Shadowplay – An Interview with Artist Craig Davison
Craig Davison has quickly become one of the UK’s most collectable and best loved artists.
Drawing inspiration from his youth, all flares, glam rock, chopper bikes and comic books; Craig paintings appeal to all ages, all background and the child in every one of us.
It’s a perfect mix of commercial naivety, pop surrealism, urban swagger and a more than honest approach of painting his childhood years playing on the streets of Sheffield.
But fame didn’t come over night. He tells me he’s been made redundant no less than three times and has had no formal art training. So I caught up with Sheffield born Craig to find out how it did happen.
What exactly is your background in art? People would be surprised to hear that you didn’t actually study it at college or university. What did route did you take when you left school and how did art first become a career for you?
Once I left school I went through quite a few jobs; a lifeguard, colour matcher in a paint factory, a picture framer, I even dressed as Care Bear for a time, then I noticed an article in a local paper about a company who produced The Shoe People comics. I thought I’d chance it and sketched a few characters which I sent in. A few days later I got a phone call and managed to get a job.
It was there my education in art started; or to be more specific, cartooning. I still consider myself as a cartoonist who paints.
In the 90’s when Sega Megadrive and Nintendo’s SNES were big, you became an animator and character designer for games like The Hulk and Johnny Bazookatone.
It was about this time that Manga and Anime really started to make waves in the UK, whether it is through video games like Street Fighter II or through movies like Akira and studio Ghibli releases. I can see a real Japanese influence in your paintings; was this something you were ever interested in and observed?
Manga did dominate the style of computer games when I worked in the industry so it did help mould my style, but that’s not where I first came across it.
As a kid, a cartoon that I loved was the Japanese series “Marine Boy”. It looked so different to everything else that was around at the time and that’s where my fascination took root. That said Manga is just one influence on my art; mix that with the other things that influenced me as a child; British comics I read like Battle, Action, 2000 AD and the films of Ray Harryhausen and you get the foundations of my style.
What artists influence your painting? I can definitely see the influence of Yoshimto Nara when I look at your current ‘shadows’ series. Many people also mention Jamie Hewlett when describing your work; which has got to be a complement.
Yoshitomo Nara’s art changed how I painted over night. I saw an exhibition of his work at the Baltic in Gateshead and was blown away by the emotion and simplicity of his paintings.
Jamie Hewlett is someone else I look up to and I can see why people make the connection between him and me but it’s not something I consciously try to do.
There are plenty of other artists inspire me; Peter Howson, Mike Mignola (Hellboy), Milt Kobayashi, Grant Wood, Glenn Barr, the photographer Don McCullin, the list goes on.. But without a doubt my major influence is the American artist N.C.Wyeth; famous for his illustrations of adventure stories. Everything I paint in some way hints at him.
You signed with Washington Green Fine Art over a year ago now and they launched you nationwide with your ‘shadows’ collection, which has been massive. Your print Magnificent Seven sold out in just a few days and now your oils can sell for up to £8k.
Although, it has brought you a massive audience, were you ever reluctant to sign to a major publisher? You were already selling as a fine artist prior to this.
I was very cautious at first. I was selling quite well at a gallery local to me but I needed to know if I could replicate that to a wider audience.
A publisher would certainly get me that audience but I was concerned that they may want to influence the artwork and put pressure on me with regards to the amount of work I would have to produce. I’m happy to say that wasn’t the case at all. Washington Green who publish my art give me as much artistic freedom as I ever had, plus a lot of the ‘business’ side of what I do is freed up so I get more time to paint.
How far do you think you can take this current collection of work?
The “shadow” series has a lot of mileage in it and I have a plenty of ideas on how to move it forward in the future so that it stays fresh. I even have some concepts that could be painted with no shadows at all, just children, that would hopefully still have the same impact.
Can you talk a little bit about the work you did prior to this? I have to say a couple of my favourites are the little girls taking on Mexican wrestlers and the girls riding buffalo.
Although the “shadows” do take up a lot of my time, I try to paint lots of different subjects. I really enjoy painting images that tell stories; a little girl facing a 30 stone wrestler sounds a bit odd but I think the subject matter is uplifting; everyone loves an underdog.
As for the buffalo paintings, the idea came from a picture of a bison on a label of Polish Vodka. I’m looking forward to expanding that idea.
There are definite musical influences at play in your titles; especially in the Sparky Gagarin series. Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part 1?
Apart from the “shadow” series all my other paintings are named from song titles or fragments of lyrics.
What I do is very solitary, so I listen to music all the time. Sometimes the paintings are named after what I was listening to that day, or in the case of “Yoshimi battles…” the song title fitted the image perfectly and gave it a soundtrack.
What can we expect to be playing in your studio on an average day? How’s about a mixtape?
Off the top of my head a good cross section would be, The Clash, Beck, Little Dragon, The Creepshow, The National, Stan Ridgeway, Johnny Cash, Flaming Lips, Dead Kennedys, The Grit, Tom Waits, Young Knives, The Dickies, Pulp, B.A.D, Grandaddy, the Horrors, Ennio Morricone, Jim Jones Revue, System of a down, Mos Def, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Jack White….you get the idea.
You have a limited edition sculpture being released which looks amazing. Is this something you think you’d like to do more of? You have quite a background when it comes to sculpting?
There are probably hundreds of thousands of your sculptures in kids’ bedrooms all over the world as you sculpted for the Harry Potter and Doctor Who action figure range.
Yes, I sculpted freelance for around 15 years but also for giftware firms, but I never got the chance to sculpt what I really wanted, so “Indian Summer“will hopefully bet the first of many.
Can you give us a sneak preview of what to expect from you for the rest of 2012? What are you painting at the moment?
More “shadows” of course, but Teddy Boys, Aztecs, burlesque dancers, a moose and nose bleeds will all feature , but not necessarily in that order.
Craig’s work is available for sale and viewings at Castle Galleries, Meadowhall. Phone them on (0114) 2569777.
Craig Davison is represented by Washington Green Fine Art.
Visit Craig's website here.