Painting the Hidden Beauty in Cities
Last year artist Toby Davis retired a pair of Nike shoes in Paris. In 2016 those shoes traveled the streets of his hometown of Boise, plus Chicago, Salt Lake City, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and London. By the end of his Paris trip, the globetrotting shoes were completely spent — no tread, rips down the sides. “I decided that they should get to retire and spend the rest of their lives in Paris, and I left them there,” Davis says.
But Davis didn’t leave Paris, or any of his destinations, empty-handed. He returned with hundreds of digital photos to use as inspiration for his oil paintings. Every painting begins with a week-long scouting trip and days spent walking city streets, snapping photos of everything that catches his eye.
By Natalie Hollingshead
Photos by Kevin Kiernan
“I love to travel and see new places and new cultures,” Davis says. “Those scenes always inspire me to paint them. When I experience something beautiful, I want other people to see and experience it too. I’m always looking for the hidden beauty that might get overlooked in everyday scenes.”
From Country to City
Cityscapes are Davis’s primary focus as a painter — a little ironic, the artist admits, for someone who grew up in rural Idaho. “Drawing and doodling came along as part of finding something to do in the middle of nowhere,” he says. “I think a lot of creativity is developed when you have to entertain yourself as a kid.”
In the 1990s, Davis began oil painting as a way to relax and escape a career in retail management. Self-taught at first, Davis eventually finished a fine art degree at Boise State University.
“I was a stay-at-home father and pursued my degree in art because it was something that I was good at and something I thought I could do while raising my family,” Davis says. “Eventually, my boys grew up, and I got the chance to jump in full time about two and half years ago.”
The Work of Art
Davis got his first big break only months after starting as a professional artist. In 2015, he was selected by Idaho Power to paint two large commissioned paintings for the company’s 100th anniversary. That honor gave Davis the confidence to keep going in a highly competitive field.
“I still feel like every sell, every show that I’m accepted in, and every accolade is like a big break,” Davis says.
The business and marketing side of his creative endeavors requires at least as much time as producing the art itself. Davis displays in traditional galleries but also uses social media, his website, and online galleries to sell his paintings.
“I will admit that this is a lot harder than I thought it would be when I started, but I haven’t yet been seriously tempted to quit,” he says. “I think when you get a chance to do what is in your heart you know you’re supposed to be doing, that helps to get you over the bad times.”