Star Wars Art Awakens the Force of Childhood Nostalgia

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Dubbed “Childhood Revisited,” this series of Star Wars art by Matt Cauley was inspired by his collection of vintage Star Wars action figures.

The Trooper (tempera and ink resist on board, 10×8)

New York artist Matt Cauley has been recognized for his superb and electrifying acrylic portraiture—but his Star Wars art takes a very different approach. Dubbed his Childhood Revisited series, the playful paintings were inspired by the Vintage Kenner Star Wars action figure line the artist had as a child.

“These paintings were a fun experiment,” Cauley says. “Since nostalgia plays such a large role in my life, I decided that instead of painting portraits of people, I would attempt to paint ‘portraits’ of my childhood toys. These were the toys my mom had purchased for me some 30 to 40 years ago, so there are all of those added memories and associations with the subject matter.”

Star Wars Art: Lizard Man by Matt CauleyLizard Man (tempera and ink resist on board, 10×8)

Behind the Star Wars Art

The paintings are made in ink and tempera, using a resist process that creates a modest sense of form and a lively surface while retaining a strong graphic quality.

Here’s a walk-through of the novel technique:

  1. Outline & Paint Surface: Cauley begins with a very tight outline drawing on illustration board, then uses white tempera paint to fill in all the areas outside the line work. This creates a surface that is painted entirely white except where his pencil lines are left uncovered.
  2. Apply Ink: Once the paint dries, he applies large areas of ink over the entire surface, generally going with colors much darker than those he wants in the final piece, such as blacks, browns, and dark blues.
  3. Rinse: Once this stage dries, he positions the board in a sink under running water. Using his fingertips, he gradually helps the tempera paint dissolve and “sculpts” with the ink that’s left behind. The remaining dark inks create the illusion of either an engraving or a woodcut, depending on how much ink erodes during the rinse process.
  4. Tint: Once the painting is dry, he tints areas on the board to finesse the color.
Star Wars Art: Bounty Hunter by Matt CauleyBounty Hunter (tempera and ink resist on board, 10×8)

According to Cauley, part of the excitement of working this way is that he never quite knows how the image will turn out. The exact final look depends on split-second decisions he makes while he’s running water across the image.

Related: Star Wars Art: How Carl Samson Painted an Oil Portrait of Padmé

Creative Cross-Training

Cauley is equally comfortable with fine art portraits and illustration, and he values the cross-training each of these pursuits has provided.

“For me, it doesn’t matter whether I’m painting an image of a friend or model, or sculpting and crafting a superhero or sci-fi character,” he says. “They all use the same basic techniques of paint, likeness, and building of form, regardless of the subject matter. My paintings are informed by my graphic design, just as my toy design is influenced by my illustration skills. The design principles are applicable, whether the art goes on paper, canvas or digital screens, or is molded in plastic.”

Star Wars Art: Bad Motivator by Matt CauleyBad Motivator (tempera and ink resist on board, 10×8)

Indeed, Cauley’s portraits convey an intense and thoughtful exploration of the way individuals relate to the world and each other. This is surely informed by his childhood fascination with the Star Wars narrative, in which small human dramas play out against a background of epic forces.

Are We Done Yet? acrylic on canvas, 30×24

Related: Painting Emotions in Acrylic

What’s Next in the Star Wars Art Collection?

Cauley has found collectors who share his passion and nostalgia, and enjoy collecting his paintings of the toys they grew up with.

“There were more than 100 Star Wars figures created for the vintage line, and I hope to eventually have paintings created of all of them,” says Cauley. “It feels good being able to share these childhood memories with people who have similar memories.”

To stay up-to-date on new releases, follow Matt Cauley on Instagram.

A version of this story first appeared in Artists Magazine.

Meet the Artist

Matt Cauley, artistExplore Matt Cauley’s artwork at mattcauley.com.

Matt Cauley has an extensive background in the visual arts. Born in Dallas, he moved to New York in 1992 to attend Parsons School of Design, obtaining his BFA in Illustration. While there, he discovered a love for portrait painting, and he has continued his painting studies at the School of Visual Arts under the guidance of renowned artist John A. Parks. man and group exhibitions, most recently at the Plaxall Gallery in Queens, N.Y. He makes his home in New York City. In addition to painting, Cauley is also an accomplished illustrator and toy designer.

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