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A colorful painting can evoke a visceral sense of pleasure, leaving the viewer awash with happiness. But, often, for the artist, the journey to create a single masterpiece is replete with a medley of emotions, from excitement and joy to despondency and insecurity.
And, often, the life of a painter is not the career they chose, but rather a career that chose them—as is the case for David Demers.
“I’m an artist because, honestly, I don’t think that I could do anything else,” the 49-year-old admits over mint tea in his Manhattan apartment. “I come from a long line of artists. My mother, father, grandmother and so on. I almost want to go on Ancestry.com and see if anyone in my family did something useful, like design or build a bridge. I think my great-grandfather made a treehouse.”
An emerging talent known for his eye-catching abstract canvases and vibrant colors that emphasize flow, organic shapes and layering, Mr. Demers’s work is whimsical and bold, on view at the Golden Eagle in East Hampton and, starting Tuesday, May 5, at the 77th annual Guild Hall Artists Members Exhibition.
“These days, I’m painting giant uneven stripes,” he said. “They are very two-dimensional, but the human mind will always want to move that into the third dimension. It takes some effort with these stripes, but eventually the tension between the colors and the imperfect borders and sizes will lead you there. I can zone out and look at them for hours.”
Born in Manhattan, Mr. Demers had a peripatetic childhood—raised in London, Palm Beach, Aspen, Massachusetts and Connecticut before attending college at the University of Colorado and a summer program at the Rhode Island School of Design. He was always extremely close to his stepbrothers—Parker, Barton and Whitney Quillen—and it was their connection to East Hampton through their mother and grandmother that brought him here every summer. In 2005, after spending time in Seattle, and there working as a musician, he finally settled in East Hampton for good. He lives with his wife, Pia, and 4-year-old daughter, Paloma.
It is there he finds most of his inspiration, he said. Unlike most people drawn to the Hamptons, Mr. Demers chooses the reverse commute. He spends the entire off-season out east, and as soon as summer arrives with the swelling crowds, he and his family head back to Manhattan, where the population drains.
“East Hampton for me is like going to a party where the host is constantly changing her clothes, and you end up thinking, ‘Well, where the hell am I?’” he said. “People ask me if it is grim and quiet and lonely out here in the winter, and the answer is, ‘I am an artist. We like it grim, quiet and lonely.’
“In the winter, there are not many distractions and I can really focus on my painting,” he continued, “even though there are not many hours of daylight. My studio was freezing this winter. The paint was almost frozen and hard to get out of the tube. Truth is, I am really happiest when I’m painting. The act of creating is so satisfying.”
But in his 20s, Mr. Demers stopped painting altogether, shifting his artistic force from oils to music—electric bass, to be specific in the band KATO and touring with Chris Stills, the son of Stephen Stills. He felt the call of rock and roll, he recalled, and “wanted to make noise and be like Jim Morrison, and party.”
“The rock life seemed so much brighter than the world of painting—and it was,” he said. “But it really takes a toll on a person and I had to get out, or wind up under the bus.”
Five albums and a full decade later, Mr. Demers returned to the quiet life of painting, and he was happy to do so, he said. He started off with a bang, attempting to create “explosions in a two-dimensional format,” he said. He calmed down, gradually, and focused on watercolors for some time, which taught him patience and an appreciation of the permanence of gesture, before returning to oils.
Perhaps he passed on those lessons to the amateur third-graders of the Springs School, where he was a visiting artist and taught African mask-making.
“Kids are always the best artists; it’s so easy for them,” he said. “My daughter finishes a drawing and says, ‘Here, Daddy, you can frame this.’ It’s like beginner’s luck. All I can say is, ‘Go learn to tie your shoes.’”
The key is young artists haven’t developed the angst that comes later, he explains. He feels it regularly, he said, in the solitude of his studio and creative mind.
“I feel like I’m doing something really important and I feel like I’m the best in the world at it. I dream that I’m really changing the world and making it a better place and that everyone will love me and admire what I do. It fills me with confidence,” he said, and then riffed, “My ego is spinning out of control; President Obama is congratulating me and I’m up for the Nobel Peace Prize; there are some streets in Manhattan named after me … and then … I choose a wrong color, or spill some paint, and in a second my masterpiece is a POS and I’m totally depressed, sometimes for a couple of days, and my life is going nowhere and I’m a slacker artist that will end up in a box at a yard sale and the rent is due and my hands are frozen.
“It’s a totally schizophrenic lifestyle and not for everyone,” he concluded. “But I’m addicted to it, and have accepted it.”
For more information about David Demers, visit demersart.com.
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