Floyd Davis makes functional art. Sort of.
He’s the brains and the braun behind Artpentry, a hip Pilsen-based art and carpentry shop that makes cool objects d’art for pop culture’s biggest buyers. He once made a man-sized, wooden paper airplane for Red Bull. He built a parade float for Hebru Brantley‘s Chicago Cultural Center installation. He’s perhaps best known for creating the “Gentleman’s Boombox,” a much-collected, funky take on building a working speaker with a good subwoofer inside an old train case or steamer trunk.
See? Functional art.
“I’ve been an artist, and I’ve worked with wood and done goofy things my whole life, but you know, I started the business six years ago,” says Davis, who, with his reddish-brown impeccably groomed beard, high-low mix of clothes and part-ownership of the Code of Conduct boutique tattoo parlor, presents as the very definition of a “hipster.”
“I started Artpentry to build things and make art for other people [so that I could] eventually fund my own art career.”
But it turned out that combining art and carpentry works out well for the pocketbook. Artpentry just a few months ago opened a new studio at1932 S. Halsted, with plenty of space for woodworking —and parties. “The business end of it is the accelerator for living my dream: making things and doing art,” says the 33-year-old. “And it’s working. It’s really kind of hard to digest.”
Davis’ approachable demeanor and easy banter makes him popular to work with. He’s open and positive and talks a lot about cutting out the cancer from his life in terms of bad friends and bad business relationships. He’s all about positive energy, and is careful to surround himself with like-minded folk. He won’t even take on an intern, preferring instead to teach his closest friends how to do simple tool tasks if he needs to push out work quickly.
His studio is a mix of sawdust and hip-hop. His background is one of hanging out with his grandmother, an antique dealer, and wiring stereo systems, and learning how to create a perfect shabby chic mix before that term became a “thing.”
“Everything just relates to what I grew up doing,” says Davis, who this day is hanging out in the studio with his friend Clinton “Show You Suck” Sandifer, a local rapper who is part of the Treated Crew.
Sandifer, in fact, was the first person Davis called when he thought up the idea for the Gentleman’s Boomboxes, which start out at $1,500 each.” I was always just drawn to these beautiful cases. There’s something about them; they smelled bad, they’re weird, there’s nothing you can really do with them except for stack them around your house, use them as tables, but I always loved them. And, then I’ve always been obsessed with hip-hop music and really into that. All music, really.”
Davis is almost too busy. He had to turn down a large order for the boomboxes because he simply couldn’t make all of them in enough time. Like most small business owners — and artists — he has to carefully line up what makes sense for him to complete. Still, he’s often up at 5 a.m. and working with machinery well into the night. Most recently, he made the nine-hole, mini golf course that is being featured at Riot Fest this weekend, and then traveling on to Riot Fest in Denver. (Hot tip: Anyone who takes an Instagram picture on the course and uses the hashtag #riotputt gets entered to win free tickets to Riot Fest 2015.)
“It was all built modularly, so it all fits into one truck and goes together like a puzzle,” Davis says. “I took the opportunity to do the golf course and then twisted it into the opportunity to give myself an art show installation set up at a major event. Every hole is art.”
One hole is a guitar amp. Then there’s a half-pipe that, when not used for mini golf, can be used by skateboarders. Another is an 8-foot-tall hand that’s got a prominent, three-dimensional middle finger sticking up.
There’s a mouth with a mustasche and you hit down the giant tongue to get to the hole —very Rolling Stones-esque. And there’s a section of a Chicago street covered in potholes with a 13-foot-tall “interpretation” of the Willis Tower covered in herringbone. Davis describes it as “goofy humorous stuff, very pop artisty.”
When the tour is over, it will eventually go into his workspace, where, on Pilsen’s popular Second Friday art walks, some lucky visitors might be able to see the work up close.
“This is probably the biggest opportunity of my career,” says Davis, who, as further proof of his rising star, was one of the local artists invited to be a member of the recently opened Chicago Soho House.
“Riot is Chicago based and this is the 10-year anniversary. I did this to make cool fun stuff that people would respond to. ”