By Sophie Norris
A gas engineer has been revealed as the unlikely ‘van door Banksy’ behind the moving tribute to World War One – with celeb attention finally making him ‘cool’ with his two daughters.
James Gibson, 43, gained national recognition for his drawing of the Battle of the Somme on the back of a Ford Transit van and claims the attention is ‘moving’ and ‘humbling’.
The dad-of-two has previously etched Anthony Joshua, Ed Sheeran along with Pennywise the clown from horror film It.
Despite his Somme portrait receiving more than 100,000 likes and shares, James says it when his Stormzy sketch was retweeted by the rapper himself that he finally became ‘cool’ to daughter Mollie, 15.
Now the illustrator receives requests from friends and local drivers for artwork on their own vans and claims he’s had to stop himself calling lorry companies to use their fleets.
James, from Harwich, Essex, said: “People don’t expect me to have an artistic streak, being a gas heating engineer.
“I decided to do this piece of Stormzy because my youngest daughter, Mollie, loves him. I did that on the back of my friend’s van to surprise her. She’s a massive fan.
“Mollie’s friends were like ‘Stormzy has retweeted your dad’. He’s her favourite artist. I think I was cool for once.
“The reaction was great. The response I’ve had is overwhelming from friends and family – it’s humbling.”
Last week, James created boxer David Haye on the request of a friend. What he didn’t expect was for the heavyweight champion to call him, applauding him for his talents and asking for more.
James said: “Last week I did David Haye and I actually received a voice message from him saying he’d seen my work. That was quite impressive for him to acknowledge it.
“He literally said: ‘Hi James, it’s David. I’ve just seen the artwork you’ve done on the back of your van and you’ve got such a talent there. I look forward to seeing more in the future.’ It was quite moving.
“I want to do something positive with my artwork in the future. I want it to make others happy.
“I started doing the van art about a year ago after getting stuck in a traffic jam. Someone had drawn a smiley face on the back of a lorry and I thought ‘someone must have been in a good mood to have done that.
“I decided I’d give it a go and did Ed Sheeran. I did a few others early on but as I’ve continued they’ve become more detailed.
“I used to do them on my work van originally but then I got a different one and asked friends if I could use theirs instead. They’re enjoying it, having different art on them.
“When I first started doing it I think my neighbours thought I was mad. I’d just be standing there, staring at the back of my van for hours on end.
“I was behind a van recently and noticed how dirty it was and how amazing it would be to create something with it. I had to stop myself calling the number on the side.”
The humble sketcher generally spends no more than three hours on each piece of work and claims that as winter sets in, he is having to get faster for fear it might rain or even snow.
James’ most popular piece to date, his tribute to the Somme, took only two hours and was etched onto the back of a swimming pool company’s van.
James said: “The piece of work I’m most proud of the war scene because it was the most thought-provoking.
“I’ll typically spend two to three hours on each piece but as it gets colder, the adrenaline kicks in because my hands get so cold and I’m always wary it could rain.
“I’m into art in general – I’ve always loved it. But I like this kind of art most because it’s disposable. I know it’s there one minute then the next it could start raining and all be washed away.
“In the past, I’ve been drawing something on one of the vans and you’d just hear me shouting ‘nooo’ because it’d started pouring it down. Then it’s all washed away.
“I have some ideas for images I’d like to do soon, but I’ll stay away from anything political. It doesn’t take a lot to upset people these days so there’ll be no Trump unfortunately.”