The randomness of the internet delivered the utterly charming images of children playing Star Wars characters by British artist Craig Davison, shadowed by their big screen counterparts – and only now do I discover he’s been creating them for years, along with other heroes, heroines and villains, too, including Doctor Who, Batman and Captain America.
In these marvellous “Shadow” paintings, Craig, whose professional art career began working with Jim Driscoll on his Shoe People comic, based on the short-lived TV series of the same name, channels memories of his own childhood, riding his bike around the streets of Sheffield… rekindling fond memories in all of us who “dressed up” to act out their favourite TV shows, films or books growing up, many taking that to incredible lengths in cosplay through into adulthood.
Despite many carefree memories of childhood, Craig’s path to becoming a full-time, best-selling artist, his paintings selling for tidy sums, has been anything but a straight one. He’s been made redundant three times and has no formal art training, but none of that has stopped him – although he didn’t immediately work as an artist. After school, he worked as a lifeguard, colour matcher in a paint factory, a picture framer, and “even dressed as Care Bear for a time,” he told Exposed magazine back in 2012.
“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.”
Initially drawing comics such as The Shoe People and The Wombles, he moved into animation and games design with a major British company, working on a wide portfolio of the day’s most known computer games including Zorro, The Hulk and The Hurricanes, which allowed Craig the platform to sculpt everyday. In turn, that sculpting reference figures for 3D animation developed him artistically enough to become a freelance sculptor working alongside international brands including Harry Potter and Doctor Who.
Turning from clay to brush, Craig Davison began seriously painting in 2007, becoming a full time painter, within a year, today continuing to work out of his studio in Worcestershire, where he still finds time to sculpt, a much loved addition to his portfolio of works.
“I drew inspiration both from my children and from my own memories of childhood,” Craig told the Birmingham Mail back in 2014, as his “Shadow” artworks really began to attract attention . “As a kid I remember charging round the playground playing soldiers, cowboys and indians, Batman and Robin.
“I recall once seeing a painting of a kid in a field, with a feather in his hair. Who knows who he was dreaming of – Tonto or Geronimo perhaps?
“So I started painting children at play, with the shadows of their heroes and heroines behind them. Star Wars, Batman, The Magnificent Seven, Ghostbusters, James Bond, the Turtles… hasn’t everyone imagined being a hero?”
Craig cites the work of Hellboy artist Mike Mignola as one inspiration for his work, alongside the simplistic still characters of Yoshitomo Nara, a clear influence on his “Shadows” work, the energy of Goya – and the superb illustrations of N.C Wyeth, He’s immensely proud to be able to present nostalgia in painted form to collectors all over Europe and the world.
“Yoshitomo Nara’s art changed how I painted over night,” Craig told Exposed. “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.”
Craig has come a long way since his bike-riding days of the 1970s, and having his “Cosmic Samurai” artwork appear in 2000AD’s “Nerve Centre” way back in Prog 143 back in 1979, a comic he’d been reading since Prog 1. Back in 2017, he kindly contributed some art to a fan-produced 2000AD Project Sketchbook, involving many artists who are long-time fans of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic.
“My head is always filled with new ideas all scrambling to get onto canvas first,” Craig says.
“Once they’re there I like my paintings to have a slightly naïve, grubby look with lots of energy – which, when I think about it, sums up my childhood.”