Full disclosure: if I could play guitar the way I wish I could, I probably wouldn’t be a writer. If I could act as well as I wish I could, I probably wouldn’t be just a writer. If I could draw, or paint, or create visual art… ah, if I could only do that…..
I’ve always loved the visual arts: deeply, at a level beyond my capacity to articulate. No trip to a new town, a new State, a new country, is complete until I’ve experienced the art gallery, the sculpture park, the local museum. I think in pictures, explain in diagrams, communicate in sketches and arms waved around to delineate space and placement.
Sadly, as anybody who has been following my Thumbnail Thursday posts, or has seen the few cartoons I actually managed to finish and have published over the years, can attest, it turns out I can’t draw for shite.
My sense of visualisation, however, is very strong. When I’m writing– when it’s going well, and the words are flowing at their highest swell– I have a very clear image of what I’m writing about; so strong that, at times, I’m doing little more than transcribing what I see, rather than truly creating from empty cloth.
Still, words are an artificial construct, a mechanical choice between pre-forged components relying on a social contract between author and audience to assign meaning to the thoughts being relayed. (See?) When I experience an image; when I see the combination of light, colour, form and medium and it sparks of an emotional recognition in me; it feels pure, unrestrained.
If I could, I would. Until then, I rely on my own imperfect tools, and my own limited repertoire of creative skills. But here are five artists who do things to me I can only wish I had the talent to replicate.
FIVE FOR FRIDAY: VISUAL ARTISTS
Mad, murdering Richard Dadd, who slashed his father’s throat while out walking, spent much of his adult life in Bedlam, and while there, completed intricate masterpieces detailing a world only he could see, halfway between myth, folklore, and the escapist fantasies of a man trapped in a physical and psychological hellscape.
His most famous work is probably The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke, a stunning fantasy scene that became the subject of a typically epic Queen song. But the one below, Sketch for an Idea of Crazy Jane is my favourite of his works. There’s something simply skewiff about the whole thing: the colours are subtly wrong, the dimensions just ever so slightly off, and the face… look at the face. Neither feminine nor masculine but a halfway hybrid; emotionless, dark pits of eyes staring with no message at all straight at the viewer; the almost-dancing sense of movement at odds with the heavy, lumpen nature of the physique…. it’s a piece that transfixes me in delight and fascination.
I started to collect books at a fortuitous time: the early 80s was the point at which books that had been published in the 1970s were filtering into the second hand shops, where young teens like me could afford them. And those books came from publishers like Ace, and Panther, and Pan, and the covers… oh, my God, the covers.
The 1970s were the greatest era of SF book covers ever. There, I said it. And at the forefront of those covers, at least to me eyes, were the mad spaceships, landscapes, and broken-future beauty of airbrush artist Chris Foss.
A master of light and asymmetrical design, Foss was science fiction for me. Forget Star Wars, forget Giger’s Alien designs. When the future arrives, I want it to look like Foss promised me it would: full of vast, slab-sided experiments in colour and thunderous energy, with the sound of building-sized engines blowing holes in the vacuum of deep space.
I could pick any number of images that remain lodged in my unconscious, but my favourite remains my first: the giant, fallen robot of his cover for the Panther issue of Isaac Asimov’s Caves of Steel. Simply, truly, glorious.
Ah, the working class English upbringing. Where things that looks like things is what real art is, and anything else is poncy nonsense or summat wot my kid could do, innit?
Suffice to say, the surrealists hit me like a meringue anvil right in the third eye. I love Dali, I love Miro, Bunuel, and the writings of Breton, and the zealous insanity of Duschamp…. but of them all, it was Rene Magritte (and Max Ernst, of whom more later) who took my adoration, and gave me tools of quantification and recreation with which to engage in my own, meagre experiments (the closes any of them have come to fruition, the short…. thing, Brillig, can be found here)
Most famous for his brilliant works The Son of Man and The Treachery of Images, a personal favourite is the work below, The Voice of Space. I love its sense of scale, and weightlessness, its implied narrative, and the gentle idea that momentous thing can take place in spaces where there is nobody to bear witness.
Painter, sculptor, poet, graphic designer, surrealist. One of the first polymaths I encountered, and one that has provided me with endless fascination ever since. Max Ernst’s life provided me with an early education in how an artist’s experiences can be filtered through his artistic philosophies to create a third, multi-textured form of expression. I have drawn so much from his filtering of trauma and hardship that he will always be a central figure of my artistic ambitions, and of my karass.
My own small tribute was a story named after the painting depicted here: Europe, After the Rain, appeared in the Fablecroft Anthology After the Rain, and was, in large part, inspired by this piece, Europe After the Rain II.
Which is your Blake? The poet or the painter? It is hard to distinguish between the two: they correlated, at times perfectly, into an ouvre of singular intent and vision. But if I were to argue in terms of technique, I would say that his poetical output forms a wonderful example of a form that was practiced equally superbly by a number of peers, but his painting? Oh, his painting.
There was nobody ever quite like William Blake when it came to painting, and I would argue that there still isn’t. His works are the stuff of fever-dreams, of a mind stretched into shapes unbidden and unrecognisable by the measures of his time. They are a pure expression of a singular, individual madness, so unique and unreal that even when he turned his talents towards the supporting walls of his Universe, such as his illuminations of the Revelations, it produced images unlike anything the mainstream could ever have expected. The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with Sun is what they got, instead. Open Dante, and Blake gives you The Lover’s Whirlwind. Work in miniature, and you get my favourite of all Blake’s work, an epic compression of scale, power and movement that is the A4-sized The Ghost of a Flea, reproduced below.