Lee Baxter Davis at the Meadows Museum of Art

Lee Baxter Davis, "Kidnapped Birds," 30”x22”, ink and watercolor, 2014

 

February 6, 2017

SHREVEPORT, LA — For Lee Baxter Davis, art making is rooted in family and memory--his grandfather taught him how to draw chickens; his mother gave him paper and pencil during church services to keep him still. He grew up in many small East Texas towns in the 1940s, at a time when abstraction and drip paintings defined American modern art. He would serve in the Army, receive an MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, teach college art classes for over thirty years in East Texas, and become a Catholic deacon, all the while rejecting painterly abstraction to produce fine-lined drawings about love, anger, and passion, so richly layered they recall art by Christian mystics like Hieronymus Bosch, William Blake, and Henry Darger.

Davis’ pictorial storytelling and artistic family tree are the subject of two new exhibitions at the Meadows Museum of Art, revealing how Davis shaped 21st-century American art, from comic books to animation and puppetry, through the figural artists he inspired. These exhibitions were conceived and organized by local artist and teacher C. Mark Burt of the Bossier Parish Talented Arts Program, who studied with Davis in the 1990s. The exhibition is generously underwritten by the Attaway Professorships in Civic Culture Program.

From February 11 through April 29, “A Pilgrim’s Sketchbook by Lee Baxter Davis” will be on display, featuring twenty-two ink and watercolor works from 1998 to present. Davis’ drawings are in the permanent collections of the Dallas Museum of Art, the Contemporary Arts Museum-Houston, and the Arkansas Arts Center. He was one of four artists selected to represent the four major geographical areas of Texas in the Texas Biennial. Several of his sketchbooks will give insight into Davis’ process and boundless creativity.

A companion exhibition, “Picture Show of the Mind: A Tribute to the Teachings of Lee Baxter Davis,” will run February 11 through April 23. This group show features art by Davis' former students and protégés, from the self-proclaimed “Lizard Cult” artists of East Texas State University to today, revealing Davis’ indelible impact on their art. Art by Steven Barker, Mark Burt, JooYoung Choi, Thomas Clark, Georganne Deen, Steve Fuqua, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Ric Heitzman, Lawrence Lee, Greg Metz, Jeffrey Miranda, Robyn O'Neil, Gary Panter, Leslie Pippen, Christian Schumann, Katherine Taylor, and Joachim West are included. Exhibited and collected from New York to Berlin, London to Venice, several of these artists have been featured in the Whitney Biennial, the elite survey of contemporary American art. Some hold multiple Emmy Awards for productions like Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Others are featured in PBS contemporary art series Art21 and The Art Assignment.

In assembling this tribute show, Burt selected forty years of students who credit Davis as a creative source. Salt Lake City artist Leslie Pippen explains, “Lee has the ability to make your eye sensitive. ‘Sensitivity’ became a mantra that is evident in Lee’s former students’ works.”  Robyn O’Neil credits a single class assignment for turning her into a “real artist.” That assignment from Davis?  “Get out a piece of paper and draw AIR!” Texas artist Steven Barker states, “Everything I create goes through a Lee Baxter Davis filter; he's become an excited little voice in the back of my head.” California artist Georganne Deen relates a time when a student argued with Davis over whether a work was “good enough.” The student challenged, “If it gets you on the cover of Art in America would it be good enough?” Davis responded, “Depends on whether your motive for making it was to be on the cover of an art magazine or to push the wheel of evolution.” 

Meadows Museum Co-Director Lisa Nicoletti observes, “The enthusiastic response of all these great artists, coming together to celebrate one man’s influence, reveals how legendary Lee Baxter Davis was in the classroom, just as he will become in American art history.”

If you go:

A free opening reception with hors d'oeuvres and an open bar will be held February 11 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Lee Baxter Davis will give a gallery talk at 5:30 p.m.

About the Meadows Museum of Art

The Meadows Museum of Art is located on the campus of Centenary College of Louisiana at 2911 Centenary Boulevard in Shreveport, Louisiana. The Museum is free and open to the public Mondays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Tuesdays from noon to 7:45 p.m., Wednesdays from 9:00 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon, Fridays from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 4:00 p.m. The Museum is closed on Saturdays and during all school holidays. For more information or to schedule field trips, call the Museum at 318.869.5040 or visit www.centenary.edu/meadows.