David French — Making Our State Beautiful
After a stint in engineering, David Thayer French realized his calling and began art classes before meeting Starr Davis, a professional mural painter, and legend of the NoDa area in Charlotte, N.C., where he currently lives and works. For nearly two years he worked by her side painting over 20 murals, including a large work in Texas Steakhouse on Corridor G. David’s most popular works these days are a collection of street scene paintings known as “Forever Charlotte.” David recently returned to Charleston, his birthplace, to work on a scene downtown.
Graffiti: When I met you in Charleston last Friday, you were on your third and final day on site — did you end up finishing the painting you were working on then?
French: It’s almost done, I took some photos and I’ll finish it up here at the house. I worked Wednesday-Friday there on the street and then I came back on Sunday and worked on it some more. I would have loved to been able to work on it during the art festival that was going on, you know, get a chance to talk to people.
Graffiti: I think that would have been a nice addition to FestivALL. You were painting a scene with the focus on Taylor Books and the Capital Street architecture. As an artist, is it hard to decide what to paint? Are you pulled toward certain subjects?
French: I try to be smart about it. In the past couple years I started painting places that people wanted. Since that time, about a year and a half ago, I have sold over 700 prints of Charlotte, N.C. I try to focus on affordable and low-key places, I don’t know how to explain it really. I have a saying that sort of sums up that things I am drawn to and it’s “Places that we love, for reasons money can’t buy.”
Graffiti: I like that. Can you tell me why you started painting the “Forever Charlotte” collection of yours?
French: A big part is that Charlotte is developing so fast, you know, “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Mom and pop places are disappearing. The place that I live in is called NoDa, it’s the arts district in Charlotte. It started as a revitalization project. Turn the bad area into the arts area and it blossoms.
Graffiti: What made you decide to come home to West Virginia and paint that scene in downtown Charleston?
French: It’s my favorite little corner there in downtown Charleston. I found it ironic that the arts festival was going on. I would love to get put in a gallery up there – even if it were just my prints.
Graffiti: Do you have any plans for more West Virginia works?
French: You know, I’ll be up to visit my family and I’d like to sell prints, maybe in that bookstore that is in the painting I just did. I took some photos of places like the Quarrier Street Diner, Fazios and the Empty Glass — I love their sign, it is so coolly generic and silly.
Graffiti: Those would all be good things to immortalize through your paintings. You have recently quit your job to paint more, correct? What was your occupation before and how does it compare to what you are doing now?
French: I have never not worked on my art, but in the last 10 years I have focused on it a lot more. Until recently, I bartended, waited tables and did catering for this fancy restaurant in Charlotte. I will tell you a little background, if you want.
Graffiti: Of course, go ahead
French: About 10 years ago, I started training under Starr Davis, a mural painter. We worked on 20-30 murals together including one that is in a Texas Steakhouse out on Corridor G in Charleston. We did those, fox and the hound pool hall scenes, big works that were 10- by 10- or 10- by 15-foot. When that ran out, I decided to take a lesson from the great masters and stopped painting. I drew 2,000 to 3,000 drawings to hone my design skills before I started painting again.
Graffiti: You live in the NoDa area where you met Starr. How do you think living in an area that is so saturated with artists affects you?
French: I chose this area for a reason. It is very open to artists, if there is an artist painting on the street, no one would question it.
Graffiti: Sounds like a pretty cool place.
French: Yea, I look forward to seeing more art in Charleston. It looks like they are trying.
Graffiti: Definitely, well thank you for your time, David. I look forward to the possibility of more West Virginia art.
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