Portland artist visits Wilsonville High School

Jeremy Okai Davis showcases his art to Wilsonville High School Students during his presentation.
Jeremy Okai Davis showcases his art to Wilsonville High School Students during his presentation.
Katherine Beaver

On February 21, Wilsonville High School hosted Oregon-local artist Jeremy Okai Davis. Davis presented to students in the performing arts center, reflecting on his past as an artist and showcasing his work.

Davis grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. In his early years, he developed an interest in art and basketball, furthering his fixations in high school. Davis describes this time of his life as a “push and pull” between his creative side and the sport his family adored, “I remember thinking it was difficult to walk both sides, it was basically two different sides of the school.”

During his time in high school, Davis developed a strong bond with his art teacher, Mr. Somy. Somy was a great motivator for Davis when he considered moving forward more seriously with his art, “He was a really big influence for me as far as making me realize that art wasn’t something that needed to be separate. Going to art class was always something that brought me joy, and [Mr. Somy] gave me the tools and instruction I needed to succeed.”

“Those classes were a preparation for my later years in the world, and as an artist – just being a self-starter,” Davis says of his time in high school, a sentiment that likely resonated with many of the students he presented to.

Davis’ childhood has a strong impact on his works to this day. His family has a prominent history with basketball, and his upbringing as a black man slowly influenced the message in his pieces as he developed his voice as an artist. In his collection “Good Sport” Davis displays paintings of his high school jersey and members of his family who also participated in basketball such as his dad, uncle, and cousin.

After time spent developing his artistic style and abilities in college, Davis decided that he needed a change of scenery to spark some inspiration and moved to Portland. Davis admired the art that covered the streets of Portland, and the local artists he met in the space – he mentions fellow artist Jeff Sheridan and the people who frequented the Launch Pad Gallery (now permanently closed) as colleagues who influenced him.

In more recent years, Davis completed a collection inspired by “Shirley Cards” – a photograph used by 1950s film developers in order to calibrate the film to skin tones, that unfortunately took a focus on paler skin tones. The exclusionary history of this practice inspired Davis to paint a series showcasing “Shirley Card”-like images featuring figures with darker skin tones.

Davis’ closing advice to young artists is a call for them to “experiment. Don’t be afraid to try things. It took me a lot of experimentation, and trial-and-error that gave me information of what not to do or how things can change. Experiment as much as possible.”