LH MAGAZIN - Spanish Rock/Art magazine



* Looking at your whole career, do you think there would have been a better way to express your art than through the Music?

I used to collect records, as much for the cover art as for the music. In those days, music and artwork were inextricably linked through posters, magazines and of course the album covers themselves. We didn't have the internet to discover bands, it was either word of mouth, through magazines, or by seeing the posters advertising concerts. So the artwork perhaps gained more importance back then. Suddenly there was an explosion of colour and design that seemed to break all the known boundaries as it sought to establish ever more inventive ways of articulating the lyrics or persona of bands. Photography, for once took a back seat, it was the artists and designers turn to explore new territories, create a new visual language. I was absolutely amazed by this world that was opening up, I began to buy as many underground magazines, comics, posters and records as I could afford. When I left school I began to draw and paint, and to dream of becoming part of this flourishing artistic movement.

* How do you personally feel, being the Music a big part of your life and way of living, the nowadays situation in which major companies are falling down and it is becoming almost a nightmare to release a new album for all new bands/artists?

That is only partly true - there isn't the mass exposure that there used to be certainly. There isn't the mass interest either to feed off it. This is because the whole scene has diversified to such an extent, music is far more tribal and musicians have tended to drift towards the DIY (do it yourself) approach. Also, there are a myriad amount of different genres; computer games which are bigger than blockbuster films for example, the explosion of interest in the dance scene which kind of took over from a lot of rock music which had become staid and self-satisfied for awhile, it all contributed to the dilution of interest. It is much much harder to make a noise that seems exciting or new in this digital age when there is so much around us competing for our attention as consumers. The irony is though that live music - certainly in the UK is more vibrant than ever before, and yet there is a lack of interest in actually buying music so much. This is why the record companies are suffering, and why - on the surface it would seem the artists and designers who work for the music business like myself might appear to be under threat. However, I've never been busier, so it's a strange feeling. To paraphrase a well known saying - the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated! 

* We know you've working for very different places and "surfaces" with your art but is it as good to design t-shirts, book covers or stamps than to make record covers?

Well - it's far more exciting to design an album sleeve that gets blown up to the size of a billboard and may well be used as a giant back projection for a big band on stage, than to produce a book cover that may not be successful. I used to design a lot of book covers - but it could be very frustrating with so many cooks trying to stir the broth. The salesmen are competing with the artistic director who are all fighting with the author, sometimes I never knew who my real boss was with the book publishers. So to work with a band, who usually have some interesting artistic challenges to deal with was always more satisfying creatively. This may have changed over the years - it's a long long time since I designed a book cover!

* Is easy these days to receive same work than you received 10 years ago? How does such an ilustrator like yourself then to keep moving, improving and getting your art spread and sold?

I had to diversify. Join the digital revolution to begin with, to keep up with current trends, then learn how to be a designer as well as illustrator, then a packaging expert, then find out about different screenprinting techniques for producing T-Shirts etc, and now it's gone full circle because I'm being asked to paint again, leave the digital world behind...you have to constantly re-invent yourself that's for sure! The definition of success is survival!

* Bearing in mind the special relationships you made through your art, what's more important for you: to meet the musicians for them to explain what they would like to see or just to receive clear and detailed instructions from any of the people working with those artists?

I like to collaborate when possible. To get a feel for what the musician is after. Some of the time people come to me because they trust my vision for their musical project and allow me to propose my own ideas. Other times I am asked to fulfill an exact brief of what to do. No two jobs are ever the same.

* In those early-happy-golden times you talked about in "Shadowplay" when a major company like EMI hired you spending lots of money on every artist, how did you first feel when you first saw in many cities those huge publicity posters advertising bands like Marillion though your unique art? How is it to see your work on the streets of main cities?

I was blown away to see that the first time it happened - with Market Square Heroes for Marillion. It was a dream come true for me. I used to stop and stare at the posters of heroes like Hapshash And The Coloured Coat (artists and designers Michael English and Nigel Waymouth) 15 years before, so when my work was blown up poster size it was a huge thrill. I've never ever lost that excitement. I remember driving through London a few years ago with my wife and daughter for the launch of a big album, and every other billboard in London was featuring the artwork that I had been slaving over just a week or so before. 

* LH MAGAZIN is basically a Music magazine so we understand what's to deal face-to-face with musicians. In your very case what has been your experience meeting quite close such carismathic characters like Fish during so many years?

Fish was my first, and still the most unique artist I've ever come across. He had a particular vision which perfectly suited my own ambition as an illustrator at the time. In a world full of so many dreary copyists - and celebrity singers with nothing interesting to say, give me someone with enough life experiences to tell a good story anytime.

* For such a detailed artist like yourself, how was the change at the end of the 80's from the fantastic big vinyl sleeves to the minimum space of the cd booklets? 

Disappointing:) But now - packaging demands are such, that you are having to be ever more inventive to make your artwork stand out. The tricky thing is - most music is bought online now anyway, either by downloads or via Amazon, the record shops are in decline, so you are not necessarily competing for shelf space, it's back to word of mouth again, getting a buzz going for artwork amongst the followers of a particular band or musician. The CD jewelcase format is perceived to be such a cheap vehicle for buying music - no matter what you do with a 12 page CD booklet it will look like a freebie magazine cover disc once it is inside that horrible plastic case, it won't 'feel' any different to buying a cheap budget album on the counter of a petrol station. That's the dilemma facing any new band who wants to market their music in an interesting way...how to make it stand out from the rest of the pack...it was ever thus!

* Do you keep working in bigger formats even when the final use will be much smaller?

When I can, when I'm asked - or the budget is there to make it feasible for the band. I've never worked that big - the largest was an airbrushed backdrop for a band...It's no use presenting a superb piece of design or illustration to anyone if the packaging cost is so prohibitive either as it prevents the band from making a profit on their work. My job is to help sell their music, in as interesting a way as possible, on time and on budget - then everyone is happy. If the record doesn't sell - we can then both blame each other:)

* What do you do with your most emblematic paintings? Do you keep them, give to the bands/management as part of your agreements or do you sell these afterwards?

If I had been smart I would have kept the art and owned the copyright to everything I'd done! In a perfect world and according the direction I was given at the beginning of my career by the agents and organisations I used to belong to when I first left art college, that was what all artists should aspire to. Reality intervenes however if you want to 'survive'! But on some projects I do own the art, others I do own the copyrights, for others - if I'd asked for either I'd have been shown the door and they would have looked elsewhere! The signed contract is a potent weapon in the hands of a meglomaniac pretending to protect their own interests. It can be simply greed. Sometimes you do a deal with the devil and regret it afterwards. Other times you have to pay the bills and are grateful for the opportunities it affords in other ways.

* If you keep some of your work: is there any special work you will never give away nor sell it?

One or two. Pieces that are not necessarily 'emblematic', I painted a portrait of John Lennon the week he was shot. I'll never part with that as it contains blood sweat AND tears, you don't put a price on it, that way madness lies!

* With the Marillion cover artworks you created two universal icons all Progressive Rock fans recognize inmediately: the Jester and the Boy. After the "Clutching At Straws" cover, which was completely different and as dark as the Fish era end with the band, fortunately you recovered these icons in the EMI compilation "Best Of Both Worlds",the "Early Stages" and the Fish "Return to Chilhood" among others. You even made a new and very special Jester painting from a fan request. How does an artist feel when a creation becomes such a recognizable icon? I mmean, both characters are like Iron Maiden's "Eddy" or Priest's Metal creature. Are you happy to be known for your own icons or does it become tired being requested to paint all the time the very same?

I've always thought - that the Jester is such a powerful icon - because he is such a timeless figure that has so many undercurrents historically. We don't actually know how symbolic these things are until we delve a little deeper. Or have the interest to. Without sounding too pretentious (pretentious spoiler alert!) Fish hit upon the perfect symbol for those times - in an age (the early eighties) when the rich were no longer idle but starting to trample on the working man, The Fool was the ideal metaphor for the thieves and fundamentalists who were to reign supreme for a decade or more. Until the house of cards came tumbling down recently with the global banking crisis - and they were to reap a bitter harvest. Our grandchildren will be paying the price for their obscene craziness. So, no I'm not tired of creating The Fool, there are so many of them to draw upon.

* On the other hand how was the experience of painting Iron Maiden's Eddy in a few ocassions being during so many years the very own creature of another great painter like Derek Riggs? Did you ver talked to him or did he felt upset that another artist came to give a new life to his idea?

I've never spoken to him. I think he's savvy enough to realise he's created a successful icon that will endure well beyond his own involvement. The artists that have come after Derek Riggs are all caretakers of his creation, it has become a global franchise, and as such is instantly recognisable in most countries around the world. I expect he's quite proud. AND quite angry at the same time! No one likes losing control. 

* For such an expert user of the airbrush technique, what have done for good and for bad the use of the computers in you art? I mean, what do you think are the positive adnd negative things of the use/abuse of computers in any artist work?

My own beef would be that everyone thinks they can do it now because it's 'easy' on a computer. A lot of artwork can look very bland and generic. I've lost count of the Hipgnosis-lite creators there are now with not an ounce of the wit of Storm Thorgerson. However - when I was at art college and began attempting to blend colours together - which is very very easy with an airbrush, I remember one fine arts student complaining that it took him ages to do the same thing in oils and I was cheating! I had never thought about it like that before - maybe he was right. Now, you can blend colours together in Photoshop in a fraction of the time it takes with an airbrush! Good art should not be an exercise in stealth! 'HOW' a picture is made shouldn't matter - 'WHY' is much more interesting. There are some incredible digital artists who knock spots off many a purist artist who paints in oils. However, there are many oil painters with much more imagination than a lot of computer artists. In the end - it's just a tool nothing more. An artist should be defined by his or her vision, not how good a craftsmen they are. 

* With such a rich universe in your mind and your hands haven't you ever been tempted to work more (as we know you did some) on formats like graphic novels or comic books that are becoming very popular these days again thanks to great artist working for that format?

I'm far too slow! Too methodical and too painstaking - and just not good enough if I'm honest to fill a whole book dedicated to one story. The best  there is in my opinion is Glenn Fabry...he is a genius! I prefer to do the covers!

* What's better to find the inspiration for your works: to receive and read the lyrics of the album or to listen to the music?

Both if possible. I listen to the music of someone like Mariusz Duda for example and I'm transported to another world, that's what I like with music, to forget time, forget what the lyric is - just to be taken somewhere else for an hour or so. Eventually after a few plays, the lyrics seep into the consciousness and you develop another understanding of the work, you come at it from a different angle, but it's the music first for me.

* Do you prefer to work with deadlines or with enough time to give the best of yourself?

Sometimes I need a deadline - so I can remember I have to eat occasionally - otherwise I plod on - and on - and on, until I've reworked a thing to oblivion. Sometimes it's best to walk away from a picture, the best ones are always unfinished in my experience.

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