BIOGRAPHY - Jay Davenport (Born 1972)
As a trompe l’oeil painter, Jay Davenport is rooted in representational art, but his subject matter departs from tradition in offering commentaries on contemporary life--often humorous or ironic. His story began in the small village of Stillwater, Pennsylvania in 1972 where he spent the early years of his childhood. Following his parent’s divorce in 1980, however, he and his mother moved to Hazelton, Pennsylvania where his maternal grandparents lived.
Adjusting to a new home with his grandparents and the urban environment of Hazelton was challenging for the young Davenport. Although the rural habitat that he enjoyed in Stillwater was no longer accessible, he re-created that world through drawings of wildlife during these early years, with the encouragement of his grandfather, who recognized that art could be a way of coping with the myriad changes occurring in his grandson’s life. He also introduced Davenport to a family member who worked as an illustrator for Mack Trucks, which was then headquartered in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Looking back today, Davenport comments that this relative provided an early example of someone who successfully made a living as an artist.
With the death of his grandfather in 1984, the then-12-year-old Davenport’s life was again disrupted by an emotional upheaval. Despite some years of turmoil, however, he graduated from high school and began to pursue his professional artistic education beginning in 1991 when he started studying with painter Nancy Cathoner. This was followed by a brief stint of instruction with Joseph Smudin, a well respected illustrator who had founded the Smudin Studios in Philadelphia after his discharge from the US Army following World War II. In part, Davenport’s interest in illustration was fueled by his realization that he was not especially interested in the abstract art that was the standard fare in most college art departments at the time. It was also a means of continuing to portray the wildlife subjects that fascinated him.
By 1996, he enrolled in Luzerne County Community College in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania where he majored in painting and illustration. These years of study provided Davenport with a foundation for a career in art as well as his first opportunities to exhibit his work in a group show. It was through these student exhibits that Davenport met Anthony Waichulis, who would become his next instructor. The Waichulis Studio (today the Ani Art Academies) specializes in teaching representational painting and it was here that Davenport spent the next four years studying. His technique as well as his grasp of subject matter and symbolism continued to mature in this environment, and by 2004, Davenport had his first solo exhibition at the Under the Stairs Gallery in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.
Other exhibitions soon followed as Davenport’s work became known to a growing audience. His first exhibition outside of Pennsylvania occurred in 2004 when his work was selected by a jury for a show at a Santa Fe gallery; by 2005, he was also exhibiting in Clifton, Texas, and by 2006, in Fort Worth and Baltimore. Since then he has built a national reputation with annual exhibitions in galleries from Connecticut to Arizona.
With his new found success, Davenport settled in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania where he opened the Stillwater Studio in an old store front building in 2010. Named for the village where he was born, Stillwater Studio accepts only a small number of students who are interested in representational painting. Davenport also teaches an annual workshop at the Scottsdale Artist’s School in Arizona; there too, the focus is on realist art and traditional technique.
Davenport’s range of subjects has broadened significantly over the years. Although he no longer focuses on wildlife imagery, he does continue to paint dogs in a variety of guises, often as messengers of deeper symbolic commentary on relationships. Other paintings offer humorous content or ironic appraisals of life in the 21st century. The use of popular imagery, ranging from children’s toys to post-it notes and ‘penny’ candy [now ‘nickel’ candy] and painted in meticulous trompe l’oeil style, often suggests mischievous interpretations of the world and its foibles.
Because of the nature of trompe l’oeil painting, Davenport spends between eight and twelve hours a day at the studio. As he remarks “Trompe l’oeil isn’t fast.” His commitment to this work is clear however. “I’m passionate about what I do, and quality is key.”
Janet L. Whitmore, Ph.D