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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Willis Bing Davis, an extraordinary artist

In the 1970s I had an opportunity to take a one-day creativity workshop from Bing Davis, an acclaimed African-American artist from Dayton, Ohio. I had met Bing on a couple of occasions and knew that he was not only a personable individual, but also a dynamic teacher who had been a force in the success of the Living Arts Center, an experimental arts and humanities program for school children in the late 1960s. The workshop was unforgettable, partly for the ideas presented, but even more for the simple, direct approach Bing used to open our eyes and minds to creative thinking.

The workshop was held in the aging art center where I had taken other classes, a familiar venue. But nothing was familiar about the opening of the workshop. To enter the classroom we had bend at the waist and walk through a curtain of beads that wasn't normally there. Needless to say, our senses went on alert as we looked into the room. But wait! What was that crunching noise? We looked down and found ourselves walking on Rice Krispies and laughing at the unfamiliar sound. In the background an old record player was playing an African drumming recording, something completely beyond the experience of anyone in the class. Everything in this once familiar setting seemed strange. The chairs, normally lined up in rows to face the instructor's table, were scattered randomly around the room. If it had been my class, I would have straightened the rows, but instead I sat quietly, thinking about what had happened in the first 60 seconds of my experience. Soon, as others arrived, we began talking and laughing about the oddness of the situation. Bing soon joined us and we discussed how small changes help us to think and see more creatively. The day was filled with projects that expanded on this principle. To this day I think of that workshop as one of the best I ever had--and I never picked up a paintbrush.

At that time Bing Davis was well on his way to becoming well known throughout the United States and international art communities with strong ties to his African heritage. He has participated in numerous artist-in-residence programs, taught at several universities, and been featured in many exhibitions, including a recent show at the Indianapolis Museum of Art Star Studio. Bing's paintings have been purchased by many discerning art collectors. He is presently teaching at his own EbonNia Studio and Gallery.

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