Susan Davis was a self-taught artist whose work included magazine and book illustration, formal oils, murals, detailed watercolors and highly evocative pastel drawings.
Over the course of a career that spanned more than twenty-five years, Ms. Davis produced a broad and highly acclaimed body of work. Her June, 1998 retrospective exhibition was one of the most eagerly received and successful shows of its kind, and was held over through September due to the enormous response.
Her mural commissioned for Porto Bello, an historic home in St. Marys County, Maryland, was featured in Architectural Digest. Her illustrations appeared regularly in The Washington Post, New Yorker, Yankee magazine, Washingtonian magazine, Museum & Arts, America Illustrated, Italian Elle magazine, among other magazines and books worldwide. She illustrated nine children’s books, including the best-selling The Dinosaur Who Lived in My Backyard, and The Party by Washington author Sally Quinn, books on dining, gardening and childrens’ activities for the Washington Post, as well as a number of other books.
Some of the artist’s most recognizable work was done for the New Yorker, which began in 1983. Those covers are featured in two books, Seasons at the New Yorker and Covers of The New Yorker. The covers demonstrate the key themes of her work: landscapes, waterscapes, people at play, and an upbeat look at life. Her home at Tilghman Island on the Eastern Shore of Maryland was a source of inspiration for a number of the land and seascapes, and many of the still lifes.
In 1993, Ms Davis was honored to execute the official Presidential Inauguration image for limited edition prints that were distributed throughout the world to officials, friends and colleagues, as well as posters for the national celebration. Ms Davis created Vice president and Mrs. Gore’s 1996 and 1997 Christmas cards and commemorative tiles, and produced invitations for the White House, Christmas cards for Governor and Mrs. Jay Rockefeller, and several invitations, a print and a 1997 commemorative Christmas medal/ornament for Maryland Governor and Mrs. Parris Glendening.
Among the childrens books which she illustrated were Around My Town, Waiting for Mom, When Daddy Comes Home, My Brother Oscar Thinks he Knows It All, The Sick-In-Bed Birthday, The After-Christmas Tree, and her personal favorite, Birthday Moon. She illustrated two full-color books published by Houghton-Mifflin, The Fragrant Flowers Birthday Book and Feast of Flowers.
Corporate patrons included Honeywell Corporation, MCI, The Foundation for Critical Care, the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, the Toyota Corporation, Suntory of Japan, the Willard Hotel, the Los Angeles Times, American Express, the Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts and The Washington Post Company.
Outside of her work for The New Yorker, Ms. Davis was most proud of her murals. She spent the bulk of her time over her last eight years creating, executing and installing privately commissioned large paintings and historical murals for clients in Washington, New York, and San Francisco.
Susan Davis’ first job interview resulted in an advertising agency owner telling the artist that she had no talent and to go home and try something else. For more than twenty-five years she proved him wrong. In August of 1997 Ms Davis was suddenly stricken with a malignant brain tumor. The effects left her right side — her painting arm — paralyzed. But it did not dim her spirit nor deter her from practicing her art. In 1998-99 she completed a series of seven oils and a number of pastels with her left hand in the two-plus years she survived. Like other artists before her— Monet, who went blind, or van Gogh, who went insane— she did not allow the physical handicap to diminish her drive to communicate and express herself through her art. Although this work is decidedly different from earlier work, it is lit by the same honest joy, painterly skill, and highly refined color sense which made her work both recognizable and beloved.
After a valiant but vain struggle against the disease, Susan Davis died on December 20, 1999. She lives on in her daughter, Jamie Barkin, and in the heart of Bob Barkin, who was her husband and who represents her work.