Sign of the Times

Artist Kevin Davidson’s work pays tribute to a style and an era that invokes nostalgia. Avid fans can’t get enough of his creations

Written by Joe Willey  |  Photography by Jill Jasuta

Many may think of art as delicate works behind glass, ringed by gilt frames. Others envision immobile blocks of marble standing in a sterile, silent, museum foyer. But most art is found outside of museum walls. Many once-unknown but now appreciated artists of the past used what some considered commonplace objects. One man in Dorchester County intends to continue the tradition of making ordinary objects into uncommon works of beauty. 

Kevin Davidson has always enjoyed art. He created flat art — painted on canvas or paper — for a time but was restless to find a path of his own. Hand-painted advertisements and signage interested him, and well-designed materials made him curious to learn more about a quickly fading art form.

Living in Cambridge allowed him the opportunity to watch and learn from the old-school hand letterer Burton Whaley, owner of Whaley’s Sign Shop. He was fascinated by the clean, graceful lines flowing from Whaley’s lettering quill. Those lines reflected years of experience, so Davidson began designing pieces using stencils, shortly moving to hand-lettering.

Davidson is known for his talent in composition and design, and he has a particularly keen eye for details most do not notice. He loves the way signs and utilitarian objects age. The patina gained from hot summers and brittle winters is his specialty. “I like to take time and look at the details of something” is how he casually describes his uncanny notice of years of wear. He is patient in his observation, and he replicates age with unflinching precision.

Distressed boards, doors and weathered firkins are all used for his paintings — he routinely buys old nails and dated hardware. The materials contribute only a portion to his success in recreating vintage signs. He has studied the patterns of how old things weather and wear. Though he uses durable and readily available materials, like 1 Shot enamel paints, he has developed techniques to make the paint look and feel old. He will not explain how he does it, but his style is convincing enough to fool experts.

“I’ve been very, very fortunate,” Davidson comments as he considers his work. He is supported by collectors from around the country who wait in line to buy his latest paintings. His folk-art trade signs have appeared in movies and hang in corporate offices of large companies as a reminder of long-gone brands that were once household names.

The work of Kevin Davidson is a reminder. It points to another era, before speed became the currency of progress. It was when ordinary objects, like painted signs advertising oysters, cigars and beer, had time to weather and hang undisturbed for years. They are fading history, and his eye for detail notices the charm found in those things nearly forgotten. Instead of lamenting the loss, he is reviving the love for a lost art form. With old boards, paint and a brush, he is restoring
its legacy. CS

1 comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.