For St. Petersburg artist Nick Davis, looking someone dead in the eyes can be an anxiety provoking, intense experience.
Instead, he recreates it.
“I wake up drawing and I go to sleep drawing,” 30-year-old Davis says. “Dealing with anxiety, I never liked to get my hands dirty, so I stick to digital art.”
Davis creates structured silhouettes of Black women, men and children; bright colors and looming eyes characterize his series, Black is Beautiful, a testament to community and empowerment.
The Nitty Gritty
Black is Beautiful is a collection of strangers Davis has dreamed of, along with recognizable Black figures, elegant with deep, dark complexions and ornate garments. He pairs his portraits with quotes from icons like Michelle Obama, Tyler the Creator and Aretha Franklin.
“I believe people can see themselves in the quotes,” Davis said. “And the eyes.”
He began the series in July of 2019, and was selling his work for $5 a print. Not even six months later Davis was recognized by BET as Artist of the Week on Instagram, he was featured on PBS Arts Plus and has over 20,000 Instagram followers.
But it took Davis time and self discovery to get to a point of positivity through creation.
Five years ago Davis was unable to work due to epileptic seizures. He was home, and struggling with demons beyond his health.
“I’ve dealt with drug problems,” Davis said. “It’s still a struggle being sober, but this has helped me move on.”
The rise in his online presence came with a change in his ability to process social anxiety.
“At first, it was really overwhelming,” Davis said. “I started with like 700 followers, and the response I have now was a lot more than I was expecting. I’ve learned to just post my art and log off.”
Now, with thousands of social media followers watching, Davis continues to create digital portraits for Black is Beautiful.
“Drawing is my way of keeping sane; it’s just what I do for right now,” Davis said.
The next step, Davis hopes, will be bigger. The artist wants to eventually to put down roots and open his own studio in St. Pete.
“I did want to leave this area when everything started to take off,” Davis said. “[But] if I leave, I’m leaving my community. I have to stay here and be the one to take the needed steps for change.”
For Davis, that means supporting the arts, especially for Black children.
“In our community, a lot of children are forced into football, sports – and anything outside of that is considered bad,” Davis said. “I want to open up opportunities for people to express themselves.”
Years ago, Davis was that kid. He was kicked out of middle school for bad behavior and failed his senior year of high school.
Davis wasn’t a “bad” kid, but he was drawn to art and expression, with no outlet for those interests.
“I’ve been recently digging into education,” Davis said. “ I want to show [students] they are gifted in so many more ways than what’s expected.”