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Elvis Davis Pop Art







Pop Art by Elvis Davis


Here Digger talks to Elvis Davis who combines two careers, one as a leading Pop Artist and another as a highly successful movie costume designer. As a member of the costume team, Elvis has been the recipient of two Oscar nominations. His Pop and Rock icon artworks are much sought after, not only by the public but also by musicians and those within the industry. 




Elvis: David!

Digger: How are you?

Elvis: Not so bad mate, how are you?

Digger: Great thanks. I'll dive straight in, if that's okay? Can you please tell us a little bit about your background?

Elvis: I was born in Skegness, Lincolnshire. My father was a bespoke tailor, so I worked in his menswear shop from a very young age. Literally, when I was about ten years of age I had some involvement with the business, whether it was sorting invoices or helping out on a Saturday. I was always around. We lived above the shop, so I was always up and down and helping wherever I could. As I got a little bit older, I actually used to serve customers in the shop and measure guys for trousers and jackets. So I was always around menswear and men’s fashions.

Digger: That must have been great fun for a kid?

Elvis: It’s like a lot of things. You don’t fully appreciate it at the time.




Digger: What sort of year was that?

Elvis: I can remember fashion from the early sixties as a kid. I can remember particularly all the Mod stuff. And what happened was my dad had a shop and during the late fifties it was all geared towards older men. When the sixties started to take a hold he realised that the teenagers wanted fashion and they weren’t wearing replicas of what their parents wore.

Digger: Which they always had before.

Elvis: My dad had accounts with Levi’s, Wranglers, Ben Sherman, Fred Perry right from the early sixties.

Digger: A real pioneer.

Elvis: Yes, he was and all the real cult names now, he had an account with them way back in the early sixties.

Digger: He had a lot of vision then. Did people come from far and wide?

Elvis: They did actually. We’re located on the east coast and even today Skegness is a nightmare to get to.

Digger: But it was a holiday destination, so I presume you did get Mods going there?

Elvis: Yes, we used to get a lot of holiday trade and, of course, when the Mods used to come on their scooters they would flood into the shop. In fact, it could be quite terrifying because they’d come into the shop en masse and try and pinch stuff. But I can remember Staprest trousers, Levi jeans and they’d come in and be amazed that they could get all the stuff they wanted in a little town like Skegness. Because, even in places like Sheffield and Nottingham, there weren’t that many stockists of those sorts of branded items. In fact, later on in the late seventies we were a competitor with Paul Smith in Nottingham. People would come to us from Nottingham and buy stuff he hadn’t got and he’d ask “Where did you get that from?” And they’d say “I got it from Blue Serge in Skegness." The shop was called Ron Davis, named after my dad. Then in the early seventies we opened another shop that was purely for young fashion. It was, if you like, the boutique. He stocked suits off-the-peg and he carried on with his traditional menswear business. That was for upper class, better quality menswear. And we branched out into the youth and teenage fashions. We used to go up to London on buying trips and we would have what they had in the trendiest places in London.

Digger: What a great apprenticeship for you.

Elvis: Yes, it was fascinating. But unfortunately we were so busy, you didn’t quite realise you were visionary at the time because you were just too busy making a living.

Digger: What inspires you to produce these artworks of Lennon, Hendrix, Jagger, Dylan, Elvis Presley and others?

Elvis: My eldest brother was at art college in Grimsby, a couple of years above people like John Hurt. We had a large building for the shop with a flat above where we all lived. Downstairs, in the basement, we cleared it out and my brother had an artist’s studio there. It was big enough so that the three of us could go down and rather than be stuck in the house we could make models and do painting and just generally fiddle about in this basement. So my brother used to do all his oil painting down there and, of course, it used to stink.

Digger: Lucky you didn’t all die of the fumes.

Elvis: Well, it was bad in winter because it was freezing cold, we had this hot stove, no air and all the fumes. My other brother used to make model aircraft and used to dope the wings so it must have been a very…

Digger: …heady cocktail? Maybe that’s where your inspiration came from?!

Elvis: Definitely not a healthy environment for kids. I think it was looking through my brother’s art books and seeing the work he was producing. At the time I used to collect those American comics. I was never really interested in the English ones because they weren’t colourful enough.

Digger: Marvel comics?

Elvis: Yes, my favourites were Spiderman and Daredevil and I used to look at the artwork and try and imagine how the artwork was created and then printed. That was part of the pop art process for artists like Roy Liechtenstein and I was always drawn to my brother’s work because it was always very colourful. And you could connect to it because the subject matter were things in everyday life. I wasn’t looking at an old master and being puzzled by it. He would draw colourful targets and parts of aircraft and I could relate to all that. So that’s where the seed was sewn, I think. And generally being around at that time.

Digger: Why do you think Retro and the 50s, 60s and 70s remains so popular, even with the youngsters now?

Elvis: I think it’s quite simple. There’s never been anything better to replace it and you can transmit that right across the board, whether it’s film, art, fashion or music. That’s why kids today are being given their parents’ record collections and they’re hearing Hendrix for the first time or The Stones and The Beatles that they’ve never heard before. It’s the same with the classic films and why TCM is so popular. They re-screen all those classic movies. And with music I could argue the case all day. Today, most of it is absolute rubbish and probably the parents said that about sixties music, but that was just a reaction.

Digger: They were wrong! (Laughs)

Elvis: They were wrong and it was all new so the parents were reacting to everything that was new. They had Frank Sinatra, Max Bygraves and all those sorts of crooners and then rock and roll and exciting bands came along. I think that’s why the Retro stuff is so appealing. It's stood the test of time.



Digger: What about your musical influences?

Elvis: When you first start to hear music that you take notice of it has a strong impact. I had two older brothers and it was quite a mix around our house when I was a kid. The early Rolling Stones and blues and soul. If it wasn't black, it was a black derivative, because all of The Stones' early stuff was covering black music. I grew up on Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Otis Redding and all that and it sewed a black seed. And the other thing was that my older brother, who was the artist in those days, used to go around collecting blues records and he had a fairly decent collection which he'd often play when he was painting. The covers were of immense interest to me - I used to stare at the covers for ages and they were some of the classic images of rhythm and blues and early rock and roll. Some of those Bo Diddley LP covers - I've reproduced him on a canvas and I think it's fair to say that some of the imagery must have sunk into my subconscious and I thought that would make a great image later on. Peter Blake did the famous painting later on of Bo Diddley, again directly from an album cover. Those early LP images of the pioneers of Rock and Roll and R and B performers made a big impact on a lot of people at that time. Certainly on me as well.

Digger: It's a shame we've lost album covers these days. The kids are missing the artwork and also the sleeve notes.

Elvis: I think that whole thing is a lost art. You can get books devoted to various genres of covers - the 100 Greatest... but that was all part of the buying process in those days. You'd save up and they were expensive and you wanted to know that you were getting something for your money. You didn't just get a piece of vinyl, you got the sleeve notes, sometimes a poster inside and a great cover. Your favourite ones you propped them up somewhere in your bedroom and that was your little art display.

Digger: And now all you get is a string of zeros and ones down a line!

Elvis: Yes, everybody's downloading. It's a shame. And then when I left school, like so many kids, you're so keen to ditch your school uniform and get a bit of identity. I was drawn to the soul crowd which was a year or two after the Mods died out. But the image was still really cool and the music was fantastic, so you had to go to these underground soul clubs to hear the really cool music. It was only what the jazz and the beatnik guys were doing twenty odd years before but it was soul music and it was Italian-style and American rhythm and blues. At fifteen, when you see someone who's dressed cool and can dance and gets all the attention of birds then you're bound to take notice. So that's where I wanted to be and it all settled nicely into the subconscious, waiting to be released. I did go to art college for a year. I was put off by my older brother who said "Don't go to art college, a waste of time." I didn't learn a great deal, but one thing I did dabble with was screen printing and that had always fascinated me - those American Marvel comics and how they used the print process. Years later, when I was looking for something to do in between my film work, I went on a screen printing course at the London College of Printing. I took to it like a duck to water and thought "Why didn't I do this years ago?" Everything was in place, David. I knew my history of music, I'd seen great images, I had an eye for colour and I liked pop art so all I needed was the technical ability to screen print, which I learned. It's a very technical process that most people are put off by - it's fiddly, time-consuming and technical but once you've got the screen ready then you're away. You can experiment with colours and all sorts then.

Digger: Any other influences Elvis?

Elvis: I think that general thing of looking at an LP cover and imagining where a photograph was taken and how did they get it all together. There's an image on my website and it's taken from an album called Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger. They've got Bo Diddley dressed up in his black outfit with his guitar at his feet and it's a fantastic image - better than the Elvis image on Flaming Star and I used to think "Who came up with that? Where did they do it, was it on a ranch?"  Because being in sixties Skegness you're so distant from where that image was created. You couldn't have two more disparate places.

Digger: Did you end up seeing these places when you went to America?

Elvis: I used to try and track them down. I lived in New York for a while so I would visit the blues clubs and I actually met Bo Diddley a few times. The actual album I'm talking about, Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger - he never realised was released in England and it was on a label called Pye Jazz. He said "I've never heard of Pye Jazz, I've heard of Pye." He was getting a court case ready against his former record company and he asked me to help him out. So I sent him all the rare sleeves and copies of everything I had and then we met again and again and I contributed some articles for his biography. I just found the whole thing really interesting.

Digger: And it had gone full circle, which was really good.

Elvis: Absolutely. It's like a lot of great stuff. If you could place the technology we have now back then, or vice-versa, these guys would be earning an absolute fortune because there'd be no-one to touch them. The impact that these guys created. Hendrix was a big fan of Bo Diddley and apparently Elvis went to The Apollo in Harlem to check out Bo Diddley's stage act. That's how much impact they had but, of course, they didn't always get the recognition for it.

Digger: There was the racist thing going on too.

Elvis: Yes, they were only played on specialist stations. So for people like him and Little Richard to kick the door in and get a black performer on a white Rock and Roll or pop show must have been nothing short of amazing. 

Others who had an impact on me... Andy Warhol was a great influence and also Robert Rauschenberg, who they reckon was America's most important artist. Mostly Warhol and a bit of Liechtenstein. That's really the style of my art. Noel Gallagher was quoted as saying that the best songwriters and the best bands are the ones who have the best record collections. I think there's a lot of truth in  that because The Stones collectively had great records that nobody else had back in the day. If you have a wide and diverse record collection then it's easier to write and perform songs because you're getting all your inspiration and vibes from the best.


Digger: You've actually got two very distinct careers going on there. Can we talk about the costumes business as well as the pop art? You have worked on many top movies in the area of costume: Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart, Robin Hood P.O.T., Lock Stock, Richard III, Submerged, Until Death. How do you reconcile the different creative areas that you are involved with in terms of time and energy?

Elvis: In recent times the film work has been so successful for me I've been busy with that and have only just been able to start focusing a little energy again on my portfolio of artworks. 

Digger: You've now got the phones ringing and got yourself quite a reputation for the film work?

Elvis: To bring you up-to-date, I was doing okay on it up until two years ago. It was going quite nicely. But I wasn't feeling as though I was making any headway. Then I decided to move to Sheffield, closer to my daughter and my parents who live at the top of the road. I did live here in the seventies and all my family are here so I was always coming back to see them. I kept my house in Berkshire and rented it out and bought a terraced house here which has got a big attic to do all the art up there. No sooner had I moved in than the phone rang and I was asked to do a film in the republic of Georgia. So I was almost on the verge of turning it down but I thought "No, hang on a minute, work comes first. You've moved in and everything's under lock and key so just leave it."  So I did this war film in Georgia, which is to be released any time now. I think the title now is Five Days Of August - it's English language and it's the story or Russia's invasion of Georgia during the Olympics to quell what they saw as an uprising. It was a massive film, some big stars in it and very challenging because Georgia has no infrastructure for movie making. So when you want to hire anything, there's nothing there, including crew. We got most of the crew from Bulgaria where I'd worked several times and knew where I could find a crew.

Digger: Just another one to add to your impressive list.

Elvis: It almost kick-started my career again because after that I did a film in Norway with Sean Bean, then last year did a film in Virginia and Tennessee. And although I've not been doing much since Christmas, I knew they were going to offer me another one and I'm actually starting to prep the next one as we speak. That will shoot in late summer. So I am clearing my attic a little bit and I've got my website and I'm handing it over to someone in the family who's a web designer. 
The website, although it has art and prices - the way it functions and the best way to use it, is to send me an enquiry as to what you're looking for because I've got a very large body of work. A lot not on the website. If you rang and said "I've seen your Hendrix stuff and like it, have you got any different images of him, or any Led Zeppelin. Or one of Eric Clapton? Have you got anything different " I'll say, yes I've got six more in different colours.

Digger: You do Commissions too?

Elvis: Oh yes, I have done a number of commissions and am always happy to look at those.

Digger: What gives you greatest pleasure about what you do?

Elvis: The film work usually gives me the most pleasure because you're working with a crew and it's an amazing experience that is condensed right down into two or three months. You meet people you never normally would meet, you go to locations you'd never dream of going to, you are part of small but very tight-nit, almost elite team. All trying to meet a common goal. You can meet exciting people but generally they're not the actors. And you can have a fantastic experience. But it's really hard work and I'm not just saying that, it really is. It's long hours, it can be stressful, it's against the clock.

Digger: Hopefully the remuneration is aright and at the end you've been part of this creative process and you have something to show for it - the results of your endeavours are there permanently.

Elvis: Yes, you're leaving a little legacy of your work and you can't do that in every situation in life.

Digger: What about awards, Elvis?

Elvis: I haven't been individually nominated, but I have been a part of teams who have won Oscars. So you take a little bit of the pride and credit because it's a well-known fact that anyone who wins an award couldn't have done it without somebody else. Usually a lot of other people. So collectively we won the Oscar for best costume on Braveheart and Richard III.

Digger: Saving Private Ryan?

Elvis: That wasn't nominated - war films never do. Unless it's a Roman or Epic thing. I don't know why.

Digger: What projects are you working on and what do you have planned for the future? Would it be a balancing act of the art and the costume work? You said that the costume stuff is more rewarding...

Elvis: Generally speaking, going to Florida or The Bahamas and shooting a movie is more rewarding and exciting than producing artwork from your studio upstairs in Sheffield. (Digger laughs) But it's a great thrill when you sell a piece of artwork and when you sell a piece to a celebrity in their own right, particularly to musicians. Because it's almost like a double accolade. They like the art, fine, but they are a musician themselves and obviously spend a lot of time involving themselves in the history of popular music.

Digger: It's funny, isn't it? Sometimes these musicians are the biggest collectors and the biggest fans, aren't they?

Elvis: I think it's that historically, years ago, people used to collect antiques for something to do and for something to make the house look attractive. Now they all want to own something that's Retro. The amount of photographers that are now photographing The Stones and are now selling their original negatives, doing a limited edition of photographs and signing them.

Digger: Gered Mankowitz is the definitive one.

Elvis: Yes, but I've also got on my wall at the moment an Ethan Russell and he recently, about three years ago in Lonodn, had an exhibition of his photographs. He's put several books out and his photographs are very much in demand because they are the classic images of The Stones. Keith swigging from a bottle of Jack Daniels, backstage shots and all that. The Retro thing, as you probably know, is awash with stuff. A lot of it is bad but the good stuff is certainly worth collecting and seeking out.

Digger: And your artworks certainly fall into that latter category. So I suppose you're very busy these days?

Elvis: It's the usual thing, David. I've been offered four movies all at the same time! Obviously I can only do one. I've applied, and been successful, to get a work permit for the USA.

Digger: Were there any questions about your first name?

Elvis: No. In fact it's fairly common in the southern states and quite a few black guys are called Elvis. But, having said that, the only guy I've ever met with the name Elvis was a black hairdresser from south London who came out to cut people's hair on a film I was working on. He's the only other Elvis I've ever met.

Digger: So there were two Elvis's in the building that day?!

Elvis: There were two Elvis's in the building.

Digger: Elvis, thanks for letting us know about your two fascinating parallel careers. It's been very interesting.

Elvis: Thanks David. Please let people know that the website only shows a fraction of my art so if anyone is interested in my style and has any questions about what sort of prints I have on offer - just give me a call.

Digger: Thanks again Evils.

Elvis: Speak to you later.




Pop Art by Elvis Davis


Lennon, Hendrix, Jagger, Dylan, Elvis and more

No matter what subject he depicts, Elvis Davis' chic and unique silk screens have one thing in common. They're all iconic, ineffably memorable, timeless and true. To look at his images is to enter a mythical and mesmerizing, multicoloured, multilayered ocean of sound and vision  - a perfectly formed fusion of pop and art.

GICLÉE LIMITED EDITION PRINTS ARE ALMOST IDENTICAL TO THE ORIGINAL. USING THE SAME 310gm PAPER WITH HAND DECKLED edge. Each print is part of a limited edition of 250 and is numbered and signed by the artist in graphite. 

Also happy to do commissions, Elvis urges people to make enquiries about what is available for sale as only a fraction of his work can be displayed online.








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