Artist’s live painting of Gritty during Flyers game a ‘surreal moment’
Benjamin Davis has shown mythical universes and supernatural beings through his art for many years.
Still, his last assignment managed to put him in an even wilder and more mysterious scene. sitting at home in front of a screen and computer, studying the contours and nuances of Gritty’s naked body.
If you’ve watched NBCSN’s national broadcast “Wednesday Night Hockey” this week, you’ve likely seen Davis, a 28-year-old artist from Charlottesville, Virginia, on a platform working at a feverish pace to color the Philadelphia Flyers mascot immortalize while Gritty lay elegantly on a black leather couch and the Flyers played the Boston Bruins behind them.
“I was pretty happy with it,” said Davis of the finished portrait. “I think it’s an artist’s curse that you’re never really sure of your own work, especially something that big and so fast. I thought it turned out pretty well for what it was.
“But very different from anything I’ve ever done before. I’ve never painted a mascot. A big naked mascot.”
The Flyers hired Davis after a friend of a friend who works for the team passed his name on when he called on an artist to co-star Gritty’s latest sideline.
The task was pretty much explained as it seemed.
“It was basically exactly what you saw,” he said. “‘Hey, we want someone to paint gritty like Titanic style. He’s going to come out, he’s going to get undressed and then you’re going to do your thing.”
This particular job came with some unique challenges. The canvas was much larger than the 8 by 10 inch surface he usually works on. The timeframe he would normally take to complete such a project has been significantly reduced from over 40 hours to less than three hours. And while he was familiar with Gritty, Davis had to be aware of all aspects of Gritty’s form.
To that end, he collected images from Gritty’s infamous series of flicks at the 2019 Stadium Series and practiced painting for the week between the landing of the gig and the main event.
When Davis arrived at the Wells Fargo Center, Gritty posed on the couch so Davis could put his canvas in the right place to create a properly proportioned pencil sketch that he would paint over as the game played.
Davis’s nerves had been building all week. As a freelance artist with a full-time job as a digital production artist, this was his biggest assignment to date to be broadcast on national prime-time television.
“When it was close to the game and I had everything set up and when I got out of there, I was more excited than nervous,” said Davis. “Definitely a bit of a nerve while I was out there for the entire painting.”
The piece went exactly as the team said it would. Gritty went out, slipped off his fur coat as if he were Aretha Franklin, and took his place on the couch to sit in the buff for his dedicated artist. Davis finished the painting before the end of regulation. After the time crisis, his biggest challenge was Gritty’s belly button, the color of which varies from day to day but was purple that night.
“I had a little problem getting this color right,” said Davis. “I wasn’t prepared for the purple at first. I was actually asked if that was okay. And I said, ‘Yeah, I can do a few colors.’ But that was fun. ”
After years of mostly fantasy art, Davis’ recent foray into outdoor painting added to his ability to paint gritty in a limited time frame.
“I think what I’ve prepared for the most is the outdoor pictures I’ve been taking over the past two years, and I’ve really figured out how to capture textures in a short amount of time and paint right out of life. It is so interesting how that worked, “said Davis.
After completing the picture, he tidied up his work area and checked his phone to see his social media channels (IG: @benjamindavisart / TW: @ Bendavisart) get a little more attention. He’s hoping the gig will boost his freelance arts career, which is still in its early stages but now has a big moment with Gritty in its history.
“I was a bit impressed with what was going on,” said Davis. “It was a surreal moment.”
Photos from Colin Passman and Richard Owens , provided by Benjamin Davis (www.benjamindavisart.com).