Posted by: cherylyoung | June 27, 2016

MEET WILL DAVIES

 

Giving one of the Canadian Mad Men his due

Father and son team up in tribute to great illustrator

Hamilton Spectator

If you lived in Canada in the ’50s, ’60s or ’70s, you know the work of Will Davies. You may not know the name, but you know the art. It was difficult to pick up a newspaper or a magazine without seeing something by one of Canada’s greatest commercial artists.

His kind of art went out of favour for a time as advertising trended toward realism. The retro appeal of “Mad Men,” however, is making people take a second look at that period’s commercial art.

Leif Peng never had to be convinced. The Hamilton graphic artist fell in love with Davies’ work the moment he set eyes on it working on one of his first professional jobs with a Toronto advertising firm some 30 years ago.

Then, for five years in the late ’90s, Peng was privileged to work in the same Toronto studio as Davies, who is now 91 and living in retirement in Toronto. The two became friends. The living room wall of Peng’s west Hamilton home is adorned with Davies’ originals.

Now Peng and his son, Simon, a 20-year-old student at the Ontario College of Art and Design, are working on a 150-page book called “The Art of Will Davies.” Earlier this month, they launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $27,000 to publish the book which they hope to have completed this fall. Within the first 10 days of the 30-day campaign, which ends July 1, they had raised almost $20,000 toward their goal.

“Everyone knew who Will Davies was,” says Peng, now a full-time graphic design instructor at Mohawk College. “You would speak of him reverentially. If you were a young professional you aspired to be Will Davies. He was the most prominent advertising illustrator in Canada.”

Davies’ artwork graced the ads of all the major auto manufacturers and clothing lines, literally thousands of illustrations spanning a 50-year career. You’ll find it on postage stamps and sports posters and the covers of more than 500 Harlequin Romance novels.

There were also nudes, the last of which were displayed at an exhibition in a Toronto gallery in 2002. It was Davies’ last hurrah before retirement.

At the peak of his career, Davies cut a dashing figure, square-jawed and nattily attired, leading the jet set life of the Mad Men.

“There was a time where he had a garage full of Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and Jags,” Peng says. “He was that successful. I think he and his friends and acquaintances had an amazing time, very much like you see on the TV show. The thing about Will is he’s not only a spectacular artist, he is the consummate gentleman, a classy guy.”

Peng, 51, has also had a successful career. His work includes the tuxedoed turtle of Turtles chocolates, the Nestle’s Quick bunny and Pud, the Dubble Bubble boy. There have been a few cereal boxes, too, Cap’n Crunch and Rice Krispies, as well the Hostess Munchies and some Pokemon activity books.

In recent years, however, Peng has turned to writing the history of mid-20th century Canadian commercial art, through his blog “Today’s Inspiration,” which now boasts about 10,000 followers.

“Compared to the fine art world where we know so much, the commercial art people are almost anonymous,” Peng says.

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