By J.A. Jones
ST. PETERSBURG – Artist Nick Davis has gained attention for his striking digital images of rich, deep black-skinned people that run the gamut in their choice of subject. With over 8700 followers on Instagram, his NDArtlife page shows the bulk of his ever-growing collection, along with his artistic statement:
The influence of painter Kerry James Marshall, one of Davis’ favorites, is obvious. His subjects’ ebony black skin echoes Marshall’s trademark use of the same uncut black in his work over the decades.
But the similarities stop there. The sharpness of Davis’ digital art, the intense focus on the large, bright eyes, almost geometric angles and perfect curves to hair, hats, and jewelry, and the splashes of color in his subjects’ fashion-forward attire brings a joy that is easier to find in his work.
Indeed, if Marshall’s black is dense and heavy, Davis’ black, while sometimes haunting, feels almost mischievous, lighthearted, whimsical in his use of ultra-rich sable skin-tones. Davis’ clothing and ornaments always add a dash of pleasure for the viewer.
“I’ve always been inspired by people like Basquiat, Kerry James Marshall, Kehinde Wiley,” acknowledges Davis regarding the artists who’ve sparked his interest. “And I’ve been intrigued by finding my own style.”
Davis credits his wife, Tiffany LaRae Davis, for both gifting him the IPad that set him on the path to his prolific level of production – as well as being the hairstylist that can inspire some of his subjects’ striking and memorable hairstyles.
After Davis began to experience seizures a few years ago, stuck at home and unable to work, the IPad – and the creativity it encouraged – was a blessing. While Davis had been drawing since he was a child, the art form took on a new vitality and importance once it became the only way for him to deal with the anxiety and depression triggered by the seizures.
Davis says he never thinks too hard about what his subjects will wear, and while they all look different, they are all “representations of myself, in a sense.”
But, he notes, “If you see me, and you see my art – it’s almost like two different people. I’m just the guy who wears a black V-neck shirt every day with a ball cap. With my drawings, it’s a way for me to express what I can’t say. Or I draw different images of what I want to be, or what I wish I could have portrayed.”
Whatever pain or depression Davis experiences, the beauty and joy in his paintings are what “speak” the loudest. Whether they display a black man in tears, an elegantly dressed woman, or a spunky schoolgirl with pigtails – each work is filled with immediacy and a life that seems to reach beyond the confines of the image.
It might be the eyes.
“Usually it starts off with the eyes – I know they’re going to be looking at [the viewer] or they’re going to be telling a story,” the 28-year-old artist explains. “And I go for an almond-shaped eye, or a wide-eye, that connects more with the person [looking at it].”
He is often inspired by music. “I start off with a song in my head, I listen to music while I draw – and different ideas flow. I want to encourage people with my art – show them black is beautiful.” Starting as soon as he wakes up and drawing into the evening, Davis creates up to 15 new works a week.
Davis returns to the things he sees in the community that motivates him, and it’s clear there is an activist sentiment within his works as well. “I believe our community lacks mental health [awareness],” said the Gibbs High School graduate. “And I want to encourage people to let them know they’re not alone.” Among his dreams is to one day start an art school for youth.
He feels there is room for improvement in how those in the community treat each other. “I see different people who are struggling, and I see them just wanting to change their life. With art, especially in St. Pete, I feel like black artists and black people who want to use their creativity are limited by discouragement.”
Davis says his art has given him a sense of freedom and an ability not to care what others say – and that’s an important mentality for him to keep — because of his choice to portray his subjects with truly black skin has occasionally caused negative comments.
“I have to stay positive, and remember, my mission is to let people know that black is beautiful.”
To reach J.A. Jones, email firstname.lastname@example.org