SEARCY Local artist Tessa Davidson described paintings featured in her latest art project as nontraditional, but added that they are inspired by traditional works of art.
“The paintings are inspired by traditional artworks, but I’ve branched out a bit, trying to grab people’s attention,” she said, laughing. “It’s said a person spends three seconds looking at a work of art, so I am hoping this series of paintings draws the viewer in long enough to be intrigued by it.”
The Argenta Gallery in North Little Rock will feature 12 paintings in the exhibition, titled Saints Re-Formed, which will open Friday and continue through Dec. 15. An opening reception is set for 5-7 p.m. Friday during the 3rd Friday Argenta Art Walk in the Argenta Arts District of North Little Rock. The gallery is at 413 Main St. in North Little Rock. There is no admission charge.
Davidson, who teaches at Harding University in Searcy, said she is known for her “realistic oil paintings that utilize peculiar imagery to spark spiritual reflection.”
This exhibit features paintings inspired by the legends and symbols of historic saints, but with a modern twist. The paintings range in size from 18 by 24 inches to 6 feet, depicting figures in isolated settings. Her painting Hope Has Feathers, inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, depicts a man covered in birds and bird feeders. Davidson traveled to Assisi, Italy, in March and drew inspiration from significant sites and stories connected with the life of Francis.
“I used real-life models for these paintings,” she said, adding that she asked people in her community to pose for the paintings. “I’d had the idea for this project for quite a while, and I worked on it about a year. I worked seven hours a day on it for a while, before I got hired to work at Harding full time. I worked as an adjunct professor for several years.
“It just all seemed to come together at the right time,” she said. “The exhibit was on display in Stevens Art Gallery at Harding before it moved to the Argenta Gallery. I’ve been very encouraged by the show’s reception, locally and online. I am excited to exhibit to the larger community of North Little Rock.
“I am very excited about the completion of this body of work, and I am grateful to exhibit the work in this area. All the models who participated in the project live nearby and are remarkable examples of strength and character.”
Davidson said the project was inspired by her interest in medieval and Renaissance art history — fields of study dominated by imagery of Christian saints.
“I continue to be mystified by historic depictions of these figures,” she said. “I’m intrigued by how they are portrayed in art and how the strange and symbolic objects associated with them remind viewers of events from their life or martyrdom. In this project, I wanted to explore these artistic traditions and discover how the ideas behind these symbols might speak to a broader contemporary audience.”
Will Hogg of Little Rock, curator at the Argenta Gallery, said he was introduced to Davidson’s work through a post on Instagram.
“As curator for the gallery, part of my job is to go out and find artists and make a connection with them,” he said. “This gallery has been open for about five years, and I’ve been the curator for about two years. We try to feature Arkansas-based artists when we can.
“I use social media a lot to find new artists and keep up with artists that I know,” he said. “I did not know Tessa’s work previously but found a post on Instagram that she made. It was one of those fortuitous things … serendipity, if you will.
“When I found Tessa and her work, I felt like I had hit the billion-dollar lottery,” Hogg said, laughing. “Tessa had not previously used Instagram until that day I saw her post. I just happened upon it. I not only search Instagram; I follow obscure Instagrams. … I search with those using hashtags.
“Plus, I have always been interested in the lives of saints,” he said. “In her post on Instagram, she used #Sebastian. Then I looked at her website and saw she was working on a project about saints … and that she was from Arkansas. I knew I had to meet her. She came to the gallery and made a commitment for us to show her work when she completed her Saints Re-formed project.
“We are so excited to be hosting this exhibit,” said Hogg, who is a member of the Arkansas Arts Council and a proponent of the arts through the Latino Project and Pinnacle Fine Arts. “This is my dream show as a curator.”
Born in Pennsylvania, Davidson moved from California to Arkansas in 2003 to attend Harding. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in art education in 2006 and a Master of Education degree in secondary education in 2008, both from Harding . She received a Master of Arts degree in art history in 2014 from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a Master of Fine Arts degree in visual art in 2018 from the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester.
Davidson is serving in her first year as an assistant professor of art at Harding University, where she teaches art appreciation, fine-arts profession, advanced painting and supervised teaching. She served as an adjunct art professor from 2011-2019 at Harding. She also served as docent at the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock from 2012-2015 and taught art and Bible at Harding Academy from 2007-2012.
Davidson is a member of the Arkansas Committee of the National Museum of Women in Art, the Culture Shock Art Collective, the Arkansas Arts Council, Christians in the Visual Arts and the Association of Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art.
Davidson’s primary art medium is painting, but she also works in drawing, video, performance and installation art. Her painting Wings, an oil on linen, was selected for the 2018 Delta Exhibition at the Arkansas Arts Center.
Davidson lives in Cabot with her husband, T.J., and their two children.
For more information about Davidson’s work, visit her website, tessadavidsonartist.com.