Davo: From hippiedom to pop art
LAHAINA – Looking like an early ’70s-style hippie – “I was a real hippy, not a pseudo one” – hanging out once with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez in Huntington Beach, California; now well-dressed, still equipped with long wavy blonde hair, pop artist Davo has had the kind of life movies are made of. And as a celebrity name dropper on Maui, he has no superior.
Davo probably has only one thing in common with this columnist: he thinks women are the superior beings on the planet and credits (count ’em) about a half-dozen of them with all he is or has become.
The special women after his mother include Barbara Pyle, who got him to New York; mentor and founder of Lahaina Arts Society Alexandra Morrow; and Lynn Shue of Village Galleries, who first displayed his art in a fancy setting.
Davo’s life is storybook. Born in Los Angeles in 1950… grew up five miles from Disneyland… surfed in Southern California… gardened for Ansel Adams, the iconic western photographer at Big Sur (“I learned a lot from him”)… avoided the jungles of Vietnam by substituting what he calls the jungles of Kauai, where he wore next to nothing… mostly played, and occasionally painted badly, in Tahiti.
His ideallic and hippie life lived with all its accompanying habits ended one day when he hurt his back surfing. Needing rehab, one of the earliest of the influential “Davo women” sent him to her home in New York, launching a major life change. There he met pop artist Andy Warhol.
Since he was a kid, Davo reported, “I wanted to be a painter. My mother encouraged me. There were always crayons and watercolors around.” After meeting Adams, he wanted for a time to be a photographer.
By the time he reached New York, he’d gone through cubist, Gauganesque and Daliesque periods. The name dropping Davo’s penchant for friending celebrities got him an invitation to visit Warhol’s famous studio, the Factory.
“Andy took a liking to me. Though he was very busy, he let me hang out,” Davo said. Observing the artist’s pop art technique of beginning with a photograph and turning it into a painting, the dirt-poor Davo saw the chance to combine both of his interests and actually produce something that would sell.
The choice for his first subject? Sex symbol Marilyn Monroe, based on a photo in a newspaper. Warhol’s parting words to him when he headed back to the islands were “that would be a great start.”
The technique involves making a stencil-like silkscreen of a photograph. A kaleidoscope of paint is daubed on a canvas. Expensive, powerful lights burn the image on the canvas, and embellishments with the brush transform the photo into a work of art.
As Davo tells it, he took his last 100 bucks and had a silkscreen of the Monroe image made by a T-shirt maker. He would use it until it became threadbare.
Back on Maui, with no money to buy expensive lighting equipment, he adopted the nearest best thing: Maui’s incredible sunlight. At high noon to this day, he burns images onto canvases with 25-second exposures.
Since 1983, Davo has taken Warhol’s method a step further. He mixes phosphorous with acrylic and coats the canvas. Customers in effect get two pieces of art for the price of one. Turn out the lights, and his paintings glow with a quite different look.
“At first I thought this was gimmicky, but art is anything that moves you. I finally realized there was nothing wrong with that,” he said.
On Maui, Davo’s uncanny luck continued with a humorous twist. After ten years at the Banyan, Shue came up to him under the tree, said she liked his art and way with people and wanted to bring him into a new gallery.
As it happened, Davo noted, “she turned around, and a bird made a big dump on one of my paintings. I was thinking, ‘I am out of here.’ ” A lady walked up, loved the painting, thought the “paint” was still fresh and bought it on the spot. She never knew what made it fresh.
Three weeks after Davo moved to the gallery, an executive with the Grammy Awards showed up, saw his painting of the Beatles and said the artist could get tickets to the prestigious award dinner if he would donate $10,000 worth of art.
Davo figured that would be four paintings. He’s been attending for ten years, has a vote in the competition and was thrilled to have dinner with Paul McCartney (so to speak). McCartney was at a table in the same big hall.
Davo’s starving artist days are long gone, with his work sold in both the Gallery 505 operated by another key woman in his life, Belinda Leigh, as well as Village Galleries. Big sellers: the Beatles (still), and Einstein of all people.
Davo has even settled down, marrying a Native Hawaiian. “That’s the other part of my life – my secret life,” he said. He loves being part of a Hawaiian ‘ohana with all that brings.
With women playing such a crucial role in his career, you’d think most of his paintings would be females. Not so…
“All the women in my life have been so marvelous, and the men can go to hell.
“But,” he was quick to add, “not you, Norm.”
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