Benjamin Davis has depicted mythical universes and supernatural beings through his art for many years.
Still, his latest commission succeeded in dropping him into an even wilder and more mystifying scene; sitting at home in front of a canvas and computer studying the contours and nuances of Gritty’s nude body.
If you were watching NBCSN’s “Wednesday Night Hockey” national broadcast this week, you probably saw Davis, a 28-year-old artist from Charlottesville, Virginia, on a platform working at a feverish pace to immortalize the Philadelphia Flyers mascot in paint while Gritty lay elegantly on a red leather couch with the Flyers playing the Boston Bruins behind them.
“I was pretty happy with it,” Davis said of the finished portrait. “I think it’s an artist’s curse that you’re never really sure about your own work, especially with something that large and that fast. I thought it came out pretty well, for what it was.
“But very different than anything I’ve ever done before. I’ve never painted a mascot. A large naked mascot.”
The Flyers commissioned Davis after a friend of a friend who works for the team passed his name along when they put out a call for an artist to be the co-star of Gritty’s latest sideshow.
The assignment was pretty much explained as it appeared.
“It was basically exactly what you saw,” he said. “‘Hey, we want someone to paint Gritty like Titanic-style. He’s gonna come out, he’s gonna disrobe and then you’re gonna do your thing.”
This specific job presented some unique challenges. The size of the canvas was much larger than the 8-inch by 10-inch surface he usually works on. The time frame in which he would typically take to complete such a project was greatly reduced from 40-plus hours to less than three. And even though he was familiar with Gritty, Davis had to become acutely aware of all the aspects of Gritty’s form.
To do this, he collected images of Gritty’s infamous streaking episode at the 2019 Stadium Series and did practice paintings in the week between landing the gig and the main event.
Once Davis got to the Wells Fargo Center, Gritty posed on the couch so Davis could set up his canvas in the right spot to do a correctly proportioned pencil sketch that he would paint over during the game.
Davis’ nerves had been building all week. A freelance artist with a full-time job as a digital production artist, this was his biggest commission to date and it was going to be on national prime time television.
“Once it got close to game time and I had everything prepped, and once I got out there, I was more excited than nervous,” Davis said. “Definitely still some nerves while I was out there throughout the painting though.”
The bit went just as the team said. Gritty walked out, slipped out of his fur coat like he was Aretha Franklin, and took his spot on the couch to sit in the buff for his hired artist. Davis completed the painting before the end of regulation. Beyond the time crunch, his biggest challenge was Gritty’s belly button, which varies in color from day to day but was purple on this night.
“I had a little trouble getting that color right,” Davis said. “I wasn’t initially prepared for the purple. I was actually asked if that would be alright. And I was like, ‘Yeah, I can make some colors.’ But that was fun.”
After spending years doing mostly fantasy art, Davis’ recent foray into outdoor painting contributed to his ability to paint Gritty in the limited time frame.
“I think the thing that prepared me most for that is the outdoor paintings that I’ve been doing the past two years or so and really figuring out how to capture textures in a short amount of time and painting directly from life, so it’s interesting how that worked out,” Davis said.
After he finished the painting, he cleaned up his workspace and checked his phone to see his social media channels (IG: @benjamindavisart / TW: @bendavisart) getting some extra attention. He’s hoping the appearance boosts his freelance art career, which is still in its early stages but now has a big moment with Gritty in its history.
“I was a bit awestruck by what was going on,” Davis said. “It was a surreal moment.”