Is adulting getting you down? Escape to simpler days with Craig Davison’s imaginative art.
A boy swings a cane at another boy holding a pipe. Other children tussle behind them. But even farther behind those kids, two shadows emerge, displaying the story behind this play-fighting: Luke Skywalker battling Darth Vader. This Star Wars homage comes from Craig Davison, a 51-year-old artist based in Ludlow, a market town in Shropshire, UK.
Davison is known for capturing the flights of fanciful play that children often exhibit, thanks to adding the shadowy inspirations for these kids’ fantasies. In his most popular work, looking at Star Wars characters, children crouch in garbage cans, pretending to be R2-D2. They wield golf clubs as lightsabers. A girl climbs atop a boy’s shoulders in her version of Chewbacca. These drawings aren’t just for Star Wars nerds; they shuttle us back to a simpler time when fantasy breathed life into recess, into post-school time with friends. This was play before the Snapchat era.
In an interview, Davison comments on the genesis of his adding shadows to represent a child’s dreams: “It became a bit of a challenge to try and capture a child’s imagination on canvas, and the shadow idea comes close.”
He was first inspired to bring shadows to his work when he painted Crazy Horse, showing a shirtless boy holding a stick, standing in a meadow with his bike resting behind him. No shadows background the boy, but to Davison he was mining his own childhood with the artwork. “I used to play ‘cowboys and Indians’ as a kid, sometimes playing the Indian, and I wanted to bring that idea of play to my work.”
The formation of this artist began when he grew up in Sheffield, where he was always reading comics, often those departing “from the staid British comics of days past,” Davison recalls. He enjoyed the more sci-fi-oriented comics, such as 2000 A.D. and Judge Dredd, and he drew a few characters from his favorite comics. “They began to introduce lots of antiheroes and plenty of violence and gore, which is great when you’re eight,” he says.
But Davison didn’t see himself as an artist growing up. Even though his parents encouraged his creativity, he says, “I didn’t have the confidence… And when I went to art school, I lasted one day and left.”
“It became a bit of a challenge to try and capture a child’s imagination on canvas, and the shadow idea comes close,” says Craig Davison.
When he married and had his first child, though, Davison realized he wanted to pursue a passion he would find fulfilling. He dipped his toes into kids’ comics for preschoolers and then eventually got promoted to do more.
He then tried his hand at video game design and soon became a lead animator for more than five years. “I loved coming up with game concepts, because I really enjoyed creating new worlds,” he says.
What Davison learned most during his game design days was manga culture, and this Japanese cultural force gave him a new perspective on imaginative art.
After game design, Davison turned to sculpting in 1997 and crafted more than 300 sculptures. His sculpting range was expansive, from elephants to mobsters to dragons to action figures for Harry Potter and Dr. Who.
Davison also delved deep into sculpting, still approaching his artwork with a playful style, as seen in these sculptures of mobsters. Courtesy of Craig Davison.
Then the shadows began to flit into the artist’s mind. At first, he drew children in his trademark style, with shadows representing the exact image of the child’s pose. “But it was a very dull image, so then I spent a lot of time seeing how the shadow could be different than the actual child,” Davison says. He likens it to how as adults “we do something really well but in reality it could be a different thing altogether and I like that juxtaposition.”
Showing that opposition is also found in a painting of a child with a shark. “I like that big-and-small contrast,” Davison says. “When you look at children with dangerous animals, you wonder, ‘Are they friend or foe?’”
Davison estimates he’s finished more than 500 paintings, with his work being shown in more than 36 exhibits across the UK. He prefers to paint by hand, eschewing the move to online illustration “because I enjoy the physical aspect of it, even the smell of paint.”
Art lovers have responded enthusiastically to Davison’s masterpieces. In fact, prints of his Star Wars collection are sold out.
Davison’s shadow work also touches on other pop culture icons, such as girls posing as Charlie’s Angels, or kids pretending to be Batman and Robin. Other pieces boast this artist’s penchant for the playful, such as a girl running gleefully as shadows of butterflies flutter behind her. This is Davison telling us to never forget the liveliness of the child mind; after all, we grow up so fast that imagination soon gives way to mental exhaustion in the face of mortgage bills, parental duties and grocery lists.
Although Davison is best known for his Star Wars collection, he also has painted comics icons such as Batman and his trusty Batmobile. Courtesy of Craig Davison.
“It’s important for us to reconnect to happier times,” says Davison. “Adults deal with a lot of stresses, and if they can look at a picture and remember those days when they had few stresses, that’s what I want them to be left with.”