Photo by Heather Middleton
By Joel Hall
On any sunny day of the week, those driving past the Spivey Plaza Shopping Center on Stockbridge Road, in Jonesboro, are likely to see a tall, curious-looking man wearing bright, white boots, a cape, and a crown made of tinfoil, colored stones, and glass shards of various sizes.
That man is Ron Davis, also known as "Blesd" in the artist community. While not a super hero, Davis considers himself to be a resourceful street artist, who loves to share his work with the community.
"A lot of people don't know what I do," said Davis, a Jonesboro resident and Army veteran. "I've been drawing my whole life. A lot of people don't always go to the art gallery, so I started putting my art up in pizza shops, burger shops, where people have to go."
In the past, Davis has shown off his artwork at The Tabernacle, Five Points, and Little Five Points in Atlanta. For the past six months, he has displayed his art outside the Lucky Grocery Store in Jonesboro.
The subjects and mediums used in Davis' art vary greatly. With oil, acrylics, spray paint, shoe polish, and occasionally, Wite-Out, Davis creates murals, abstract art, mythical creatures, and portraits of presidents, babies, musical celebrities, and ordinary people.
"I'll paint just about anything," he said Wednesday, putting the finishing touches on a portrait of a fairy holding a dripping paint brush. "The Internet has really messed up original art," he said. "A lot of people don't know what they are looking at anymore."
While Davis, 36, has practiced oil painting for more than 20 years, he said his inspiration to paint came in the mid-1980s when he was a student at Adamson Middle School in Rex.
"I didn't have any formal training," he said. "I took something out of a JCPenney magazine and drew it to a 'T.' My teacher saw it and she started going crazy. She was the Home-EC. (home economics) teacher, and she showed the art teacher, and he said, 'Why aren't you taking any art classes?' I've been studying painting ever since."
Davis said that as a youth, he didn't believe in his abilities as an artist, and in 1991, decided to enlist in the U.S. Army. For nine years, he said, he worked in the food services division, serving an 11-month stint, in the mid-1990s, in the Bosnian War.
To earn extra money and pass the downtime during the Bosnian winter season, Davis said he drew pencil sketches of other soldiers' relatives for $50 apiece, which the soldiers would send to their relatives back home. In his Army food service work, he continued to infuse art into his job through decorative cakes and ice sculptures, he said.
A few years after he left the military, however, he fell onto hard times. In 2004, he said, a car accident with an unlicensed driver at the corner of Tara Boulevard and Ga. Highway 138 left his right leg shattered in three places. In 2007, only a few years after his leg was reconstructed by doctors at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Atlanta, his appendix ruptured, almost killing him, he said.
Now on disability, painting, he said, is his primary source of employment. To stand out from other painters, he said he adopted the moniker "Blesd" (a name he gave to his first son), as well as the unique, caped costume he is now identified with.
Davis said his costume, which incorporates Biblical references, is all a part of bringing attention to his product. "The whole character thing sells," he said. "I remember not having a costume and trying to sell art. From Ronald McDonald to the Burger King 'king,' the mascot works."
Davis' presence at Spivey Plaza for the past few months hasn't bothered the local business people, according to Sam Patel, manager of the Lucky Grocery Store on Stockbridge Road. Behind the counter in Patel's store hangs a portrait of Patel's brother that he commissioned Davis to paint from a photograph.
"He's a nice guy ... he's a great artist," Patel said. "He did a picture of my brother and it came out exactly [like him]. He helps the business. He has a great future in art."
Pam Holloway, an employee at the Dollar General store across the street from Spivey Plaza, said she met Davis, in full costume, during her first day of work at the store one year ago. She said Davis is unique, but also uniquely talented.
"Seeing him walk down the road will make you smile," Holloway said. "Everybody I see over there will stop and talk to him. I've seen people look at him a little funny, but he just goes on and does his thing. His paintings are beautiful ... You can tell it's good work."
Davis would, one day, like to own his own art studio, he said, where he could display more of his artwork. While living and painting on a shoe-string budget, he said he is blessed to be doing what he loves.
"I've had some really good days," he said. "It's kind of how you define success. As long as God is giving me the breath to wake up everyday, I define that as success. Whatever you love to do in life, I believe if you do it, the rest of the stuff will fill in."