Vernon Davis’ face

SANTA CLARA – Vernon Davis gazed at my computer screen and said, “I see I hold a lot of anger on the side of my face.”

We were standing next to each other outside the 49ers locker room in the shade. I was holding my laptop in my left arm and we were looking at the self portrait he painted when he was a 22-year-old junior at the University of Maryland.

He put his finger on my screen, on the heavy, black brush strokes covering the left cheek and part of the forehead. “See, it’s dark on this side and light on the other side,” he said. “That’s a lot of emotion and anger and passion.”

In the painting, Davis’ expression is serene. His eyebrows are relaxed and he’s almost leaning back. His right fist is in the air – not in a hostile way, though. It looks like he’s holding an invisible paint brush. I never would have guessed the portrait was angry if he hadn’t told me.

“Did you choose to emphasize your anger when you painted this?” I asked.

He turned and looked at me. “No, I didn’t notice it until I analyzed the painting a few years ago. I don’t know where I’m going with any of my paintings until I’m done. I look at it, analyze it and critique myself. Then I notice what’s going on.”

I asked if he still had an angry side.

“No. I don’t have any anger in me at all. I learned how to channel those things. That’s just growing, becoming a young man and adapting to life.”

“Final question,” I said. “If you were going to do another self portrait right now, what would it look like?”

Davis stared at my screen and furrowed his brow, thinking hard. “It probably wouldn’t look like that. Everything would be clear, bright. Happiness. Peace, love and joy. Spirit of the free.”

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