Looking at Martin Davies’ artwork today, it’s difficult to believe this honcho of Vancouver homoerotica ever doubted art would be his trade. Years ago, friends and family pleaded with him to take on a more pragmatic enterprise.
“I can deal with you being gay, but why are you an artist? I don’t understand that,” his father said to him early on.
Davies earned a BA in architecture from Australia’s University of New South Wales in 1995, the same year he faced his sexuality. The woman he was dating at the time–then a closeted lesbian–took him to a party in Sydney where the other guests were drag queens, lesbians, gay men and transsexuals. It felt to him like a homecoming after years of denial.
“I realized I was exactly the same. I was really comfortable in that crowd,” he says.
The year that followed would see Davies’ determination to rediscover himself and his art by discovering the world. Drawing in his journals kept his creativity alive while he traveled to the places he’d read about and always wanted to see. He describes this time as open and bohemian.
“I thought the world was changing, but it was only me that was changing,” he recalls. “It was a hopeful, optimistic part of my life.”
Come what may, he decided he would follow his heart and become an artist after all.
In 1996, Davies’ boyfriend at the time–his first–suggested he try things out in Vancouver. After spending more than a year living out of his backpack, he was open to finding a new home.
Asked about his homoerotic work, Davies presents it without even flinching. That’s a rare reaction in a community of artists who, more often than not, insist: ‘I’m not a gay artist. I’m an artist who happens to be gay.’
“[Sexuality] permeates my art on many levels,” he says. “We’re all sexual beings. It’s all tied up with identity, really.”
His paintings of nude men are at the same time serene and fiercely attention grabbing. The delicate poses and beautiful faces contrast but compliment a strong use of colour that is brilliant but never garish. The peach skin tones remind me of an oversaturated digital photograph, but aren’t overworked. His lines are precise and fluid, but his figures are not photorealistic.
“You might as well take a photograph,” he says.
Inspired by artists as diverse as Picasso, Dali and Hockney, he balances realism with the abstract.
Some of his most recent pieces are ink drawings of plants in the garden of his West End home, but even these simple, beautifully illustrated flowers have underlying sexual connotations, he says.
Some of his work is being exhibited at a charity auction with that of 50 other artists.
Anne Carlson, the organizer of Art for Life, invited him to participate by submitting two pieces for two separate auctions. The money raised will go to Friends for Life, an organization that helps people living with HIV/AIDS and other terminal illnesses.
“I love donating my work for charities,” he says. “It’s about giving back.”
Davies says he paints to satisfy himself. Coming from him, there is no pretension behind that statement, merely an appreciation for the opportunity to make a living at something he loves to do. “One of the things I appreciate,” he says, “is the support that I’ve had from my family and my friends over the years here in Vancouver. And that’s been fantastic.”