Jeremy Okai Davis paints portraits — people of many ages and backgrounds, brought to life in rafts of interweaving brush strokes.
His subjects take shape as a mesh of related hues — skin tones in chocolate brown or rosy beige, dappled with yellow, green, red, blue and white — all carefully balanced to play off each other.
“The first body of work I did out of college,” he said, “I wanted to do 10 paintings on the same theme.”
He chose 10 candid photos of friends and blew them up so that he could see them better as he painted. “And when I blew them up, I started to notice the pixels — the blues and greens and pinks in skin tones that you don’t see or think about when you’re looking at a person.”
The end result is vibrance and complexity. Faces and bodies aren’t stuck to one color value.
Davis has an exhibition called “An Education” at Portland’s Gallery 135 through the end of September representing new work made last winter, and a shift toward more personal work in his portfolio. The turning of the year, and the new administration in Washington left him frustrated and needing speak out.
“The way I describe the show is a long-form self-portrait,” he said. “I wanted to make work that was a little bit more personal. I think being vulnerable in this time is really important.”
Davis just wrapped work on a new mural in downtown Portland on the side of the Living Room Theater on Southwest 10th Avenue. The University of Oregon’s Journalism school commissioned more work for its campus home at Allen Hall.
Listen to the full interview for more on Davis’ recent work, his take on Kara Walker’s exhaustion and what’s at the top of his playlist.