David Sommers, a resident artist at the Banana Factory Arts Center, has known Bethlehem for many years. As an artist, Sommers started with just a black chalkboard: “I just drew and drew as a kid. I would draw out memories of films.” He tried to capture his surrounding environment while growing up in Guyana, South America. He recalled, “My first vigorous pursuit of painting began with scenes of South Side Bethlehem and of gardens transformed into partial abstractions, [which] became my signature work.” A graduate of Moravian College, he now teaches Spanish and an Art History elective course at Moravian Academy. Through his school, he participates in an exchange program with Guatemala, which has increased his appreciation for indigenous artwork. Through the Moravian Church, Sommers has also served as a translator for a delegation of US college-aged and high school youth to the annual Cuban Moravian Church youth summer conference.
On Current Work
Given Sommers’ dedication to his teaching position, he “only get[s] to paint on weekends.” In his current work, he is “going between a neo-cubist approach, landscapes with loose brushstrokes, [and] lesser defined imagery.” He is also working on still life paintings with flowers, fruits, vases, and more.
Sommers stated that, in the future, he wants to paint more outdoors in an effort to train himself to re-observe the natural world as it is and capture the experience. He started pushing himself in this direction on his recent travels by “applying a neo-cubist approach to the geometric patterns of sand dunes.” He also hopes to delve more into spirituality. While he has taught aspects of spirituality in art history, he wants to connect it more explicitly to his artwork. He is also “studying the works of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Diego Rivera, and Jacques Villon for their treatment of architecture, nature, and the human figure.” He explained, “I love how each artist simplifies images through abstract form. In sum, I am seeking to bring the science of design and painting to my spontaneous response to an image or scene that intrigues me.”
Photo Credits: David Sommers
On Philosophy of Art
Art—from doodles to masterpieces—is a deeply personal pursuit that aids us in navigating our world alongside ourselves. Sommers indicated that the “subtle beauty that the world offers” influences his approach to art. As a form of storytelling, painting allows him to speak with “colors and brush strokes” where language proves insufficient. This perspective cannot be overstated; while artists articulate and capture current reality through a variety of mediums, they also offer endless ways to reimagine the world in a better light. It shifts perception. It offers hope.
Art also creates conversation. The work itself participates in a dialogue with previous pieces as well as those yet to come, and the production process, more often than not, relies on engagement with other artists. There’s a traceable lineage for artistic movements, but we must also remember the importance of the communal network that simultaneously influences the final work. “The solitary artist is a bit of a myth,” Sommers said. This engagement with artists and their work is why Sommers applied for a studio at the Banana Factory Arts Center.
Sommers expressed that artists always need to be in communities, and a constant sense of community has undoubtedly contributed to his current success. He fondly remembered two pivotal moments of his college career. First, during his senior year, he participated in a Lehigh Art Alliance show, and the encouragement he received validated his efforts. Second, Sommers received a professor’s easel as a graduation gift. The professor wanted to ensure that Sommers continued with art and had the resources to do so; “mentors were key for me,” Sommers said. This simple gesture challenged him to keep pursuing art, even though he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do just yet.
Sommers carried this desire for community along with him as he moved into his studio at the Banana Factory Arts Center. The space yields many benefits, most notably a more disciplined engagement with art; Sommers noted that “being here has forced me to produce more and to be serious about my art.” He also praised the Banana Factory for the tremendous people. The Banana Factory provides a creative community to “enrich [artists’] efforts,” and Sommers indicated, “I love it here because I’m getting great feedback from fellow artists.” In the same spirit, he offers that feedback to others. Here, a beautiful reciprocity emerges that inspires work after work of art. He concluded that “this is a community that is sort of a beacon of light to the community of Bethlehem.”
See more of Sommers’ work on his website or meet him at a future First Friday in his studio at the Banana Factory Arts Center (#255).