THE FLAMING SHROUD
ISSUE 8 APRIL 1992
INTERVIEW BY ALEX MOSELEY


As promised, and just in the nick of time, the Mark Wilkinson interview was finally completed twenty-four hours before this issue was speeding its way towards the metal plate of the lithograph. So excuse any typing errors caused by the 4am blues, and enjoy an interesting range of questions sent in by your good selves, and more importantly, an even more interesting set of answers. Also bear in mind the advances in technology utilised by this interview; a top-of-the-range Fischer Price tape recorder belonging to Mark’s daughter.

What materials do you use to create your covers?

I use a variety of things: ink and paint, mainly gouache paint, I also use acrylics, and photographic dyes to get the very detailed airbrushing on faces and figures in particular. Then I use Magicolour ink, which is very, very bright pigmented ink, for the backgrounds where you need a broad sweep of colour. I work on a mineboard called CSlO; this is very technical stuff! There’s no real magic to it: I use an airbrush called a Devilbiss Super 63... this is like a guitarist telling a musician's magazine all the equipment he uses! Just because you’ve got a Les Paul doesn’t mean you play like Eric Clapton though.

What are your artistic influences, for example other artists, any training, and any formative experiences or events?

First of all, Salvador Dali, he was the first for me, and Magritte and all of the surrealists and the surrealist movement was what really got me interested in art in my early teens. I remember hearing this song from Captain Beefheart’s album called Dali’s Car and I remember saying to a mate of mine ‘who’s Dali?’ and he’d got this book on Dali which was like a chocolate box, the way it was produced, and it was the most beautiful thing. I didn’t realise painters were doing work like that.
"I like other people as well, not necessarily figurative artists. I like Egon Schiele for instance, any work that’s very intense.
"I remember buying a book called The Beatle’s Illustrated Lyrics, and seeing the airbrush illustrations of Harry Willack and Alan Aldridge, and I thought they were wonderful; that was the initial reason which made me give up engineering and go into art school. I was also very friendly with a chap who used to do screen printing from a very battered caravan at the end of his garden, and he used to do concert posters for the local universities, for people like East of Eden and David Bowie etc.. And he showed me how to do some screen printing. I took some samples along to art college, not thinking I would get in, but I did!
"At college I was very influenced by a visiting lecturer called Graham Rogers, who had worked on Magical Mystery Tour for the Beatles, and was pretty good in my books! He invited me to join his studio in Covent Garden when I left college, which I did do. I didn't get any work for quite a while until I met an agent who got me some black & white work in computing magazines, and Accountancy Age, and it got to the point when I felt confident enough to start hawking my stuff around record companies."

Which subjects do you find the most difficult to draw, for instance, figures, landscapes, perspectives, etc.?

"Well, they all come easy to me, you know (modest chuckling). Landscapes, I suppose sometimes give me a bit of a problem. Trees - I was never very good at those. We used to go to Covent Garden when I was at art college to study plants and trees, and I always found it very tedious, I still do, I mainly prefer drawing figures."

Did you work on any other album covers before Marillion's?

"Yes. The first album sleeve I had to do was for James Brown, one of his many greatest hits albums, for Polydor, funnily enough. I got that job through a design group called 'Shoot That Tiger'; I knew that they specialised in doing designs for record sleeves so I went to see them and they gave me a few video covers to do, mainly horror-type things like 'The Werewolf of Washington'.
"The next one I did was for RCA, which was a heavy metal compilation album called Hot Shower and I had to do a picture of this chap playing a guitar in the shower wearing an asbestos suit, and fire coming through the fire nozzles!!"

At this point Julie brings Mark a cup of coffee, places it on the interview tape box, and is severely reprimanded.

If you had the chance to re-do one of the Marillion LP covers (except Clutching) which would you do, and why?

"Either of the live albums, Real to Reel especially, which was a disaster! It wasn't my idea, mind you, it was Fish's idea to do that, but he didn't like the idea of the band in the spokes of the reel, for which I can't blame him really, they weren't very flattering! But if you're talking about any of the studio albums, I'm happy with Script and also Misplaced Childhood I think possibly Fugazi I would do again, certainly the figure is very weak: there's not enough flesh on the bone."

Julie interjects again to point out that the paintings on the wall were good (painted by Julie Hazelwood who was to become a certain Mrs. Wilkinson). Modesty obviously abounds in the Wilkinson household...

"It's just the whole look of that sleeve somehow I'm just not happy with. I think, because I knew from Fish that there was going to be a series of albums around this theme of the jester and chameleons and what have you, I thought it would be good to make the second album a light one, as the first one was fairly dark, and then go back to a dark one again. Weird! But also the dingy bedsit was lit by that one window, whereas this was a high-tech hotel.. in those days, of course; look at that hi-fi and video set-up! It was very sort of chromey, steel and big windows. I'm not a big fan of that sleeve I must say."
"I suppose Fish... it was always Fish, you notice; the rest of the band didn't have a clue what he was talking about, or what I was doing, I don't think! So I think Fish threw a lot of ideas into the hat, to see which ones stuck, and whichever aspects of his vision I responded to and developed, he would put even more into that particular area. I mean there were very specific things like the stiletto heel lying at the end of the bed, and this whole business of the mirror having a different image in it.
Fish is in love with surrealism and symbolism as much as me, I guess, and I think he wants to re-use that idea in an interesting way for his next album. So watch this space!"

You’ve been quoted as saying it was overworked, in what way?

‘Have I really said that? Not as over-worked as Vigil but I enjoyed doing Vigil and I really like that sleeve. I guess some of the symbolism there worries me a bit: you know, the chameleon going after the ring in the magpie’s beak, it’s a bit over the top. Maybe that’s what I was thinking when I was quoted."

Was there any additional pressure on you to make the Misplaced Childhood cover ‘something special’ to live up to the massive scale and concept of the album?

"Not at all, because nobody realised that it was ‘something special’ when we had the discussions about the sleeve
which was at The Grange where they were rehearsing. I know Fish wanted to get rid of the jester, because he didn’t want to be tied to one image for the rest of his recording career, and so he came up with the idea of the boy. I think It was Mark who suggested dressing him up as a soldier boy. I talked to Fish at length about what he
was trying to covey in this album, and what exactly was the Misplaced Childhood that he felt he had missed, and suggested that he read a book by Herman Hesse a big hippy book which he had never read. But there’s a passage in that book about the boy; it’s a rites of passage story about this boy who becomes a man but his guru has the Mark of Cain... which makes him different to all other people, that marks him out as being special. And I remember us talking about how we could do that with this boy on the very vacant stare. Anything that didn’t look like the Boy cover from U2 because Fish was a bit concerned that he’d be accused of jumping on that bandwagon, "There was a lot more input from me on that cover than the previous two. I said to Fish right from the start: let’s not go in for the heavy symbolism this time, let’s go in for something a bit simpler, and I think we achieved that to a degree. The only thing that I left off which Fish was quite insistent on having was in the floor where it opens up, the jigsaw area, there should be this steel town emerging underneath; an aerial view of this mill town, or steel town. It was a shame I couldn’t put that in. It was on the drawing, but as usual I ran out of time!"

Do you feel that your ‘artistic freedom’ has changed at all now that you are producing covers for a solo artist rather than a band?

"It hasn’t changed in the slightest, because I only ever work with Fish, so it was natural when the band split up that I go with him, because the rest of the band never really seemed to be that interested in the discussions of the
sleeve. I think they felt that it was Fish’s vision, and mine to a certain extent, so they left the entire thing to us. They did ask me to carry on working for them when they split up with Fish, and there was absolutely no pressure on me at all from Fish not to work for Marillion as well, but I felt that artistically I couldn’t work for both parties. It’s quite interesting to see how they’ve developed with their sleeves. It’s also interesting to see some of Mark Kelly’s ‘remarks’ in the press about those sleeves that I did. If he didn’t like them he should have said something at the time. That’s all I shall say."

Is there an album cover (by another band) that you have looked at and thought "I could have done a better job with that"?

"Yes, there’s many, of course there are. Well, Meddle by Pink Floyd. I never liked that. In fact a lot of the Pink Floyd album covers; Animals I never liked that much either. The conceptual approach of Hipgnosis was
all very well, but I think they did better sleeves with other people. Even Dark Side of the Moon, although it’s perfect in a way, it’s just a bit vague for my taste. And as they’re my all- time favourite band and the reason really I started listening to music in the first place, I suppose I’ve got quite strong feelings about the covers. I
suppose the best cover was Saucerful of Secrets.
"I think my all-time favourite album cover is Strange Days by The Doors. Also another by Beever & Kraus, All
Good Men which is a beautiful surrealistic painting. I also love anything that's been done for the Cocteau Twins; 23 Envelope, the design group, are wonderful."

The big question: what has happened to Masque, the book yourself and Fish were writing?

(Coughs) "The answer to that is: it's there, it's ready, waiting to be published, we're just waiting for a publisher to agree to do it, basically. We did have a number of publishers that were interested over a period of time, but for mainly legal reasons we couldn't go ahead with it. By the time we were ready to publish it and all the elements were right and the legal question was sorted out, the recession had hit quite hard and publishers were very reluctant to take a chance. Also another reason is that to get a decent publishing run. they would only be interested in a co- edition, which means linking the publication in this country with America and Europe. I don't think Europe would be any problem but certainly America isn't, shall we say, swamped, in the marketplace with Fish products! So we're hoping that with the release of Internal Exile in America, there might be some interest there, and the publishers may give us a deal. But at the moment I think we've just got to wait until Fish's career is firmly established as a solo act. The good part about it is the longer you go on like this then the more Fish-paintings (for want of a better word!) are going to be included in the book.
"I mean we could put it out tomorrow with a small publishing run with a small publisher, or someone like Omnibus press, that would do a limited run, but it would be a very cheaply-produced book, and we're not really keen to do that. We would prefer to stick with our original concept, which would be something a bit larger in scale than just a flimsy paperback."

Will the demise of vinyl diminish the importance of artwork, since the size of a CD is much smaller and so doesn't display the artwork in as much detail?

"Yes, I'm afraid so. This has already hit me. Even in the Marillion days John Arnison was very fond of telling me that a CD would make me redundant, as it were. I think what they do in America is have the packaging for CDs 6" by 12" which makes for a bit more scope for an illustrator or designer to do something with. Otherwise these small trinket cases that CDs come in, the record companies want to go for far simpler images; just usually a picture of the artist, with a bit of quirky graphics in there. If they do go for illustration or painting they tend to go for quite simple things or graffiti- style paintings, and so yes I think it has affected, and will affect what I can do."
Are there any forms of art, outside of LP covers, band promotion that you would like to pursue?

Yes, If I was rich, which I'm not, I'd like to do huge 8'-square canvases for art's sake, which is, I think, the dream of any commercial artist. In every commercial artist there's a frustrated fine artist waiting to break out, but as I can't afford to do that, I do commercial art; you work to a brief. In my case, I've been very lucky over the years to work to a brief by someone like Fish who gives me a lot of interesting concepts to play around with. Apart from that my wife and I have just put together a book project of our own, which is a children's book fantasy called The Wastes of Time. We've yet to show this to a publisher; it will be a 30-40,000-word novel with pictures; not a picture book, as such.
But once again we've got to convince the publishers that something like this is a viable commercial prospect, and we've just got to wait and see, but we're very optimistic. We're just about ready to go out with it in fact, my wife is upstairs now working on the final two chapters!

And there we leave Mark, who then proceeds to play me a selection of his album collection. And I thought Peter Hammill was weird...
Enormous thanks go to Mark for his time and patience in this interview, and especially for his help over and above the call of duty. Thanks also to those of you who sent in the questions.

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