“It’s like a vessel that needs a couple of coats of paint for the true color to come out,” William Davis says. He’s describing the way he layered the oils to convey nature’s subtle shades in Last Sail of the Season. “You work in stages. The sky — it might take several coats to get it right.”
The result is a “snapshot of a scene, a period,” the 65-year-old artist says from his Harwich, Massachusetts, studio. Here, it’s late fall in Maine. “Not a bad day to go sailing, but probably the last,” he says. “The feel is [of] changing temperatures, that we’re not going to get a day that’s better than today. The harbor has emptied out, and it won’t be long before the snows fly.”
The darkening sky and darker foreground “leave lots of room in the middle to make things jump,” Davis says. The gray water is windswept and choppy. A pair of seabirds stand out against the sky. But it’s the group of trees that set the whole tone, he says. “The leaves are gone, the limbs are bare, [and] winter is coming on fast.”
Davis’ works are generally composites of places and scenes around Down East Maine. “The subjects are my own, and I improvise the vessels to give it a feel,” he says. That process gives the works a sense of timelessness; it’s difficult to tell if the year is 1900 or 2017.
Davis honed his skills through a lifetime of learning, aided by a seafaring background; his great-great-grandfather was a steamer captain. Growing up on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, he took to art early, teaching himself to paint. His inspirations include such 19th-century greats as Fitz Hugh Lane, Antonio Jacobsen and James Bard. “I paint with a 19th-century flair,” Davis says.
To view this and other works by William R. Davis visit the J. Russell Jinishian Gallery website at jrusselljinishiangallery.com or visit the gallery at 1899 Bronson Road in Fairfield, Connecticut.
This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue.