I drew a lot when I was a child, and have painted for as long as I can remember; my primary occupation when I was not constructing things. No work survives from before my teens, though there are a few pieces started then, though I cannot remember when. For some reason, now obscure to me, I threw out quite a few pieces from back then only a year or so ago. Before I decided to look in detail at my creating when I was still a child – spurred on by the Radical Craft exhibition.
Although I read little as a teenager, I did read art books, many of which I still have. The three main areas of interest then were William Blake, the Pre-Raphaelites and the Surrealists – I think the concept of a movement appealed to me. And I still enjoy the best of the works associated with both movements, though my later work has much more to do with the Surrealists than the Pre-Raphaelites. Blake was always more about the concept of his personal mythology and illuminated printed books than his style of painting.
I also loved the early illuminated manuscripts – especially the carpet pages of the insular style, such as contained in the Kells and Lindisfarne Gospels, Hieronymus Bosch and Richard Dadd, as well as certain album illustrations, for instance by Roger Dean (Yes) and Paul Whitehead (early Genesis).
And what they all have in common is a certain acquaintance with fantasy.
Of the few pieces of work that have survived from the 1980s all are fantasy to a greater or lesser extent. They are very derivative, and have nothing specific to do with my creation of Kolchin.
A recurring image is that of a figure looking out from the work, with a landscape behind him seen through an arch. I know I did various versions of this, including for my ‘A’ level, but only one survives. I did however also resurrect the idea for the illustration ‘The Marshal and his Cohort’ for The Marquis’s Destruction, executed nearly three decades later. I cannot remember all the influences that inspired the basic idea, but they did include Whitehead’s cover illustration for Genesis’s album Trespass and the passage in J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Of Tuor and his coming to Gondolin‘ published in Unfinished Tales where Tuor comes to deserted Vinyamar.
Most of my work then, though, was much less simply pictorial, and often comprised composite images and patterns thrown – somewhat haphazardly it now seems – together. And a lot of those images were pretty slavish copies of illustrations, mostly of Tolkien’s work.
In two of the three examples I give here, two have a lot of copied images, mostly from David Day’s A Tolkien Bestiary – especially those by Ian Miller – and the book-of-the-film of Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings. A poor film, but with some really good illustrations.
The third piece is the only completed work from those years, but I cannot remember the inspiration behind it.
Some of my work deliberately tried to ape illuminated manuscripts, and it is still my desire to publish a work that intimately combines poems and illuminations.
Those I executed then are however poor reflections on what the monastery scribes and illuminators managed. The main things that strike me when I look at them now are how good my eyesight must have been when I was still at school, and how I still love the vibrancy of coloured inks.