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Free from his studio, a Wichita artist finds inspiration outdoors

Melanie Rivera-Cortez
Richard Davies works on a painting of a building on Douglas looking east.

Discover a local painter who finds inspiration on the streets of Wichita.

Richard Davies holds up his paintbrush to the horizon at eye level. He's measuring his subject in relation to the canvas on his easel.

He's on the sidewalk outside Reuben Saunders Gallery on East Douglas. In 90-degree heat. On a Tuesday.

“I'll paint anywhere, anytime, any conditions,” Davies said. “I'm a painter. I've been doing it for 40-something years. And it's what I do.”

Richard Davies working on his oil painting at the Bartlett Arboretum.
Melanie Rivera-Cortez
A mix of oil paints on Davies' palette.

Davies is practicing a method of painting called “plein-aire,” which is a French term for painting outside with your subject in clear view.

He said he recently got back into painting outdoors through a friend who was asking for painting tips.

“I gave him some good advice, and then he convinced me to go out painting with him,” he said. “He even loaned me a big French easel – which weighs a ton – but we went out and painted, and I had a great time, and that's pretty much what got me back out here.”

And Davies wasn’t lying when he said he’ll paint just about anywhere. You might have seen him outside the Orpheum, the Anchor or by the Arkansas River.

He said he gets a lot of attention from people who catch him on the street but considers it an opportunity to teach people about the beauty of art and making art.

Like Thy Phan, who happened to be walking by Tuesday morning.

“I think it's very spontaneous,” Phan said of seeing an artist working on the sidewalk. “I think it's super cool because a lot of big cities do these types of things.

“So I feel like the Wichita community doing this; it really kind of keeps the art world evolving.”

Davies sometimes separates himself from Wichita to work in a more serene setting. Like in Belle Plaine, just south of Wichita.

“Well, we're at a pond,” Davies said, describing the scenery. “It's a typical Kansas farm pond, but it's in an arboretum, which has … beautiful plantings all around it.

“This is the Bartlett Arboretum. And what I'm going to paint is there's going to be a little bit of grass to the right …”

Painter 7.png
Courtesy photo
Davies' finished piece of a bridge at the Bartlett Arboretum.

As he continues, the time becomes almost like a private painting lesson. Davies shares how to work with shapes, color and hues.

“I try and work from back to front, get the basic shapes in, basic block in and get the back part,” Davies said. “And you can paint on top of it because … just like in physical reality, you know, things are in front of one another. It's just that simple.”

On his canvas, there’s already a developed scene. A wrought iron bridge and a stream. Beautiful trees and grass. All of which were around him, away from the quiet confines of a studio. Just the natural world on a warm Kansas afternoon.

Davies, 63, was asked when he plans to put the paintbrushes down for good.

“I don't know. Might die,” he responds. “Who knows?”

But until then?

“Yeah, until then, I'll keep going,” he said. “Keep doing whatever I want to do.”

Richard Davies’ paintings can be found on his website or at Reuben Saunders Gallery on 3215 E. Douglas.

Andrew Lopez is the Korva Coleman Diversity in Journalism Intern at KMUW this summer. He is currently a student at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and is on track to earn a Masters of Journalism degree next year.