Ariel Davis ran around Sundance Square before there was a Sundance Square. She and her friends would go to Starbucks (then on Houston Street) and, fueled by caffeine and sugar, walk the streets.
“At the time,” she said, gesturing out the floor-to-ceiling windows nearby, “none of this was built. It was just parking lot.”
Davis was talking to me from her new downtown gallery, Love Texas Art. Like its sister location, the beloved Artspace 111, the new space at 501 Houston St. is a collaboration with Margery Gossett. For Davis, Love Texas Art marks a transition from gallery manager, a role she has held in some way or another
for all of her adult life, to gallery co-owner.
Davis now joins a pantheon of women who lead the Fort Worth art scene. Perhaps two of the most visible posts are Andrea Karnes as the new chief curator of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and Karen Wiley as president and CEO of the Arts Fort Worth. You could say Fort Worth’s fem-power was explicitly felt just a couple of weeks ago, when Sasha Bass helmed the inaugural Fort Worth Art Fair, an extravaganza that prioritized local, mostly women-made art.
Davis believes Love Texas Art will carve out a space specifically for rising artists.
“That’s been really fun,” Gossett said, “because that’s the world [Davis] lives in as well.”
Davis represents a rarity in the art world: She has business and management savvy while being an accomplished artist herself.
Just recently, Dickies Arena commissioned her to create a gift for Sir Paul McCartney who was in town to perform. Davis painted the Beatle standing in front of the arena and part of the Fort Worth skyline, wearing and surrounded by pale clouds on a brilliant blue background, a nod to a previous commission she had undertaken for the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. Davis created the painting in the storefront window of Love Texas Art, a nod to the man who shaped her early career.
Davis met artist/gymnast/all-around character Rome Milan during one of her teen meanderings through downtown. He would sit in the window of his Milan Gallery for hours painting. At his urging, she took one of his classes and worked with oil paints for the first time. After college, she returned there to work.
“To be honest, I was looking for any job that would keep me in the art field,” she said.
It stuck. She loved the glamour of working downtown and the sudden access to artists and patrons. She liked connecting people who wanted art with people who made art. And as an artist with analytical tendencies and a bent for organization, she found herself well-suited to the demands of the job.
Since that first position, Davis has grown from a kid learning from the big names in the art scene into one of the big names herself. When it comes to bona fides, Davis has them. She managed Milan Gallery and has either worked for or sat on the board for basically every art institution in the city.
“Through her talents,” said former city councilmember Ann Zadeh, “she just gives back so much. She’s creative, talented, and works to bring artists opportunities.”
Davis painted Zadeh as part of her Women Solo series.
Despite successfully managing galleries, Davis has never neglected her own work, something Gossett commented on during our phone conversation.
“She just makes time for everything,” Gossett said.
Mostly, Davis paints people. Sure, she could paint other things, but she has always been drawn to exploring relationships and connections through painting the human figure.
“A lot of my smaller paintings or studio works are based on experiences kind of like what you and I are having,” she told me, sitting in Love Texas Art. “It’s a conversation or just a visit to do a photoshoot or other in-the-moment-type work that’s kind of deconstructed or reimagined in a way. They’re about a shared experience.”
During college, a professor asked her, “What are you going to do, paint portraits for the rest of your life?” after reviewing her latest work, all figure drawings of her friends.
That felt like a turning point, Davis said. She could have shifted to abstract or more thematic work, the sort of stuff earning some of her peers more praise. Instead, she worked at becoming better at portraiture.
“I never stopped painting people,” she said. “That’s what I love to do.”
In 2019, Davis left working in galleries for more time to pursue her own art. That plan was cut short by an email from Gossett inviting her to take over as gallery manager at Artspace 111.
“It validated all of the hard work I put in to make this a serious career path for me,” Davis said.
She took the job.
Looking forward, Davis said she has “so many” ideas of what she wants to accomplish. Those ideas begin with bringing people together. After two years of pandemic-imposed disruption, she said, artists are hungry to come together, to spend time together, and share ideas. To that end, the gallery features two stylishly outfitted seating areas in the back and sells beer and wine out of a retro vending machine. Davis wants people to come in and stay a while, to make themselves at home.
Studio spaces lie on the other side of the gallery. Warm filtered light floods in from the windows. There, Davis and a few other artists will work. The artists working and featured in the gallery will remain independent, she said. This marks a departure from the traditional contract-based gallery-artist relationship. Davis said she sees more artists moving toward wanting to remain independent. The front of the gallery features a shop with smaller works or prints from local artists.
What can people expect to see on the walls at Love Texas Art? The space opened with Austin-based Sari Shryack’s Saccharine Millenia, a dazzling collection of large-scale paintings reflecting nostalgia from the 1990s and early 2000s in dizzying hues, and Davis intends to erect a “deconstructed ranch water” display sometime within the year. As she envisions it, the art would feature citrus, tequila, and/or Topo Chico, the ingredients of the hot-weather libation.
“I really see being able to take some risks in this space,” she said, “to show some things that are fun.”
As to her own work, Davis looks forward to returning to the studio and to the practice that put her on this path in the first place: putting brush to canvas.