(b. 1930)The creative life Chicago artist Herbert Davidson pursues is simple, ordered and solitary, like the pictures he paints. In a sense his pictures are his life, records of the things he sees, of the people he knows and meets, of the experiences he has. Davidson, 80, has been painting in the detailed, highly polished style that characterizes his work since shortly after he graduated in 1956 from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His first solo show in Chicago gave him the success and incentive to continue. As he looks back at the progression of his work over the past 20 years, Davidson finds that his work hasn’t changed all that much, it has just evolved. “You don’t look at something I did 20 years ago and say, ‘I wonder who did that.’ You know it was me. I mostly wonder why I did that and why I did it that way.”
Mood and setting are quite important to Davidson and have even become more important over the years. In his early work, he wasn’t as concerned with those elements or with what he calls “focusing in on the figure.” He says his early work may have contained those elements, but it was probably unintentional. “Now I search it out, strive for it.”
Davidson can’t remember a time when he didn’t want to be an artist. Today Davidson finds inspiration in the work of Jan Vermeer. “He has probably had the biggest influence on me of any painter,” comments the artist. “For me his paintings are more than the light and the luminosity that they are famous for. What Vermeer has captured is a moment in time.” Although Davidson’s own work may be restricted to representational painting, he admires many of the moderns and especially finds power in the works of Willem de Kooning and Francis Bacon. Abstract Expressionism and Action Painting were in vogue while Davidson was a student, and while the concepts interested him, he never felt the need to work in those modes. Since the late 1960’s, the camera has become an important tool in Davidson’s work. He began using it to study the effect of light and dark, the chiaroscuro, which he felt was lacking in his work, and discovered it could be used as an excellent sketching device. He takes pictures continuously, never actually seeking a particular subject matter. Parts of pictures combined with others may eventually find their way into one of his compositions. “I consider a painting successful when I have an idea, a good idea that I am excited about,” he says. Two or three of the paintings Davidson completes in a year are illustrations for Playboy Magazine. Davidson approaches these commissions with the kind of creative thinking that has won him constant admiration and numerous prizes.