If the intangible concept of positivity took a physical form, it would look a lot like DeNeer Davis.
When Davis was playing on the Division II basketball team at University of North Carolina at Pembroke, she had aspirations to play overseas after college. The idea of having more money than what the WNBA could offer to send home to her struggling family and being able to play a sport that she loved in another country was so appealing that she asked her coach to help her explore her options. Nothing other than playing basketball seemed like an option.
“My dad said, ‘What you gonna do when you can’t play basketball no more?’” Davis recalled. “And I was like, ‘Dad, I’ll always be able to play basketball.’”
But that dream would never be a reality, as she tore her ACL in 2011, effectively ending her career before it started and sending Davis into a spiraling depression.
“I fell into a deep, deep [dark] place because basketball was all I knew, I didn’t know how to do anything else,” Davis said.
Sitting in her grandmother’s room after the injury, unable to walk by herself and going through physical therapy, Davis picked up a sketchbook. She started sketching and drawing, and eventually posted a picture of a piece online that she did, which depicted the words, “peace, love and happiness” in bright, vibrant colors.
Coworkers took notice to her design and began requesting their kids’ names done in the same colorful style.
Eventually, someone donated an old pair of leather shoes to her. After researching how to prepare the material for paint and how to layer the paint without cracking after it dries, Davis turned out her first pair of painted shoes — although they were ugly, according to her.
“I started incorporating art on it and doing what I wanted to do because I always wanted something different,” she said. “I did something I would wear or wear to school and that’s how I got into it and it took off.”
She was on a track from injured ex-college basketball player to rising Charlotte artist. While she prefers to refer to herself as simply an artist, she knows that some may call her a graffiti or street artist. Growing up, she thought graffiti around the city was intriguing and off-handedly thought she might wield spray-paint cans to a blank space in the city.
After her injury, when she began her journey into the art world, her grandmother let her practice graffiti art at her house, and Davis started to see potential in herself — and the city noticed.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I started getting really good.’ And then Blumenthal reached out, sneaker stores reached out, schools — I painted a school and I was like, ‘This is crazy,’” Davis recalled.
Her demeanor changed drastically over the past eight years by focusing on her art and what brings peace, love and happiness into her life. Davis no longer has anger for her injury, as she sees the massive silver lining instead.
“Something greater came from it, something much greater. I love what I do. It comes from a place of love. Every color, every stroke, everything,” she said.
Davis recently completed a mural on North Graham Street across from Camp North End. The mural depicts vibrant color blocks with twisting piano keys, butterflies, music notes and roses. Originally, she meant to create a mural of a face, but when Davis stepped up to the plate she went an entirely different direction.
“I ended up freestyling that [mural] at the end of the day,” Davis explained. “And I want people riding on their morning commute, I want them to feel love, so I took the cans and just started going crazy.”
The colorful and vibrant end result is a reflection of her personality and her concerted efforts to remain positive every day. Exuding positive energy in her daily interactions and keeping love on her mind is how Davis came back from that dark place she was in after her ACL injury.
“My past is just really dark so it’s just like, ‘Well what’s the opposite of hate?’ Well, love, so let’s try that out for the rest of your life,” Davis said.
While Davis paints inspiring murals around the city for podcast studios, photography studios and the location on North Graham Street, she’ also extends her artistry into painting clothing and wearable items. Davis is leading a leather shoe painting class July 20 at 2 p.m. at Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff on Remount Road in South End.
The class has less a follow-and-learn structure and is more a demonstration on how to properly prepare the materials for painting. If the paint is layered too thickly, it will crack when dried. Some brushes will leave an unwanted texture in the stroke of paint. But the demonstration will teach the technical aspects of painting on leather shoes, which can be applied to other leather garments like bookbags, purses and jackets.
“Pretty much, what I’mma do is teach you how to prepare the shoe, teach you how many layers need to go on the shoe, because I can’t teach creativity,” Davis explained. “I can’t teach you how to create on the shoe, I can teach you how to do it and you can go from there.”
Davis also spends her time leading kid-friendly painting classes, having taught live painting workshops with Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and abstract watercolor art at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture for children in the past.
As an artist who practices what she preaches, Davis wants the people she meets to feel the same way she does — unapologetically happy and loving.
“I just want to tell people to be the best version of themselves that they can be, strive every day to be you, authentic to you and who you are and don’t let anybody steer you away because society will do that,” she said.
Her transformation from a depressed and injured ex-college athlete to a prolific artist also lies in her perception of different colors. Despite having never been to art school or professionally trained in visual art, she explained that her eyes see color in a way she never experienced before.
“My eyes see nothing but colors and I try to [see] it different, but I can’t. ’Cause colors vibrate, so those colors vibrate together … On my eye level, that’s how I see them, and they move. To some people, it’s like, ‘Huh?’” she explained. “Some people get it, some people don’t.”
Davis elaborated, explaining that red moves fast and can agitate her eyes, while blue is calming and easy for her to work with. It might be for a more psychological reason than a physical one, as red has a lower frequency and longer wavelengths than blue on the light spectrum.
Because her eyes and mind see colors a different way than what others may experience, she enjoys exploring those receptive organs and others in her art.
“I like using the eye, the brain and the heart [in my art],” Davis said. “Mostly the brain and the heart for one reason, they’ve got four ventricles each, and they connect to each other and one can’t live without the other.”
While Davis’ art depicts colorful and vibrant images and ideas, she practices and explores those positive ideas in her personal life. After discovering a love for reading three or four years ago, Davis has become more calm and centered, spending crucial time to herself to meditate and become a better person through mindfulness and spreading positive messages.
“We go around and do stuff without thinking, without being mindful about it. I’m no yogi, no buddha,” she said. “But I know what peace, love and happiness feel like, and I know what bliss feel like.”
Through Davis’ art, we can feel the love, too.