Feb. 19, 2018

Visionary Artist Presents Batten With Powerful Artwork at Black History Month Exhibition

View Danny Doughty’s Batten Hour discussion.


Danny Doughty’s distinctive paintings honor the women and the families who cared for him during his tumultuous upbringing, an ongoing inspiration for his well-received work that shows the lives of people of the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

“I really reflect back on the black women in the culture that I have been around, and they’re blessed with the glory of their everyday life,” said Doughty, an internationally acclaimed artist, in an interview last week.

“They always loved me with their maternal love. They never turned me down. And they made me (feel) so special, and they sustained me through horrible times in my life.”

Doughty spoke of his life and work at the Batten Hour on Feb. 19, and also attended a reception and exhibition of his work in his honor in the Great Hall of Garrett Hall. He presented as a gift to the Batten  School his painting of young children with an American flag at a 4th of July parade in Onancock, Va., titled “The Fabric of Our Lives.” The painting is on permanent loan.

The Fabric of Our Lives,” by artist Danny Doughty

The reception and presentation, “Art With a Soul,” are in recognition of Black History Month.

Doughty said he’s been questioned only a few times about his decision to “paint the black experience,” as if he should stop doing so.

“And I’m like, ‘No,’ there’s no way I could” stop painting. “It’s not the ‘black experience,’ it’s my experience. It’s what they did for me, and how they changed my life to give me strength to go on, and to never become bitter” because of the hardships in his life, Doughty said.

His decision to stop painting faces on his subjects came from a belief that he “did not want that ‘smiling woman,’ when God only knows what she’s been through, even though they had such a grace and a beauty in them that was so amazing. It was just who they were,” he said.

Once he stopped putting faces on his characters, “my work got so much stronger. I had so many more people just get so much more interested in it.”

Doughty grew up in Northampton County, the son of a waterman who made his living fishing off of the barrier islands on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. He also fished on the Chesapeake Bay, and founded the Ches-Atlantic Seafood Company.

Doughty said of his painting of the three girls holding the American flag, reflected in water at their feet: ”At that moment, as they looked down and looked at their images pressed against that flag, that it dawned on them that we are a piece, literally, of this, of what makes this country so great. It made them feel united, as in United States, part of the voice of this country.”

Doughty has experienced the loss of his father, Kenneth, who died at age 53, in 1989, and his mother, Mary Emily, who died in 2006. His brother, Kenneth, Jr., took his life in 2008. He never knew his grandparents, including his father’s mother, who was Native American. “For four generations of men on my father’s and mother’s side, I’ve outlived every one.”

Doughty also referred to his ongoing struggle with “mental conditions, a lot of it from my environment,” and also due to genetics. He also is dyslexic.

“I have had, from my teenage years, until now, I’ve had to be hospitalized several times,” Doughty said, also referring to “horrific” things in his childhood.

“Many a time, my dad, he was such a tyrant, and I knew it came from his own upbringing.”

In high school, “they just shoved me through because I was just a lost child…I couldn’t do it, there was no mercy. On top of the other things, they would just say in front of me, ‘He’s just lazy, he’s just stupid, and he doesn’t care.’

“It’s really hard on me; a lot of times I can really keep it in check. I’m better today than I’ve ever been. I have to take very little medication.”

Dean Allan C. Stam, who met with Doughty at his gallery in Onancock, said he understood that the artist’s history, and his painting of the children with the American flag, would help the Batten community engage with crucial issues.

“After learning (Doughty’s) life story, and learning his motivation for painting, I just came to the conclusion immediately that his artwork and his life story—and his views about race and equality and opportunity—were something that we should share with our entire community,” Stam said.

“I said, ‘We would love to have you come display, show and discuss this painting,’ and he said, ‘I think that would be a wonderful gift to the school, if you would put it on display.’

“And I said, ‘That would be fantastic.’

Doughty relies on discarded material for much of his work, including the frames. “Rough-cut pieces of wood, reclaimed wood, window frames and doors, different things,” he said. He pieces his frames together, appreciating “the coarseness of it all…and all my work now is a composite piece. I think it’s way more powerful.”

His paints on canvas, bed sheets, linen, tablecloths, other fabrics, and even rolls of tarpaper, “all kinds of materials that a lot of people wouldn’t use.

“Again, it just associates (me with) my subject, and makes it more believable and genuine. I approach it like they would, growing up being so poor that you use what you have.

“And every piece I do, there’s a piece of me that goes with it.

“They classify me as a folk artist,” Doughty said, “but, really, I’m a visionary. That is my forte, that is my biggest asset, because even in the worst of times, it flows out of me, like pouring water out of one bucket into another.

“Art saved my life, and it really gave me something to hold on to.  I would like it to help others.

“My art, and what it stands for, is the spirituality of the black women.”

Doughty said he had “no spiritual or religious foundation in my life at all,” and would not today “if it were not for these women, every day, to tell me something that was spiritually connected.

“It is my people that were oppressed and had nothing, but had everything in the sense of spiritual life.

Doughty with his artwork at a 2012 gallery show in Fearrington, N.C. (photo by Marianne Millikan)

Danny Doughty (photo courtesy of NBC29 News)