Sally Davies, a painter and elementary school art teacher, won the Mira Masé Award this month for British Museum, a view looking down on a dramatically sunlit room of the London museum. We asked her about her favorite museums, her current work, and looking at the world with a bird’s eye.
Where is this scene? What caught your eye about it?
Sally Davies: This is the British Museum in London, England. When I visited a few years ago, I found a room on the second floor that had a window looking out on the interior courtyard. It was a sunny day and the pattern of the glass ceiling made interesting shadows on the interior. I took maybe 40 photos from that spot, knowing I’d really want to paint it when I got home.
What was your goal with this painting?
I was attempting to unify a very large space with a design that would not become cluttered, and yet still have interesting details. My main focus was the pattern of shadows and light.
The bird’s-eye perspective has appeared in many of your paintings. What brings you back to it?
Not sure. It just really appeals to me. I love long shadows in the morning and evening … and that warm glowing light that is so transient.
What’s your process like, from an idea to a finished piece?
I’m always looking out for the long shadows. Also, people and interesting architecture are a big part of the appeal that attracts me to an image. I take lots of photos of a scene and then pick and choose elements to design the painting. Then I have fun with the under-painting, playing with layers of colors until I get something I love. Next, I sketch in the elements and paint the shadows and people.
Why are you a painter? Why acrylic?
Oh, I love watercolor and drawing, too. Right now I’m having fun making some mobiles. I’m also an elementary school art teacher so I am often inspired by my students’ creativity, too!
Is there one element in your work that is most important to you (line, color, etc.)?
It depends on the piece and the medium. When I’m working in my sketchbook, I like ink line and watercolor washes. With larger canvas pieces, I’m focusing more on light/color and how it affects form. Overall, the most important element that effects all my work is a strong, uncluttered design.
What are you working on now?
Another canvas with bird’s-eye perspective with long shadows, of course! This time it is of people crossing a street. The pavement markings become part of the design.
Both your piece and the other award winner (Web Bryant’s Sentry to the 54th) depict museums — do you have a favorite museum? Is there something special about museums in particular that made you want to paint it?
Well, picking a favorite museum would be hard for me to do since there are so many wonderful ones … National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian galleries here in DC, The Portrait Gallery in London, England (I love that they write information about the painter and the sitter next to every portrait on display), the Louvre in Paris (I could spend weeks there), the National Archaeological Museum of Athens (they have a wonderful display of sculptures – some even rescued from ancient underwater shipwrecks), and of course, the British Museum in London (which is the subject of this painting).
I’ve just spent the last few weeks in Japan and the Edo-Tokyo Museum was amazing. You can Google a photo of the architecture – very modern, enormous concrete building cantilevered out over a huge plaza space. Inside, the exhibits were spectacular, with incredible miniature models, recreated interiors of historic buildings, and a whole area dedicated to Japanese block printing. I also had some great opportunities to take photos of people from a bird’s-eye view – which is what I look for when I travel. So at the moment, this museum tops my list!
You can see the July All-Media Exhibit through August 4.