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Natural Wonderer

Natural Wonderer
Townsend Davidson looks to “make the mundane fantastic” in oil paintings that invite examination

Painter Townsend Davidson is a master of the blank space. In many of his pieces, tiny figures—elephants, birds, human cells—appear in what seems like acres of white, or sky blue, or dark navy and purple, simultaneously urging you to go in for closer examination and take a step back to breathe it all in. Even in his recent series of leaf close-ups, the botanicals float through an open canvas.

A Virginia native, Davidson moved to town back in 1998 to attend the College of Charleston as a studio art and art history major. These days he works for his alma mater as a photo lab tech and paints out of the Harleston Village apartment where he’s lived for 12 years, selling his works at And for the third year running, one of his paintings, this time Supercritical Flow (above right), was chosen to be exhibited during the April 24-May 2 ArtFields fest in Lake City.

Leaf studies: I started my botanicals series several years ago as something to work on objectively, without trying to express larger ideas or concepts. As a whole, the work is an investigation of the marvelous beauty of the natural world.

Green thumb: I love to work with plants and watch them grow. I think it infuses into my art. It gives me patience.

Everyday magic: What I do in my work is make the mundane fantastic—I paint things we’re familiar with, but not in that context [a tiny ostrich underneath a blimp, a dog with a bird on his head]. It’s magical realism. I think magic is available for us to see and enjoy every single day. We just have to be open to the wonder of the world.

Nature is nurture: The beach is huge for me. At Sullivan’s, I like to go to the inlet to see the city sort of floating on the water like a mirage. I also love the Francis Marion National Forest and Caw Caw Interpretive Center.

Sharing the love: There’s nothing better than taking a friend to a favorite place. Inevitably, I end up seeing it differently. When we take people to places we think we know, we find that we don’t—they show us a different truth.

Day­—make that “night”—job: Being a photo lab tech at CofC is a dream job, because I work at night, so during the day I have time to paint. I don’t ever feel like I “work” work.

Teaching by accident: At the photo lab, I’m not formally teaching photography, but it happens as a function of the job. Students come to me with questions about their work, running the gamut from technical to theoretical.

On ArtFields: I love it. There’s this kind of carnival feeling to it. The event has a lot of heart.

Supercritical Flow: My artist statement describes this painting as “a kind of confluence of idiosyncrasies; a mixture of familiar or, at least, recognizable elements that marry to produce a humorous and elusive narrative; one that resides in the realm of dreams.”

What’s next: I’m concentrating on making work right now.