PETERSBURG — Art isn’t just a hobby for the Miles family. It’s a daily mission to “inspire the world visually.” The couple, Avon and Tessie Miles, thrive on conjuring thought-provoking works, whether through an oil painting, a charcoal drawing or a photograph.
While Tessie focuses on capturing nature with her lens, Avon likes his paintings and drawings to narrow in on the little moments in life.
“Mostly my niche is nature, to bring it to life,” Tessie said.
They both have a knack for catching their subjects off guard, like the painting Avon created of his niece opening the door to go outside. So far most of their subjects that are noncommissioned have been of family members.
“We find that catching objects or people in the situations or moments that makes them what they are is usually the best way of capturing,” Avon said, and Tessie added, “It makes it more natural.”
The Hopewell natives will be showcasing their black and white oil paintings, charcoal drawings and photographs in a new exhibit for Petersburg Area Art League’s Friday For the Arts! on July 10. The exhibit, called “Black & White: All Dressed Up,” features 30 black and white pieces, or 15 from each, that have pops of color in them.
“People seem to draw to the black and white pictures that I have painted or drawn so that’s one of the biggest reasons why we decided to do a black and white show is to give them that black and white, but at the same time give them a bit of color and show them how to play with the black and white subject matter,” Avon said.
Kit Weigel and her husband John are long-time friends of the Miles’ and have become patrons of their art. Weigel has known Avon since he was a child and has watched he and his wife blossom into burgeoning artists.
“I’ve had the pleasure of watching Avon grow as an artist,” Weigel said. “I am so impressed with his work. It has been great to see Tessie grow as a photographer.”
Weigel has already purchased a painting from Avon and photographs by Tessie this year. She also commissioned Avon to paint portraits of her children. She is interested to see the black and white artwork at the upcoming exhibit.
“I do think it’s an interesting concept and it’s really neat to see a dream of theirs come to fruition,” Weigel said. “My husband and I are both big fans of theirs and we’re looking forward to expanding our Miles collection.”
Avon first picked up a brush and began to paint when he was four years old. Tessie got her first camera at the age of eight.
“We’re pretty much self-taught artists,” Tessie said.
They both graduated from Hopewell High School, where they met. Avon has an associate’s degree in graphic arts and communication from ITT Technical Institute.
The Miles’ held other jobs after high school and made art on the side. Avon joined the U.S. Navy in 2003 as a corpsman, or a hospital medic. He served for about eight years before being honorably discharged in 2011.
During his time serving in the military, Avon won first place in the Naval Women’s Day poster contest in 2009. His poster was a tribute to American women who made history such as Harriet Tubman and Betsy Ross.
“I won more awards for being an artist in the Navy than anything medical,” he said.
While in high school, Avon won third place in the 1994 Congressional Art Competition and second place in the Petersburg Art League Student Art Award.
Since returning to Hopewell in 2011, the Miles’ have become full-time artists and have opened their own art space called Selim Nova Art Studio, although they have commissioned work for businesses and individuals for over two decades.
But instead of sitting in a small studio all day, Avon and Tessie would rather be out in the community to find their inspiration. They have painted and photographed scenes at Maymont Park in Richmond, coffee shops and other local sites in the Tri-Cities region.
The Miles’ had some of their artwork hung at the General Assembly this past session. Their work has also been displayed at For Art’s Sake in Henrico and the Crossroads Art Center in Richmond.
Avon and Tessie also teach free art classes to the elderly at the Hopewell Community Center every other week. The couple said they enjoy watching those in their classes progress and seeing their reaction when they create something they never thought possible.
Although pursuing a career in fine arts is a struggle, Avon said he wouldn’t change any of it.
“It’s a bumpy road, but it’s worth the fight,” he said. “It’s not about getting validation for the work that we do, but more about the inspiration that it gives people is the biggest thing that keeps us pushing.”
The “Black & White: All Dressed Up” exhibit will kick off July 10 with the open reception from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The exhibit will be available for viewing until Aug. 8. The Miles’ said they are working to have pieces of original artwork for sale at the show. Depending on the detail, portraits start at $300 and up and paintings start at $150 upwards to $2,300. Framed photographs typically start at $150.
• Shelby Mertens may be reached at 804-722-5154 or firstname.lastname@example.org