In the hit NBC TV series “Chuck,” Chuck Bartowski might be the world’s nerdiest secret agent, but you have to appreciate his taste in art. He is surrounded by lush and vibrant paintings of brilliant sunflowers, aquamarine beaches and blazing red grapes you’re more likely to see in a fiery sunset than hanging on a nerd’s wall.
Nine of those luminous paintings are the exclusive creations of La Verne artist Eric M. Davis, whose work has also graced such television shows as “My Name is Earl,” “Will & Grace,” “Without a Trace,” and the movie “Legally Blonde II: Red, White and Blonde.” Despite his (painter’s) brush with Hollywood fame, Davis has remained a dedicated local artist, his work everywhere in our midst.
As you prepare to exit the 210 freeway onto Foothill Blvd., the Molly Maid building off to your right features his brushed aluminum, oak tree sculpture that shimmers from the glow of passing headlights. Drive down D Street to Roger Hanawalt’s dental practice and inside you’ll find his luminescent oil painting of plump, ready-to-harvest oranges, so much a part of the city’s delicious citrus history. Slide over to E Street and Bonita and pass through the tulip wrought-iron gates, welcoming the faithful to the Church of the Brethren. Pedal west on Arrow to Santana, and you’ll see some of the new bike colors he’s chosen for what is now the largest tandem bicycle manufacturer in the world. On your journey, you’ll more than likely notice one of Realtor Kirk B. Johnson’s ubiquitous real estate signs, whose logo Davis also designed. Finally, travel back in time to 1996/97 and south of Arrow, where he designed the 75th anniversary logo for the Los Angeles County Fair at the Fairplex show grounds. Wherever Davis goes, he is leaving gems of his artwork.
Davis’ interest in art began as a boyhood fascination finding beauty and detail in simple plants, flowers and other elements in nature. The Bonita High School grad gave expression to his innate interest and talent by completing a fine arts degree from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., and studying a semester at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).
“The most important education I ever received was the summer I spent at RISD,” Davis recalled fondly. That’s where I discovered I wanted to be an artist.”
Using his graphic design, printmaking and photography skills, he and his equally talented brothers Carl and Muir launched Kappit, a La Verne-based bicycle cap and clothing company that sold its wares throughout the United States, especially in college bookstores. The boys had all learned to sew at a young age and keenly applied those home and hearth skills to the construction of the hats, soft goods and clothing lines sold in their business.
In 1992 as a result of a recession, Davis finally left the family fold to work simultaneously as an art director for four different clothing companies in Long Beach. One of those outfits, Da Bull Clothing Company, provided Eric the opportunity to work directly with legendary big wave surfer Greg “Da Bull” Noll, who said of Davis, “He was the only non-surfer I ever liked.” Because of Davis’ likability, work and reputation, he was soon lured to a competitor who specialized in theme park retail. As art director for Overwear in Marina del Rey, Davis designed logos that emblazoned clothing sets and accessories for the Disney Store, Disney Parks, Disney Catalog, Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm and many others.
In particular, his logos for Overwear’s 1995 Universal Studios women’s line of clothing were liked so much they were distributed to two dozen other manufacturers for use on their products. His work also attracted the attention of Character Merchandise buyer Debbie Maloney of Walt Disney Attractions, Inc. in Florida, for whom Davis created a line of Mickey products that broke the traditional style guide wide open. The set, titled “Mickey Impression Series,” coupled the mouse with the impressionistic work of Claude Monet. The popular line grossed more than $3 million. In 1996, he also was commissioned to design the Los Angeles County Fair’s 75th anniversary logo, a big advertising and media coup that got him and his work noticed by a slew of top Southland corporations. And the best part, the commission got him working close to home again.
As only an artist can think, Davis has compared his career path to a three spokes in a wheel – his marketing, design and freelance work for others; his own art; and the selling of his own art. Involvement and attention to each spoke is important for the wheel to spin evenly and freely. The course he’s taken is not a race, but a journey.
One of his Davis’s biggest milestones came when a golfing partner introduced him to the owner of a prop house, who routinely filled requests by the movies and television shows for artwork to outfit their sets. That led to other referrals and introductions, and finally an emergency request for a Frederic Remington-Charles Russell style western-style painting of a proud but aging Indian warrior that was central to the script. With that faint outline, Davis was soon spirited into a trailer, given some pantone pens and pencils and told to create a masterpiece in about two hours. Fortunately, there was enough light streaming through one of the trailer’s windows against which he was able to trace some of the finer details of his sketch.
“That was about as intense a situation as I had ever been in,” Davis recalled. “Everybody was walking around, looking over my shoulder. But, ultimately, it gave me confidence. I showed them I could execute.”
Having delayed his execution, Davis returned three days later with a complete oil painting, which underwent a few more minor alterations before starring in NBC’s “Mr. Sterling.” He had done himself and the chief proud.
Since that crucible, Davis has regularly trekked to Hollywood studios and prop houses, which have scooped up his paintings. Ironically though, it was a Roynon school connection in La Verne that helped Davis showcase his work on “Chuck.” Fellow parent Craig Gadsby worked as a set dresser on “Alias,” a set too dark for Davis’ cheery, sun-kissed paintings. But when “Chuck” came up, Gadsby didn’t forget his friend and arranged a showing. A thrilled Davis loaded up his Windstar and drove to the Warner Brothers lot, whereupon he opened the van’s sliding doors and conducted a parking lot tour de force. The show picked up nine of his paintings and agreed to use them for the show’s duration.
For the holidays, Davis produced “Chuck” greeting cards from the paintings and, after giving away many for free to stir interest, he sold more than 100 sets that the producers distributed as unique gifts to the cast and crew.
Davis also continues to balance his spinning wheel with community outreach and non-profit work. Annually, he donates a watercolor painting of native California flowers to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont for its May fundraiser and auction, “Garden with a View.”
“It’s a blast to see people bidding up your work,” Davis said, highly appreciative that people value his art and that their increasingly higher bids help generate additional money for a worthy cause. Moreover, the non-profit has used his theme and decorations for the spring event’s invitations, programs, signage and frosted cookies that decorate the luncheon tables.
Davis is also one of the founders and early organizers of La Verne’ Celebration of the Arts, which again will be hosted by the Church of the Brethren, May 2-3. Attracting more than 1,500 people last year, the event is growing more popular each year. Free to artists, free to the public, free of judgment, the Celebration is an appreciation and expression of the City’s artistic soul.
At the heart of that soul beats a committed artist opening our eyes to the truth and beauty that surrounds us.
To see some samples of Davis’ beautiful work beyond the photos shown here, please go to www.ericmdavis.com.