Francine Turk & Miles Davis’ Family Unveil ‘Badass’ Art Exhibit


Vince Wilburn Jr. (left), Cheryl Davis, painter Francine Turk and Erin Davis attend the Sept. 21 opening of an exhibit inspired by Miles Davis.

(Photo: Robert Hoffman)

Chicago-based painter Francine Turk and members of the Miles Davis family were on hand for the Sept. 21 opening of a bold art exhibit inspired by the iconic trumpeter. The pop-up exhibit, titled Next Level BadAss | Miles Davis & Francine Turk, was unveiled at Chicago Illuminating Company (2110 S. Wabash).

The exhibit, which has now moved to Turk’s studio for by-appointment viewings, incorporates some of Davis’ words and imagery, as seen in numerous sketchbooks. The Davis family granted Turk access to the sketchbooks (and other personal belongings), which served as inspiration for this group of paintings and collages.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is a series of collaborative collage drawings created on stationery from the Chateau Marmont, the Hollywood hotel where Davis and his wife Frances Taylor stayed while he was performing on the West Coast. These striking pieces intertwine Turk’s original imagery with Davis’ words and fragments of his drawings.

The exhibit also includes Turk’s large-scale portraits of Davis and Jimi Hendrix, as seen in the slideshow below. (To scroll through photos, simply click on each image.)

Jazz fans who who aren’t familiar with Turk’s oeuvre might have seen at least one of her paintings: The Joint was used as the cover artwork for Robert Glasper’s recent album Everything’s Beautiful (Sony Legacy), which was inspired by and incorporates elements of Davis’ actual recordings.

One of the most intriguing elements of the Chicago exhibit was a glass case containing some of Davis’ original sketchbooks. The loose, fluid style of Davis’ work in these sketchbooks is somewhat similar to pieces compiled in the 2013 coffee-table book Miles Davis: The Collected Artwork (Insight Editions). That book includes essays by members of Miles Davis’ family: Cheryl Davis (his daughter), Erin Davis (his son) and Vince Wilburn Jr. (his nephew). All three family members attended the Sept. 21 opening of Turk’s exhibit.

For Wilburn, the exhibit brought back fond memories of his legendary uncle. “I used to run and get paint for him—Erin and I would, when I lived with them in Malibu,” he said. “We’d put a canvas up on the wall so he could look at it, and then we’d take it back down and he’d do some more work on it. [Painting] was just another extension of his talents. … He always had a sketchbook.”

Erin Davis echoed his cousin’s sentiments about Miles: “I remember watching him drawing and sketching—on airplanes, in cars, in front of the TV—everywhere. He drew and painted and just created so much of his own artwork; it was another great outlet for him.”

For Turk—whose artwork has been included in the films The Break-Up (2006) and Fathers and Daughters (2015) and in the hit TV series Empire—the exhibit provides an opportunity to reach a new audience. After all, Miles has fans around the world who are hungry to experience any type of art related to the trumpeter.

But Turk initially had some doubts about whether she was the right artist for this project—until she received a sign.

“When the family first gave me permission to go in and look at his work, it was a surreal experience,” Turk said. “I had just finished a big project for the Hyatt in Chicago. It was supposed to be something [else], but three weeks before that project was to be installed, I completely shifted gears. [Suddenly] I felt really compelled to tell a story about Muddy Waters, and Chess Records, and the birth of rock ’n’ roll at Maxwell Street in Chicago.

“Fast-forward six months: I’m in Miles’ archives, digging through his stuff. We find this box of sketchbooks that had been in storage. So I’m leafing through the books. It’s like I’m in Shakespeare’s brain. I’m looking at Miles’ personal journals, his lists, writings. I was starting to have self-doubt: ‘Am I the one who’s supposed to be doing this? Is this right?’ And I flipped a page and it said, ‘Blues like Muddy Waters.’ The hair stood up on the back of my neck because I had just finished that project that I felt really compelled to do. There have been about a dozen experiences like that through the course of this project. … Along the way, I’ve had no doubt that his spirit is here and has been guiding me through this whole thing.”

Another noteworthy attendee at the Chicago exhibit was bassist Richard Patterson, who toured extensively with Miles in 1990 and 1991. He shared an anecdote that reflected Miles’ style as a bandleader.

“We were playing in a huge hall and there was reverb everywhere,” Patterson said. “Everything was bouncing off the walls. He turned around and he told me to play all my bass notes short. So in other words, if I was going to play a whole note, instead play a half note and let the room do the rest. And it worked! We were in a room where everything was booming. It just made so much sense. You’re onstage with thousands of people in front of you, and he comes up with some little thing like that, just off the top of his head, and then turns back and keeps playing like nothing happened.”

Next Level BadAss | Miles Davis & Francine Turk will travel to locations across the United States and Europe. Additional cities include New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Paris, with future dates to be announced. DB

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