Many self-made successful businesspeople like to humble-brag that they reached their lofty perch working from the ground up. Artist Tebbe Davis has a slightly different take. “What better way to enjoy life than by laying on the ground?” he asks with a hint of wry reflection.
He is referring specifically to his latest series, The Tree. “I often go to Biltmore Estate and lay down under a tree,” he explains. “I can tell [that way] if it’s a good tree for painting, and will take maybe a dozen photos until I find a shot I like and paint that.” Several of the large oils on canvas or birch panel are dizzying perspectives viewed straight up, while others frame a more horizontal point of view, inspired by photographs by Beth Moon and her book Ancient Trees.
Fully out of character with his left-brain-dominant parents and five siblings, Davis determined at five years old he would be an artist and spent much of his childhood and adolescence with a sketchpad and a camera in his hands. “We lived in five states in eight different houses before I was 12 years old, and I learned to adapt to any situation with the tools I had,” he recalls. “I drew what was in front of me, not just as I saw it, but as I felt it. I shot pictures from weird angles on my knees.”
After a stint in the service — and spending much of his time stationed in Europe roaming museums and galleries — Davis came back to the states, got a degree in philosophy and art from Connecticut State University, then spent 15 years doing portraiture and architectural photography from his studio, while also traveling under contract to shoot sports for clients like ESPN and universities. “It wasn’t so much the sports I liked but the travel and the free time,” he says. “You shoot a basketball game for a few hours, but the rest of the time you walk around a city and take photos.”
A few personal trips to Asheville eventually resulted in he and his wife uprooting from the Northeast and making the Blue Ridge Mountains their home 20 years ago. The graphic-design company he started was a victim of the economic recession in 2008, but Tebbe Davis the artist emerged a victor.
“I have always owned paintbrushes, oils, and easels but never did anything with them professionally. When the crash happened, I converted a room in our house to a studio and started painting.”
Davis frequented the River Arts District and found a welcoming community who mentored and encouraged him. His first pieces were architectural and landscapes, before he fixed his creative eye to the Hubble Space Telescope and produced his Cosmic Opus. The view towards infinity segued to Looking Up, which subsequently embraced The Tree.
Painting every day resulted in more than 1,000 pieces on his website, which he has pared down significantly. Similarly, when his one-room home studio became two rooms and then encroached upon the lower level, his wife urged him to move — professionally speaking — to the RAD.
“It’s really for the best — I make too much noise,” he admits. “When I paint, I put on music really loud and dance around and have fun. If it’s not fun, I don’t see any reason to do it.”
Tebbe Davis, Tebbeart Studio & Gallery, Riverview Station, 191 Lyman St. #268, River Arts District, Asheville. The artist’s work is also carried at Mountain Made (1 Page Ave. in the Grove Arcade, downtown Asheville, mtnmade.com). For more information, see tebbedavis.com.