Inheritance and the radical new
From the very beginning my world evolved through a sense of wonder about the
universe, I always looked beyond the explanations of others, carving my own path.
I found a sense of vastness in microcosmic structures. Minerals lit with ultra-violet
light, iridescent wings of giant tropical butterflies, the huge structures of dinosaurs
filled me with awe and wonder. I pored over paintings that seemed to traverse time,
entering earlier lives of privilege and the dark superstitions of the underclasses.
I communed with painted people looking for their counterpart in the modern world.
Against the stultifying silence of dormitory urban living, Goya’s etchings brought the
sense that dramas of survival had been fought in the greater world. The drawings of bruegal, full of pathos, depicted real people worn down by hard lives. I explored London galleries searching for an equivalent experience in modern times, art that deeply searched the inner world of every day life or reached beyond to make a new independent reality; a distillation of vital elements through the vehicle of art.
It occurred to me that a subject was not in itself a virtue; even accomplished drawing, and high detail did not in itself guarantee greatness.
Looking without prejudice
One of the most important lessons to seep through the Art School experience was
that each work has a life of its own, independent from the subject. I was aggressively told that I was trying to put too much into one painting. I later discovered Bruegel,
Bosch and Stanley Spencer, and felt part of a greater family. A friend said recently that if you fill an area with images, one thing cancels the other out. I thought for a moment and replied, ‘You have lost the ability to look at complex works of art. If I gave you a Persian carpet you would be in raptures and put it on your wall – you are looking with prejudice! Such dialogue is draining but sharpens the analytical process.
Breaking with tradition
The art education experience brought endless years of life drawing, anatomy, objective drawing, composition. The opportunity was there for multi-media craftsmanship. Having attended a junior art school followed by four years at art college I began my studentship at the Royal Academy with seven years of intensive
life drawing under my belt. The first year involved a daily attendance at the life school. I was ready to fly and felt shackled.
On the eve of the ‘Young Contemporaries’ being invited to exhibit at the Royal
Academy in a bid to bring new blood, I questioned why representational art seemed
to be sleepwalking and became angry with the pre-prescribed format of the rectangular frame. The great gilded scrolls contributed the glitter of the Victorian
proscenium-arched theater while contributing little to the art itself. I had spent two years drawing ice Skaters (while skating) worked in the dressing rooms of West end theatres, and drawing rock stars backstage at concerts. I was now ready to break with tradition. I studied ‘The thinking Eye’ by Paul Klee, read Marshall McClewen’s
‘The Media is the message’ and began to compile extensive notes and drawings that examined the way we as humans functioned, looking at the whole experience not just the visual media processes.
I gave lectures on my findings and worked on a series of rotating graphics that allowed people to ask questions about themselves and their relationship to their
environment. Little did I realise that this pioneering work would lay the foundations in 1967 for a rock album cover for the world’s number one rock group in 1970.
My lectureship at Leeds and my life in the Yorkshire Dales was to lead to extensive
experiments with new materials that put a series of images through every available
media process. The lectures I gave became closer to being performances similar to
those given by John Cage
Led Zeppelin III
Jimmy Page had admired my work since 1964 and I was head-hunted by the group
in 1970. Jimmy had an idea that the cover could work like a vegetable chart. I was already working on my idea of a rotating interactive design based on years of research. My instinct was that if the cover contained literal information, people
would read it and discard it. I made the decision to make the work purely visual,
so that if the art endured it would serve the longevity of the music; time has proved
it the right decision.
Ironically, in designing for Led Zeppelin I was confronted with a square format.
In coming to terms with that restriction I was determined to re-invent my use of
the space. Objects would vary in dimension, some appearing to move outside the
boundary, implying an infinite space beyond the visible. Every single component
was balanced and counter-balanced to make a tensile part of the whole. Each shape
or object was selected as an abstract component. The title was made to be instantly
identifiable, immense inflated forms in space. At the same time the linear shapes
scribed space allowing optical forms to interact internally and externally.
It was an exciting time and I was breaking into new ground. The work was
greeted in London as the best piece of collage since Kurt Schwitters and I was
named the ‘King of Collage’. I was genuinely surprised and delighted with such
a positive reaction.. I spoke to Jimmy Page from my hotel in New York; he said
that he thought the work was fantastic and that I should design all their covers.
It was a great time. Little did I realise that my art for Led Zeppelin would be
regarded as the world’s top rock album cover years after the millennium.
Digitalisation joins the old with the new
My grandfather was a pioneer photographer, my father a craftsman and inventor.
Since their time commercial pressure and social changes have widened and intensified
the role of the artist, yet strangely, fine art maintains an obscure elitism and seems
to have learned little from the Bauhaus position of equality. My great consolation
lies in an absolute passion for drawing, objective and conceptual.
The new digital processes have given me wings. I was invited to produce images for Hollywood Studios and quite suddenly realised I was in the dark ages. I read manuals in the bath and pushed every button in sight through scale, movement, rotation and layer style; the permutations were exhilarating. To be able to import drawing, painting, photography, three-dimensional objects, environments, writing, typography, textures and surfaces into one arena has endless creative potential.
Resources and the legacy of History
In the 1960’s I haunted fairgrounds, theaters and the streets of London to observe life as it happened. That process is still relevant today and I am always fully armed with a camera.
Within Lantern Studios there is an extensive library, museum, cinema, graphic studio, workshops, a painting studio and a gallery. The studio also prints archival digital editions for artists to a very high standard with an emphasis on high quality archival
I continually draw, photograph and write daily and I am currently working on a series of portraits, new archival prints and commissioned works. My artwork rises into different yet related areas: digital image making, conceptual drawing and painting,
and semi-abstract exploration into forms, symbols and signs fueled by a detailed study of pre-history that commences with Suma, Babylon, and earlier.
I constantly question and explore and have a passion for learning and communicating.
If you are globally sensitive, being part of the advance guard of change is inescapable.
We are living in a crucial time that demands a world consciousness. Conditioning and manipulation throughout our history is becoming transparent and today we are immersed in the politics of stealth and distraction. In such an era images acquire a universal property. Perhaps as we begin to learn who and what we really are, our most ancient symbols, signs and images take on a new meaning, connecting us through all of time.
To study the history of our origin is to study the journey of our consciousness.
The true value of the human gesture - including the drawn mark - is that it presents,
through our body language (art), a window into our view of life and ourselves, and is an arena for great virtuosity. Drawing will become redundant when hands are obsolete,
The End of Post-Modernism
In my writing ‘The End of Post-Modernism’ www.zacron.com, I vehemently support
that art students must have access to history, core skills, communication and
business skills and also, practical training. In a true democracy, art may take any form including a traditional one; there is no hierarchy. The application of creativity to
a practical and manufacturing base is to be celebrated as it empowers the many functions of art in society and encourages creativity in all. Students will ultimately
accept or reject the relevance of some disciplines; all the better from a position of
strength once they have had the opportunity to learn them. Valuable foundations
will have been laid that will work for them in other areas of future creativity.
Roger De Grey once asked me at the Royal College of Art, ‘What do you see as
being the difference between an illustration and a painting?’ I replied that there was none. ‘Just how do you explain that’ he said, to which I replied ‘The Sistine Chapel
frescoes by Michelangelo illustrate events from the bible and at the same time are
heralded as a works of very great fine art.
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