Thursday, September 30, 2010

Illustrator Paul Davis

If you went to a Broadway show in the 1970s or 1980s,
you will remember the work of Paul Davis. 

Davis (b. 1938) was a member of Milton Glaser's Push Pin studios,
which revolutionized the advertising world of that time.
He had a unique style, one that hearkened back to early
20th century posters and road signs.

Though art directors initially balked at using his style -
which had a decidedly folk art look -
Davis became quickly popular and worked for many big clients.

He often did commercial jobs by painting on wood.
As you can see, Davis had a very earthy palette,
which helped make his work instantly recognizable.
I don't remember the source, but I have this note in my files on him:

"In January 1976, Paul Davis made a trip around the world.
His carry-on bag held six little canvases and nine colors:

• yellow oxide • cadmium yellow light • cadmium red light
• green oxide • burnt sienna • burnt umber
• phthalocyanine blue • napthol crimson • cerulean blue."

In light of the Internet, it's interesting to read this headline, isn't it?

Though not a particularly political person,
Paul Davis' work supported a number of liberal causes.
His iconic poster of Che Guevara outraged many,
and Davis was both surprised and frightened when the lobby of
the political journal Evergreen was firebombed because of it.

Paul Davis' work was influenced by American folk painters
like Edward Hicks, American Regionalists like Thomas Hart Benton,
and the Belgian Surrealist, René Magritte.

Paul Davis is still painting, though he has moved away
from advertising and editorial art.


  1. I distinctly remember these posters and advertisements, as I was a great fan of Paul Davis' work, living in NYC in the 1980s. Marvelous. He also painted a sublime pastoral mural of the four seasons for the interior of Ann Rosenzweig's Arcadia, a jewel of a restaurant on the UES that I went to several times back then (since closed). I wonder what ever became of the mural? Thanks for this interesting and memory-inducing post. Reggie

  2. Nice post. Always loved Paul Davis. The Magritte style rebel soldier is new to me as are a few of the others.

  3. Reggie, Paul Davis was a great inspiration to me when I started out in the advertising field. His work was particularly fresh and I delighted in what I recognized as his own influences. I wish I had seen the restaurant mural.

    Scott, you might appreciate that I enjoyed Davis so much that I kept a big file on him, often buying publications just to retrieve his one page!

  4. I am not familiar with Paul Davis, but certainly recognise some of his work. Love the Henry poster, even with the fascist undertones. Definitely will have to do some more research. Thanks for this post

  5. David, you're welcome! You'll find a very good article on Davis at AIGA is the acronym for the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

  6. Although I didn't know this artist by name, I feel I am aware of his work, and I can see the connection to Magritte. He must have done artwork for some LP record covers, no?

    I often think that the artwork seen in editorial and commerical work, such as this, is much more skillful, original, and creative that so much of the "fine" art that is considered important or currently relevant.

    I also find it interesting that in Europe, the realms of fine and commercial art intersect more. I think we're puritanical in that sense, and many feel that an artist is lowering himself if he works on a commercial promotion. That is a shame, and it certainly is limiting for both the artist and the audience.

    Interesting artist to know about. Thank you.

  7. I know that Paul Davis designed an album cover for Thelonious Monk, and I'm sure there were others. He's better known, though, for having designed many book covers.

  8. I rescued a few of his posters from the Vivien Beaumont Theater trash when I worked at Lincoln center. I know good trash when I see it.
    David, NYC

  9. David, the posters you own are a perfect example of ephemera, which I also collect. One of my favorite pieces is a tobacco poster from the 1880s. I'm glad it wasn't trashed because it's a great work of art!

  10. A very cool post. I have a huge Paul Davis theater poster hanging in my living room - the TAMING OF THE SHREW poster (starring, I think, Raul Julia and Glenn Close) done in low-key earthy colors. Unfortunately in my ignorance years ago, I cut a strip off the bottom to make the poster fit my frame. I know, I know - GAK!!!

    But I still love the poster and it's hung in every living room since.

    I also have the COLORED GIRLS POSTER, but its still rolled up and put away.

    I've always been a big fan of Paul Davis and wondered what he was doing now.

  11. Thanks for visiting, Yvette! Almost 40 years ago, I bought a Paul Davis poster for the George McGovern presidential campaign. I remember at the time that I thought I'd just keep it as an investment, all rolled up. Years went by, and I discovered, much to my chagrin, that about one-sixth of the poster had completely faded because of the way it was rolled and exposed to light. A cautionary tale - I hope your Colored Girls poster fares better!

  12. I came across your blog and I was very pleased and flattered to see your collection and the comments on my work. I am currently working on several commercial projects as well as making paintings and drawings for future exhibitions. I recently completed the graphics and titles for "Joe Papp in 5 Acts" which will be aired on American Masters in Spring 2012. My son, Matthew, created the motion effects for the titles. Matt and I also created an animated commercial for Mercer in 2007. It utilizes a unique combination of 2D and 3D animation invented by Matt.

  13. Dear Paul Davis,

    I hope you know from this too-small posting and my comments that I have been a huge fan of yours for many years. It's true that I bought publications just to retrieve images of your work one by one, and to this day, I keep them together in a file as inspiration. Thanks for the update, and I'll be looking for the Joe Papp titles in the spring. Best wishes to you and Matt, and thanks for visiting my blog!