grows up and does something that he cares about, too.”

Much of Cadaver’s work is inspired by the James O’Barr graphic novel series The Crow, which revolves around a suffering protagonist who uses the guidance of a crow to seek vengeance for the one he loved. For Cadaver, The Crow is a reminder to keep going. Music also inspires him, particularly the album Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge by My Chemical Romance, which he has painted to numerous times.

In his studio, Cadaver smears layers of paint left, right, up, and down, and says he often ruminates on two words: revenge and vengeance. Though, to him, the words are not so much about getting back at the world or at people who have hurt him, but about turning a negative into a positive. “I like to tap into a sense of positivity, but I also find beauty in things that aren’t necessarily beautiful,” he says.

To Cadaver, life is directed by the filters people create in their minds; he believes people view art through the lenses they have manifested. What makes Cadaver and his art stand out are the filters he presents to his audiences. Everyone begins on the same playing field, he says, but it’s our processes that make us different.

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