While others might see dilapidated buildings, their signs faded and windows broken; antique automobiles encrusted with rust, their prime traveling days far behind them; or broken down farm equipment no longer in use but too cumbersome to move, local artist and teacher, Doug Davis, sees art.
Davis said his paintings are all about appreciating the beauty of the rural Southwestern Ohio region, whether it’s the historical architecture, outdoor industrial artifacts weathered to a patina, or the natural environment itself.
Davis said he paints in the “en plein air” (French for outside) style, which is a type of landscape portraiture in which the artist paints outdoors.
The Artist Network described this technique as being about, “leaving the four walls of your studio behind.” In so doing, Davis said he has stumbled upon a myriad of rural landscapes that he has chosen to convey on canvas.
Using gouache, a special kind of paint, Davis has captured the beauty of the region upon his canvas.
Davis remarked that he has often painted in Hillsboro and cited not only the natural beauty but panoply of rustic artifacts that have been the catalysts for paintings he has done.
“Hillsboro is a great place to live,” said Davis, noting that the rolling hills of the rural landscape as one of many things he liked about it, in addition to his appreciation for small towns.
Davis lives near Belfast and described the beauty of the country landscape views. He said that rural towns are just as interesting as potential subjects for paintings. He said he gets permission before painting anything.
“When I’m painting in town I love to drive down the alleyways. That’s where the good stuff is — cars, trailers, buildings and junk,” he said.
Davis said that things that others might regard as abandoned are something he has great interest in and which provides him artistic inspiration. He said that architecture and its impact on lighting is part of what makes for a great painting.
“I like the views between and around buildings,” he said. “The way the light filters through the structures makes interesting patterns of dark and light shapes. Whether it’s painting tractors on a lot or painting the old feed mill, it all goes to tell the story of rural America.”
Davis said he derives inspiration for his paintings from unexpected, out of the way places. He said that, “inspiration for paintings can come from many things. Sometimes it is the light hitting the surface” of a scene that sparks his interest in painting it or other times it is the story surrounding a rural environment.
“Like an old house”, he said, fronting, “a busy intersection.” Davis said that such scenes provoke speculative introspection about the narrative. “I wonder about the people who lived there,” he said, before the area became developed and overrun by city infrastructure. “I also like things — tractors, motorcycles, cars, mowers, etc.”
Davis’ vast portfolio reflects his self-described affinity for all things Americana. His canvases bring to life views of rural artifacts that aren’t often depicted or appreciated, and sometimes even neglected or hidden away. But Davis finds beauty and inspiration in the out of the way, the rusty, the vestiges of times gone by, and in the nostalgic fantasies they evoke.
“I’m fascinated with the quiet spaces that are often overlooked,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in art. In childhood, I would draw pictures,” that he said he hoped would be acknowledged by family members. He said he eventually cared less about others’ approval and more about the personal sense of accomplishment he achieved from it. Later on, he just enjoyed making art for himself.
He said, “My style has been influenced by many artists. My favorite artist was Andrew Wyeth.”
Despite his deceptively prolific portfolio of regionally-inspired gouache paintings — many of which can be viewed on Instagram — Davis said that his foray into en plein air has been a relatively recent endeavor.
“I’ve been an art teacher for nearly 40 years,” he said. “During that time, I earned a master’s degree in art education from the Art Academy of Cincinnati. It wasn’t until the past five years that I’ve concentrated on, ‘en plein air’ painting.”
His appreciation for art is something Davis said that, as a Wilmington City Schools art teacher, he also wants to convey to his students.
He said that as an elementary school art teacher he is constantly affirming students that their work is good or that they did a good job. But the truth is they only have to please themselves.
He said that the artist’s self-assessment is what is ultimately most important.
“As an artist I try not to compare myself with others. I just know that when I like something that I’ve done, that’s enough. I don’t need to please anybody else. So the term good enough is a cliche that is used by people who get to the bottom of things that they don’t really care about. It is only when you care about something that you dig a little deeper, or try a little harder,” he said.
Davis said that the work of an artist is an incremental process and that, “On the weekends, you might encounter me painting from my truck, parked along the street in a nearby town.”
Seeing the timeless beauty in the purportedly mundane, and interpreting it in an authentic and unadorned way has amassed Davis an impressive assemblage of work, some of which has been displayed at regional galleries, including the Vining Gallery in Indianapolis.
Professional accomplishments aside, Davis said his goal and purpose as an artist is that of a storyteller.
Art is a family affair for the Davises. His son, Brad, is also an artist and an art teacher.
Doug Davis speculated that while his having already been an artist may have had a significant impact onhis son, that as familial artists their respective approaches to their craft is nevertheless stylistically divergent and unique.
“Brad was exposed to art from an early age. We would routinely visit art museums and galleries. So from that perspective I think I had some influence on him,” Doug said. “However, Brad is more of a studio artist than I am. He does en plein air painting, but he often spends many hours in the studio working on large paintings.”
Doug Davis said that for his art he generally elects to work with smaller canvases.
While the father and son sometimes paint at the same time, they have yet to collaborate on a project. Doug Davis said he would like to someday work on a more extensive studio painting.
“Something I will eventually do when I retire,” he laughed.
Doug Davis said that although much of his work concentrates on depicting the world in an authentic way, he has appreciation for all types of art.
“I like any kind of art that is done well. Although I consider myself a realist, I can also appreciate abstract art as well,” he said.
Davis concluded that it is not the genre, approach, materials, style, subject, inspiration or theme that matters so much as the artist’s commitment to the betterment of their craft, that matters the most.
“The only standard I would use to judge art is craftsmanship,” he said.
Juliane Cartaino is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.