By Natasha Anderson
On Friday, August 4, at 5 p.m., Blue Spiral 1 hosts a reading by novelist and painter Julyan Davis. For the event, three local actors will bring to life the women of Davis’ new series of paintings American Ghosts. The series and the fictional letters and diary entries feature the characters Betsy, a Gold Rush ‘49er; Belle, a slighted Civil War woman; and Nancy, a Dust Bowl circus strongwoman.
“Because Julyan’s talent as a painter is analogous to his gift as a fiction writer, we wanted to showcase both of his creative explorations in a singular event,” says Blue Spiral 1 assistant director Blair Guggenheim. “His writing practice uniquely informs his painting practice.”
Davis has spent 30 years painting the vanishing American landscape. In American Ghosts, he follows in the tradition of fellow British artist William Hogarth who wrote A Rake’s Progress. Davis presents three characters as they travel westward during the Gold Rush. Their paths meet again and again in a story about hope, discovery, land and the people in the land. The paintings jump back and forth, responding to each other, rather than telling a story sequentially. Davis lets the characters drive the plot of the paintings, much as he does in his fiction.
“The painted story is full of intentional mystery so that the viewer can, in a way, complete the art and make it their own, but it is vital for the storyteller to know much more than is revealed,” he says. “The writing distills for me the motivation driving the three women from America’s past.”
Like his paintings, Davis’ writing is expressive without being overdone, evocative without sentimentality. In an extract from Betsy’s diaries, he writes:
“One day we came upon a buffalo. He was the very last buffalo, turns out, and he was lost. I rubbed his nose, and Nancy tried to guess how much he weighed—she’s always showing off, picking up big old logs and rocks, just trying to impress Ike, I guess.”
Davis, who lives in Asheville, received his art training at the Byam Shaw School of Art in London. His work is exhibited internationally, and is in many public and private collections. Recent acquisitions include the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, the Greenville County Museum of Art (SC), the Morris Museum of Art (Augusta, GA), the Duke Endowment and the North Carolina Governor’s Mansion. Davis’ debut novel A History of Saints was a 2022 semifinalist for the Thurber Prize.
American Ghosts is on display at Blue Spiral 1 through August 23.
Learn more at BlueSpiral1.com.