Although Brian Davis’ light-inspired floral paintings are captivating and very worthy of later discussion, it’s Davis’ charisma and life trajectory that are truly inspirational and worth delving into forthwith.
When Davis graduated from art school, he eked his way into the “real world” by doing work for subpar magazines in order to establish a resume. His ambition was to do album-cover art, but he was far from having an “in” with a record label. After calling many companies, Davis finally got an interview with the art director for A&M Records.
Before his meeting, Davis went into the A&M office to do a little prep work. He took home a stack of A&M’s editorial publications and spent hours studying what their statement was and how he could cash in on it. He decided to try and solve a problem the art director must certainly have: artists who don’t turn work in on deadline
Davis crafted a polished, black-and-white line-drawing of a girl in a panic on a telephone with a cartoon bubble above her head.
“I had the girl saying, ‘They didn’t steal anything but my Steely Dan album,’ although it could have said any group’s name,” Davis says. “It was [a] cute thing that they could use anytime.” Davis created several similar drawings and brought them to his interview. When the art director informed him that he only had a minute to talk, Davis said a minute was all he needed. Upon seeing his work, the director said, “You’re solving problems for me before I’ve even got them,” and offered to pay Davis $500 a piece. Davis went on to create more art for A&M, including an album cover for Quincy Jones.
This was just the beginning of Davis’ exploits as an industrious entrepreneur. When he decided to become a professional fine artist, Davis chose a gallery where he wanted to exhibit his work. He then knuckled down creating a piece that would interest the gallery proprietors. His idea was to create hand-painted limited-edition prints from a self-made stencil. The stencil painting he came up with depicted a red, yellow and blue parrot set against a background of white flowers with bold green leaves. Before presenting the piece, Davis made sure to frame it in the same brand and style of frame the gallery always used. The gallery owners loved it.
Today, Davis leads a pretty comfortable life that involves painting for about eight hours a day in the cramped but cozy studio behind his house listening to books on tape. Many of his close-up paintings of flowers—dahlias, orchids, calla lilies, irises, roses—have been made into posters for museums (just another one of his entrepreneurial ventures).
“I strive to make something that’s arresting,” Davis says. “I want people to be looking at something they’re fascinated by.”
Arresting they are. But it’s not the flowers that draw attention, rather it’s the play of light upon their petals and leaves. Some of Davis’ older nude paintings are almost unusual in their similarity to his floral works. Body and flower are present only as backdrop; the true focus is the light. “The flower is like a stage for me,” Davis says, “and the performer is the light.”
“If you’re somebody who’s painting anything that’s realistic, everything is trite: flowers, nudes, landscapes. You have to demonstrate your commitment to saying something remarkable. What beauty can I bring to light? What’s worth somebody’s time? Have I made something remarkable? That’s what I strive for.”
All artists should take a cue from Davis, not perhaps when it comes to style or technique, but when it comes to making a living doing art. "I can honestly say I’ve made and lost millions."