The undeveloped portion of a sprawling office park turned out to be a great place for an artist who has operated as something of a “sleeper” painter for more than two decades.
“Pond Light,” by Derek Davis, 2013, oil on panel, 9 x 12 in.
Derek Davis drew and painted on the side for 25 years before he started seriously engaging the art business world in 2007. He was woodshedding, as musicians say. The work has paid off — Davis now has a few Best of Show, First Place, and Honorable Mention awards from various Minnesota and Wisconsin plein air events. For the last seven years, this toiling for self-improvement has been done most days on some land owned by a company constructing several office buildings on the site of an old farm just five minutes from Davis’s home in Eagan, Minnesota, outside of St. Paul. A few of the trees have been cleared, allowing for some nice vistas.
“Up the Hill,” by Derek Davis, 2013, oil on panel, 9 x 12 in.
Davis’s dog Mia exploring in “her” park, which doubles as the artist’s favorite place to paint
“I found it purely by accident — I was dropping someone off at the back of the building,” recalls Davis. “It’s about 80 acres that have been turned into a park for the people who work in the office buildings. They’ve only built two buildings and plan to build more — but they will leave the area behind it untouched.”
“Through the Trees,” by Derek Davis, 2012, oil on panel, 9 x 12 in.
Davis says there’s a lake and several ponds, plus an old barn and silo. But it’s not blockbuster subject matter that draws the artist to the spot. Convenience plays a big role, but Davis appreciates the repetition. “The great thing about going back to a place over and over again is that you get past the obvious,” he says. “Going back to the same place allows you to explore and forces you to be creative. I have to look, to try to understand, to study the light. It’s pretty private — after 4 or 5 p.m., nobody is there. It is meditative, and I can focus on specific things, like a tree. This suits me, because I want all my paintings to look different — I’m not so interested in producing product as growing and experiencing and enjoying painting outside.”
“Afternoon Cast,” by Derek Davis, 2011, oil on canvas panel, 11 x 14 in.
What the location looks like during warmer days
Because of its proximity to Davis’s house, the artist can dash out and paint at the development whenever he has an hour or so. He has even gone there to paint when the wind chill factor has hit 24 below zero. The area has paved and gravel paths, so Davis can drag a case with his art supplies to a number of spots. And the location also pleases his painting partner, a dog named Mia. “She doesn’t have to be on the leash out there,” Davis explains. Mia keeps Davis company and alerts him to the approach of any “intruders,” but she is not particularly helpful with critiques. “I’ll ask her, ‘Should I push this a little warmer?’ She never answers,” jokes Davis. “She just comes and lays down right beside me while I work.”