Stars. Eagles. Clouds. The rays of the sun. I’m soaring—moving forward through space—sailing past a backdrop of stars. Totem eagles are winging past me. I try hard to keep up. A red shooting star flares overhead. I’m lost for a moment when I enter a cloudbank. But the rays of the sun break through and I’m soaring once more through space and time. But my feet haven’t left the ground. I’m looking up at a mural by Atlanta artist, David Gaither. He’s stopped by Sam Flax this week to talk about his work.
David is a self taught artist. “I’ve been painting since I was three or four,” he says. “Early on, I drew mostly buildings and people, but over time there was a gradual evolution into my own style.” He’s definitely come into his own. Looking at his murals, it’s easy to recognize David’s love of exploration, of journeys, of progress and innovation—all depicted through experimentation with different shapes and bright colors. It requires an ability to balance themes—which is sort of appropriate—David runs a full time strategy business—Gaither and Co. “There’s definitely a connection. I’m always using creativity in consulting and in my painting process also. It goes hand in hand, really.” Even with his business, he still manages to create art on a large scale. “I try to work on a few pieces a week. You just have to make time for it.” A balancing act—a time for business—and a time to take artistic journeys. And his murals are definitely journeys.
The first thing I have to know about his work—the eagles, the wing emblems—is there an Inuit influence? He laughs. He’s been asked that before—twice by me. “I travel a lot, so I’ve been inspired by a lot of different cultures. I blend that inspiration with my own past experiences.” We’re looking up at Star Mural—the one I just took a spirit journey with. Looking at it, I get such a feeling of momentum—not a dangerous and blind rushing forward, but the sublime soaring of the spirit as it heads into an unknown but inspired future. His mural, Phoenix Rising, speaks to this theme. In the center of the painting a phoenix rises up, wings outstretched—“Onward and forward,” David says. “With its back to the past, its anticipation and faith is in a brighter future.”
That theme of “onward and forward” parallels David’s own artistic process. “I want to keep pushing forward with my own style.” For inspiration he’s looked to a number of artists who have done just that. “I like Jean Miro, Picasso, Warhol and Basquiat.” Definitely guys who pushed the envelope. “I love the idea of pushing the boundaries—Warhol went through that when they were establishing the Pop Movement. They were all innovators and risk takers. I’d love to create a new genre. I like to be at the forefront of creation.”
Soaring with the eagles. Moving forward. Anticipating a brighter future.
David works big. You’ve got to have a big canvas for such big flights—it’s hard to take a spirit journey on a scrap of paper, I guess. “Working large I can get different levels of depth and color,” he explains, “a lot of contrasts, a blending of matte and gloss. It’s definitely a fusion.” But it’s more than a fusion of techniques. David’s works represent a synthesis of past and future, a blending of organic, free flowing concepts with carefully organized patterned pieces. In his mural Spatial Travel, the natural world is juxtaposed with technology—I see shapes like feathered wings forming cycles and jets—eagles soaring with spaceships.
The sun rises again and again in David’s works—primordial, powerful, life giving and sustaining. In Brand New Day it rises from behind a dark mountain to shed its light on the waking world. In Sun Mural, it takes center stage and we witness the full intensity of its power. At its heart burns a red furnace heat. All the other shapes in the mural are burnished with orange and yellow—no piece is untouched by the sun’s radiance. In Star Mural, its rays reach out across space, shedding its light on the mystic journey of eagles. “It shows the unity of all life,” David explains. “It expresses a sense of continuous growth.” After all, all life—that of men and eagles, is nurtured by the warmth of the sun, the touch of its rays.
“I love to experiment with shapes and colors but with each piece, I try to go deeper,” David says. “I don’t want to use the same methods again and again.” His drive to push forward—to explore new territories in art reflects the essence of life—which is constantly evolving, changing, pushing on to new destinies—just like his eagles. And David’s destiny? “Right now I’m talking to galleries in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. When I was on the west coast I saw a lot of murals in the Los Angeles area. There’s a sort of mural culture out there. I think my work would do well there.” His work is already doing well here in Atlanta. He’s building a presence for himself here in the city with its rapidly growing arts scene. Early on, his wife told him, “You’ve got to get you work out to galleries.” She was right. So far he’s been trading art with both Beep Beep and Zucot Galleries.
But he hasn’t stopped there. He’s also been working on a new concept—moving in new directions with his work. His piece, Mosaic Mini Murals is made up of six individual canvases—each 14”x14”. It’s what he calls his “free form method.” No eagles that I can see. It’s more about an improvisation with shapes and color. “It’s like a puzzle,” David explains. “There’s no limit to the size—the whole process becomes very organic—the mural can grow and grow in its own unique way. I can add as many panels as I want. It’s deft, freeform—not bound to any particular pattern—sort of like improv.” Sort of like life—the piece can expand in its own natural way—unrestrained, without borders. Limitless.
When it comes to viewing his art, it’s all about what he calls, “the high touch experience.” He prefers for people to see his work in person. “It’s more personal that way,” he says. “It’s a firsthand and individual experience. These are large, intricate pieces—with different depths and levels of color. I don’t think you get an adequate representation of that online.” If you’re in Little Five Points, stop by Mood’s Music. You’ll get a chance to have the high touch experience yourself. David also has four pieces on display this month at Sam Flax—including Star Mural. You can find the largest collection of his murals on permanent display at the Stuart McClean Gallery located downtown at 684 John Wesley Dobbs Avenue.
It’s really a good way to see his work—in person. You get an appreciation of the play of rich, vivid colors—red, yellow and bronze set against deep purple—the fusion of shapes—multicolored, mandala-like circles embraced by eagles’ wings—all illuminated by arcs and rays of color emanating from radiant suns. Seeing them up close gives you time to ponder—to take a journey of your own—to fly with eagles—to see the stars—to feel the warmth of the sun’s rays. I’ve made a lot of speculations about the meanings of David’s paintings—things I see in them—or just things I think I see. But that’s the personal aspect afforded by these mural journeys. He welcomes the idea. “It’s open to individual interpretation.”
That’s good, because I’m looking at another of his pieces and I’m seeing a new story unfold. I’m most intrigued by something I notice in David’s piece entitled Grand Mural. I see the familiar eagles. But there’s something different. In the other murals the movement predominates from left to right—in Grand Mural it’s the other way around. The eagles swoop in from the right in a descending trajectory heading towards a single, red star. They’re moving fast—with an aim and a purpose. I can’t help but think that the outgoing journey has brought them full circle. They’re heading back from places unknown, having traveled far in spirit—a journey across the cosmos, which, in the end, has brought them back to their point of origin. A return home—to the bright star within.
Take time to check out David’s murals around town.