Davian Chester went to Google’s homepage the morning of June 19 expecting to see a Google doodle honoring Juneteenth, the most widely recognized celebration of the end of slavery in the United States.
Instead, he saw Google’s regular colorful logo.
So Chester, a graphic artist who often draws social commentary, grabbed his pencil. “I thought I could come up with something real quick,” he said.
He dashed off his own Google doodle depicting the day: handcuffed wrists of a black person breaking out of chains — with the chains being the word Google. It took him about an hour.
He posted on Facebook and wrote, “So I noticed that Google didn’t make a doodle for Juneteenth. I decided to help out! lol.”
Chester, 26, had no idea it was about to go viral — or that he would soon end up on a celebratory billboard and get a call from Google about a job.
“It blew up and took off,” said Chester, who lives in Columbus, Ga., near the Alabama border. “It was crazy.”
At first he noticed his friends and acquaintances were sharing his post, which isn’t unusual when he posts what he describes as his “conversation pieces or black art pieces.”
But then his post hit a wider circle and people started tagging Google, saying, “Why didn’t you do anything for Juneteenth?”
Chester, a freelance artist and part-time art teacher, was thrilled that his work got such a boost — he said he felt like a celebrity when he walked into his barbershop, a stranger recognized him at the Atlanta airport and even his UPS guy left him a congratulatory note.
But more than personal recognition, Chester loved the spotlight it brought to Juneteenth, a celebration of the day in 1865 that slavery ended in Texas and, thus, across the country. While the Emancipation Proclamation became law in January 1863, it wasn’t until a year and a half later that enslaved people in Texas learned about their freedom when Union soldiers arrived with the news.
“It made me happy it went viral and brought more awareness to Juneteenth,” Chester said. “It was exciting because this is most traction my work had ever gotten.”
He didn’t, however, think it would reach Google. “I was like, ‘They’re too big, they won’t notice,’” Chester said.
But three days later, an email from Google landed in his inbox, he said. It was from a recruiter gauging Chester’s interest in working for Google as an artist. He said he was, and he quickly received a Google calendar invite for a phone call.
“They called me and told me how much they liked my work,” Chester said. “They said they’d already seen my work on social media before the doodle.”
A representative from Google confirmed Monday that the company has reached out to Chester about a job.
Chester said he’s still in the interview process with Google, but, meanwhile, he has gotten flooded with requests from local companies and people ordering his logos, portraits and other graphic art work. He even won a quick job from Proctor and Gamble, he said, which should be released as early as this week.
But the reaction to his doodle that he’s most in awe of is that the arts community in Columbus got together and raised $1,200 to put up a billboard featuring his now-famous doodle, coupled with a drawing of Chester and these words:
“Juneteenth. Recognize it. Celebrate it. Google it.” And also: “Congrats on your doodle, Davian!”
The billboard went up July 1 near downtown Columbus at the 13th Street bridge. It will stay up for 30 days.
Chester posted a photo of it on Facebook and wrote, “I really don’t know what to say. THANK YOU *Tear*”
The billboard was the idea of Keith Phillips, a local artist who is a friend and admirer of Chester’s.
“There was so much excitement around it, but some people didn’t realize Davian is from our area,” said Phillips, 43, who designed the billboard for his friend, whom he described as “young, quiet and tall — like a gentle giant.”
When Phillips floated the idea of a billboard, his friend Sherricka Day, 41, who is also involved in the local arts scene, ran with it. She immediately put up an online fundraiser and coordinated with the billboard company.
“I was like, ‘Well, let’s make it happen,” Day said. “We had the money for the billboard within two days.”
Chester said he has been drawing since fifth grade, when he’d sketch superheroes and cartoons and hide them in his school folder. By middle school, friends started asking him to draw their portraits as mini-cartoons.
In high school, a teacher introduced him to drawing on the computer, and he learned to create art using both paper drawing and drawing with a stylus on a screen. He started selling his work for the first time while he was a student at Chattahoochee Valley Community College in Alabama.
The Google doodle was the second time that Chester’s work has grabbed Internet attention.
In February, his drawings were featured in BuzzFeed with the headline “This Artist Reimagined Disney Princesses as Black Women and The Images Are Incredible.” He drew Snow White with an Afro, Belle reading Maya Angelou’s “I know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and Ariel with dreadlocks.
When it was announced last week that Halle Bailey was cast as Ariel for the live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid,” eliciting lots of praise but some racially tinged Internet backlash, Chester’s drawing resurfaced. He posted it on Instagram and wrote: “Always thought Ariel should have locs”
Chester said that the newfound exposure from his doodle is nice and that it would be great if the Google job works out, but, either way, he’ll just keep doing what he has always done.
“I love to draw, I’m a bit of a nerd,” he said. “I mostly work, I’m always working.”