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While still a student Paul Davis produced his first commissioned illustration, a pencil drawing which appeared in the October 1959 issue of Playboy Magazine. After finishing his courses at School of Visual Arts, he was hired by Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast, partners in the groundbreaking Push Pin Studios. A series of his target paintings was the subject of issue 32 (1961) of the studio’s publication, The Push Pin Graphic. He then illustrated “A Bestiary” of famous people, conceived and written by artist Edward Sorel which appeared in the July 1962 issue of Horizon Magazine.
Davis’s work quickly caught the imagination of art directors in the U.S. and abroad, and he was soon in demand as an illustrator for magazines, record album covers, book jackets, and advertising. He formed the Paul Davis Studio in 1963, working first in New York and later in Sag Harbor on Long Island. His style had a tremendous impact on the field of illustration. His illustrations have appeared in Life, Time, Playboy, Look, The Saturday Evening Post, Sports Illustrated, Evergreen Review, Harper's, Harper's Bazaar, Horizon, McCall's, Show, Esquire, The New Republic, New York, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Mirabella, Fast Company, Worth, Money and many other publications.
He was Art Director of Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival from 1984 to 1992. Other clients include UNITE!, Disney, Lincoln Center, McKinsey & Co. Rolling Stone, Yahoo, Adobe and A&E Television.
In 1968 he was invited by Galerie Delpire in Paris to have his first solo exhibition of paintings, and in 1977, Gilles deBure, curator of the Galerie d’Actualité in the Centre Georges Pompidou, presented a solo exhibition of Davis’s work as part of the museum’s opening festivities. Davis’s distinctive paintings and posters for advertising, publishing and entertainment also have been the subject of museum and gallery exhibitions throughout Japan and Italy, and in cities around the U.S., including a retrospective at the Philbrook Museum of Art in his native Tulsa.
Davis’s work is included in collections throughout the world, and poster collection of MoMa in New York. In 1987, The Drama Desk created a special award to recognize Davis’s iconic posters for Joseph Papp’s Public Theater, and he is in the Hall of Fame of both the Art Directors Club and the Society of Illustrators. He is also a recipient of the coveted AIGA Medal, and of honorary doctorates from School of Visual Arts and the Maryland Institute College of Art. He is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome and a vice-president of their Society of Fellows.