Chattanooga lawyer David Spiller balances professional and artistic pursuits

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ David Spiller with some of his watercolors in his office at Miller & Martin in downtown Chattanooga
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ David Spiller with some of his watercolors in his office at Miller & Martin in downtown Chattanooga

In David Spiller's office at Miller & Martin, a law firm in downtown Chattanooga, several pieces of his own artwork break up the monotony of legal papers, binders and books that fill the room. There's a painting of a vibrant sunset; there's an ink portrait of his wife and a rendition of the Château de Chenonceau, a castle in France; and there are several landscapes depicting the American West.

Spiller sees similarities between art and law. He says that in both, there's a big picture you want to create, and once you have that big picture, you can craft the details. It also helps to have a light touch, so as not to overemphasize the minute particulars.

"The technique of thinking, the way of thinking [about both art and law] is not that dissimilar," Spiller says. "Each one of these paintings is a problem that you're solving ... In a legal arrangement, it's the same thing."

Spiller says that he was interested in art as a child growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After sustaining an injury at age 12 that required months of recovery and left him unable to participate in sports, his parents enrolled him in art lessons at the Baton Rouge Fine Arts Academy. He studied a variety of mediums, including pastels, charcoal, watercolor and oils.

 

While studying philosophy at the University of the South, Spiller kept up his artistic pursuits by doing portraiture on commission. While in graduate school for philosophy, he interacted with law students who he says were practical and grounded. These interactions made him gravitate towards a career in law.

In the beginning of his legal career, Spiller worked as a clerk at the Texas Supreme Court and at law firms in that state. Over time, focusing on his career and family led to a slowdown in his artistic pursuits, but he always had a sense that he would return to them.

Once he was more settled into his life, Spiller felt the need to create. At home with nowhere to go during the pandemic, he would paint more frequently, and now he says that he paints most weekends.

"Art is something that can bring you peace; it can challenge you; it can aggravate you, but it's going to do something," he says.

Spiller's work is often inspired by his travels with his family, whether that's camping in state and national parks or exploring cities and countries abroad. His current series is inspired by a recent summer trip to France. Works in this series include watercolors of Parisian streets, French countrysides and waterlily ponds, following in the steps of Claude Monet, he says.

"In painting, I'm trying to capture places in nature and in the world that, to me, are either beautiful or sublime or reflect a transcendent peace beyond our daily lives," Spiller says.

In 2022, Spiller had his first solo exhibition at the Exum Gallery at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. It was a goal of his to have a solo show by the time he was 50, and he managed to do it six years ahead of that. He feels that having his work displayed for others is meaningful, and it's also meaningful to show his children that it's possible to achieve something if you put your mind to it.

Outside of his own work, Spiller serves on the board of directors for the Association for Visual Arts and ArtsBuild and visits galleries and museums to see other artists' works. Supporting the arts not only enriches the local economy, but it also makes the community a "pleasant and attractive place to live," he says.

Aspiring artists shouldn't get discouraged if they aren't prolific or world-famous, Spiller notes, because if they're following a path like his, it's about having art in your life in a meaningful way. The worst painting you'll ever make is the one you never start, he says.

As for himself, Spiller hopes to continue improving his skills — trying new techniques and being open to new subject matter and media. He wants to continue to create pieces that reflect things and places that have brought him joy, and he hopes that his works can bring that same joy to others.

To see more of Spiller's work, follow him on Instagram at @atelier_jds or visit his Etsy store: AtelierJDS.

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