In 1980, David V. Eckert found himself painting clouds in his neighbor’s Michigan driveway. Or trying to, at least. A 13-year-old boy with undiagnosed ADHD, Eckert struggled to capture the wispy cotton balls floating above. “I wanted to learn how to paint clouds because I found the sky fascinating,” Eckert remembers. “But I was getting really frustrated.”
His instructor, a 70-year-old technical illustrator, was also losing his patience. Annoyed by his apprentice’s lack of concentration and confidence, the older man yanked Eckert’s brush from his hand and threw it across the yard.
“‘If you want to make your clouds look identical to those clouds,’” Eckert remembers his teacher shouting, brow furrowed and hands pointing wildly at the sky, “‘then take a photograph and stop wasting my f***ing time.’”
Though rudely delivered, that was the permission Eckert needed to develop an artistic style decidedly representational — but also decidedly his own.
“To this day, when I’m hyper-focused on a painting, I stand back and tell myself, ‘David, it’s OK. This isn’t a photograph. This is your art — no one else’s,’” says Eckert, whose acrylic landscapes are exhibited at Marquee in the River Arts District.
According to Eckert, each painting — whether it’s a salty seascape or a mountainous scene fresh off the Blue Ridge Parkway — begins with clouds. And those clouds begin with a “big chunk of black paint,” the artist explains. Through blending and layering, the dark abyss eventually evolves into a winter ether framed by evergreens or a vast horizon overlooking a flaxen field. The vista may change, but Eckert’s skies uniformly exude thunder.
And it’s not a weather forecast. It’s a mood.
“I can sometimes get carried away with the darkness,” Eckert admits. “But there’s this calmness in it — this sense of peace.”
In that way, painting is a balm for Eckert’s overactive mind, and has been since he graduated from college in the early 1990s and commenced a breathless series of entrepreneurial endeavors ranging from managing his husband’s psychiatry practice in Provincetown, Massachusetts, to owning a high-end spa in Louisville, Kentucky.
“To relax, I painted and painted and painted — just never professionally.”
It wasn’t until six years ago, when Eckert and his husband decided to move to Asheville for its arts scene, that he gave landscape painting his full attention. In the time since, he has come to see art as his legacy — a whisper into the void saying: “I was here.”
“When I die, I want to leave some type of mark behind,” says Eckert, who was adopted at six days old and has no children of his own. “One hundred years from now, I want someone to be dusting off stuff in their attic, find one of my pieces, and say, ‘Who painted this?’
“That thought is just so precious to me.”