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Local artist Michael Davis links past with present

By Staff | Jun 4, 2011

Michael Davis

Shepherdstown, rich in history and vivid with color and life, can be an escape from the rush of the big city for some. The town, with buildings from the 1700s, is a blend of the old and the new today.

Michael Davis, a local artist who specializes in painting and drawing, works in an old-fashioned classical style, an art form that many still appreciate today.

Davis was interested in art from an early age since his father was an art teacher. He said some of his earliest memories are of sitting at the table and drawing.

Later in life, Davis went to college with the intent to major in art education. Soon, he changed majors to pursue a fine arts degree.

Davis received his training at the Schuler School of Fine Art in Baltimore, Md. He described his teacher, Anne Schuler, as a breath of fresh air. Davis is grateful that Schuler supported his choice to pursue the classical realism style of painting, one that fades in and out of popularity over time.

“It was an enlightening experience to go to Schuler’s. It was like walking into a 17th century Dutch artist’s studio,” Davis said.

The majority of his paintings are still-life arrangements of fruits and vegetables on simplistic table settings.

Davis, a West Virginia native, said that his geographic location influences his artwork. Currently, he is the only person on a 330-acre farm between Shepherdstown and Martinsburg. This allows him to work with little distraction in a peaceful setting.

“I’ve done a lot of paintings of dead birds, and they’re birds my cats have killed,” Davis said.

Titles like “Strawberries,” “Salt and Tomatoes” and “Mice and Bread” serve as descriptions for the still- life paintings.

Davis learned other art forms while studying art in school but found he enjoyed painting most.

“When I visualize a piece in my head, I see it as a painting or a drawing. I think a sculptor would visualize a piece as a sculpture. That’s just how I see it.”

Davis enjoys creating art for a living and said that he has been able to live solely off of his art for eight years now. He said that the recent economic recession had an impact on sales, causing him to turn to teaching painting lessons as an alternate means of income.

Nan Broadhurst, one of Davis’ students, said she is learning a lot about oil painting in the classical style from taking Davis’s class.

“I enjoy learning the classical approach to painting. Now we’re working with the direct painting approach,” Broadhurst said.

Before the recession, Davis could rely on paychecks coming regularly. During the recession, Davis can recall months when he would not make any sales. Davis has noticed an improvement and his sales have increased since last year.

Davis’s best-selling works are his still-life paintings.

“I’ve done a lot of still-life painting which is really good for sales. It’s the bread and butter. It puts food on the table,” Davis said.

Although his still-life paintings bring in the most sales, Davis’ favorite subjects to paint are people.

“I’m really interested in portraiture and figurative work. I feel like people make more of an emotional connection to that.”

Currently, Davis is producing paintings for “From Prague,” one of the plays in the upcoming Contemporary American Theater Festival. The paintings have religious themes, and Davis is looking forward to working on these figurative pieces.

Davis’ classical artwork allows viewers today to observe history in artwork the way that Shepherdstown allows visitors to observe history in architecture – combining the past and present.