What he does: The interview begins with an excuse that provides great insight into Davenport's occupation: "Sorry I missed your call, I was out back putting resin on a 15-foot crocodile. That's not the kinda thing you can stop in the middle of."
Welcome to the wild and wacky world of Bill Davenport, owner of Bill's Junk, the storefront at 1125 East 11th Street in the Heights that has served as both his home and place of business since 2008. He characterizes it as "a place where nature, craft, folk art and salvaged goods are reconciled under the umbrella of commerce," but he might be selling it a tad short. After all, CAMH had a small-scale, fully functional version installed on location for No Zoning: Artists Engage Houston (2009), about which they said,
"Houston has hundreds of junk and thrift stores, but Davenport's is the only one that features so prominently the wide-ranging art of anonymous individuals. His assignment of prices to these works of art according to their curiosity and eccentricity, rather than virtuosity or name recognition, is a lighthearted reminder of the highly subjective economic forces influencing the lives and livelihoods of artists."
Davenport labels himself a sculptor, first and foremost ("I build things. Really big things") and many have theorized that Bill's Junk is actually more of an ongoing art installation than a store. He's known for oversized creations like the aforementioned crocodile (which will be part of an exhibition at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary in Dallas that opens on September 17), giant balls of yarn ("I have a lot of free time") and other acts of randomness, such as painting chunks of concrete and scattering them around Art League of Houston's sculpture court in 1993, a stunt he christened Dubuffet Rocks.
Why he likes it: "Who wouldn't? I get up, do [a bit of writing] and then I go play with stuff. I've been doing the same thing since I was ten."
If you have a sneaking suspicion that what Bill was doing at ten years old was slightly more interesting that what you did at that age, you're probably right, unless you were building a hovercraft.
"It was the late '70s, you couldn't just go on the Internet, you know?" he says. "I ordered 'Complete Plans for Making a Hovercraft' from an ad in the back of a magazine. It was powered by a lawnmower engine."
For a clearer view of the mind of the young Bill Davenport, he published his "secret" childhood diary from 1974-1979 in real time on a blog from 2006-2010.
If not this, then what?: "I'd probably start writing screenplays. But it's a fantasy -- I'm a terrible storyteller."
His proudest moment?: "One of those? Oh brother. I guess it's when people whose opinions I respect say nice things about my work. Or when someone I've never met and don't know personally comes up and says, 'You know, I saw your work in a show when I was a student.' You put a piece in a university gallery and you wonder whether or not it was worth the packing to send it. As a visual artist, you don't see your audience."
If not here, then where? Davenport acknowledges that he could be doing what he does anywhere in the world, but that he wants to be in Houston.
"We are in the boondocks, no one cares what you do here," he says.
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When we ask him if he's talking about apathy he says no, rather describing an art community that's both accepting and forgiving.
"Houston is a place to practice," he says. "The stakes are not very high. You can do some God awful stupid stuff here, and if you fail you just try again."
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