William R. Davis
William R. Davis never thought he could make money as an artist, but his outlook changed in 1988, when the Mystic Maritime Gallery provided him the opportunity of a one-man show. He brought 28 paintings to the event and recalls, “I sold every one of them.” Following this breakthrough, he has enjoyed international acclaim and success; he is known especially for his marine art and for his attention to fine detail. And yet, much of his work stems from learning to sail a humble Beetle Cat in Hyannis Port when he was ten years old.
Davis recalls that his family owned a larger sailboat that they would take to the Vineyard, but he spent much of his childhood summers sailing around Nantucket Sound in the Beetle. “We used to sail down to Osterville and spend the night on our Beetle Cats,” he says. “We’d listen to the bridge going up and down.” He would also sail around Point Gannon from Bass River and into Baxters. Davis’ time on the water would grow into artistic inspiration, as he explains, “Many of my subjects are related to childhood memories, to places I’ve sailed.” It’s no coincidence that over the years he has painted “over half of the Beetle Cat fleet.”
Mostly self-taught as a painter, Bill Davis first found work in his father’s industry: construction. He was installing air conditioning and returning home to paint at night in the kitchen. “I taught myself from scratch, using Sotheby’s catalogs and trying to reproduce the colors from paintings,” he says. He would cut strips from magazines and match the colors. “Now, I can look at a color and match it within minutes,” he comments. This talent led to restoration assignments on works of renowned artists such as James Buttersworth. “After a while, I decided no more of this; I didn’t want to get bogged down,” he explains.
In order to achieve precision in his colors, Davis works exclusively in oils, although he does use acrylic paint for underpainting, particularly when he is painting on location. “The acrylics speed the development of a painting,” he says, “I’ve been doing this for forty years.”
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