Anthony Tavis in his studio.

Anthony Tavis in his studio.

Expressing feeling: Folk artist Anthony Tavis captures life in pieces

Story and photographs by Laura Brookhart

Folk artist Anthony Tavis embraces the spirit of folk art saying, “I think folk art is something many people can relate to. For me, there is no need to be deeply esoteric or obscure or seek to impress the inner circle of the educated art world. Folk art allows me to have fun.”

Tavis, originally from Greenville, Rhode Island, has no formal art training. He earned a degree in geography at UA in 2010 and worked for the Geological Survey of Alabama, mapping for tornado search and rescue, before becoming a full-time artist working from his home studio in Helena.

After working in emergency management during the tornado of 2010, Tavis found himself feeling “more invested in community.”

“I saw how amazing people are here; the kindness of the church workers and volunteers who rallied to help the many whose lives were affected.”

He and his wife, Melissa, whom he met in Providence, R.I., have two sons, Caleb and Cooper.

As in “Music Power” and “Muscle Shoals,” many guitars make their way into Tavis’ work.

“The blues are the musical equivalent to my style of art … not a classical symphony, just life stories and happenings expressing feeling,” he notes. “We briefly visited Clarksdale, Mississippi, and fell in love with that town and its Delta Blues history.”

Another motif is food and one niche market for Tavis is restaurants, thus works such as “Cosmic Chicken” (it’s out of this world) or variations on pig parts, several of which have been purchased by barbecue restaurants. He also has a series of paintings about condiments, most particularly mayonnaise, but also ketchup.

“As I paint on wood and use a sealer, my materials are durable, even kid-proof,” he laughs. “I also share my kids’ interests in my art—choo-choo trains, fish, rocket ships.”

Tavis does not mass-produce any of his art.

“I believe that the spirit of the artist becomes a part of the work and when someone buys a piece of my art, it enhances the ambiance of its owner,” he says. “My prices also reflect that I want ‘folks’ to find it affordable, too.”

Earlier this year, Tavis participated in Southern Makers in Montgomery, a showcase of handmade southern goods. At Slossfest, he painted all day in one of the hospitality tents—enjoying every moment and conversing with those attending.

“One fellow told me he was not into art, but having hung out awhile, now has an appreciation for it.”

Anthony Tavis will be showing more art this fall at Birmingham Art Walk and Monte Sano Arts Festival, Huntsville, in September; and Moss Rock in November.

One of Tavis’ favorite festivals is Arts Alive in Florence.

“I am very grateful to Arts Alive co-chairs Michelle and Jeff Eubanks, who have supported me, recommended me to friends and encouraged me to keep making art,” he says. “I could not do this without the support of my wife and my (Shelby County) in-laws and cousins. They are great to help taking care of the kids when I do festivals. Even my dad, up in Rhode Island, collects materials for me and brings them when he comes to visit. A lot of people are rooting for me to make it work!”

For more information, visit or call (205) 901-3671.