Rest of Both Worlds - The Lizard Meets Mark Wilkinson

Mark Wilkinson and Fish are about to publish a book, Masque, that runs through their relationship from the early days with Market Square Heroes right up to Fellini Days. It includes a set of questions from the fans, as well as trying to address all the issues that everyone wanted to know. So, the Lizard went to see the artist currently known as Mark Wilkinson, and tried to ask questions that nobody else would have asked. Not much of a challenge, you might think, based on the Lizard's past history, but let's see what happened.

I had a sense of needing to start at the beginning, so opened with a subject covered in the book, namely how the relationship with Fish started? Mark repeated the story of meeting Joe Morowsky of Torchlight, and getting the deal, which he stressed is all covered in the book. As he says, "I wasn't a big fan to begin with, which I think is well known, but there was something there. I remember Joe Morowsky in the audience, and he said to me 'They're going to be huge', and I said 'Really? I've got my doubts.' But, three albums along the line, they were huge, so he was right and I was wrong."

Mark became synonymous with Marillion, and then with Fish. I asked how he saw the artwork fitting into the whole 'experience', and commented on buying Misplaced Childhood, and sitting on the bus home, reading the lyrics and scanning the cover to see what bits I could spot. I asked about the linkage between the covers and the lyrics and whether he was aware of that integral nature of his artwork?

"No, I wasn't, not at the time. Difficult one to answer! I suppose I knew where Fish's lineage was - Yes, Roger Dean, all that. And I was quite surprised to get the gig, to be honest, because I thought that was the kind of thing that a band like them would have gone for. And I don't think I do that kind of work at all, never have. Although I'm loosely described as a fantasy artist, it's much more realistic than the Roger Dean, Rodney Matthews type of thing. And Fish's stories, and his briefs, for the album sleeves, were always routed in reality - they weren't ethereal as such. There was always a strong underlying story of relationships and childhood angst, trauma . So I suppose he wanted that reality that I could provide in paintings, but which a surreal edge to it, and I guess I was right for that."

"I think Joe Morowsky showed them three or four different artists' work and they were your typical science fiction artist, you know, much more rooted in that kind of fantasy / spaceship type of thing. Which I've done, not that well I have to say, but possibly they saw something there that fitted that real / surreal concept that they've always had running through their albums and Fish's albums. Although they're sort of weird images, there's still a very recognisable person there. There's always a face behind The Masque, if you like! That was good, wasn't it. I've got to remember that."

I commented that the artwork is a crossbreed. There are the 'fantasy' elements - the jester motif etc., but then there's a dark side to it. On Script they introduced the jester motif, and then on Fugazi there's the jester again, but out of his head. It's almost like he decided to accept the heritage of that sort of artwork, but to put that twist on it. Was that deliberate, did that come out of Fish's fairly dark lyrical themes?

"Yeah, that was very conscious, I'm sure, on Fish's part, to want to do that. I wouldn't have been very interested in painting those pictures anyway - that's not what I do. Although obviously Fish art directs me and gives me the briefs, it's my interpretation as well. I don't know where all the symbolism came about. I've always been very keen on the Flemish painters and neo-realists - the fantasy art movements going back a few years! I'm not that huge a fan of fantasy art on album sleeves, as such - I bought Roger Dean's Views like everyone else did, but I was never a huge fan. I used to like Alan Aldridge and Harry Willock who did all the Beatles stuff , and Michael English, and people like that. But I also used to like people like Neon Park, who did all the Little Feat covers and some of the Mothers of Invention stuff. Stuff with a little bit of a twist to it. I didn't really like the stuff that was just pretty for its own sake."

"It's very interesting this line of questioning, because I don't think anyone has ever asked that before, and it's certainly not in the book! Why we did try and make it dark, and why we did try and put the symbols? I mean it's in the book that the symbols are there, and where the symbols are derived from, but why we did it? I don't really know. It's probably because you don't want to lay yourself bare - you want to hide it a bit, you want to not be that direct, and I think it's the same with the lyrics. Superficially there's a song called Script for a Jester's Tear, but it's not really a song about a jester, it's about someone that perceives themselves to be the jester, and this is just a graphic way of portraying that. And yeah, it's very dark, and I think it's very rooted more in reality than some of the other people that we've been talking about."

To a degree, many of the songs are collages of ideas and there is the same collage of ideas within the cover. Was that tricky, because there's almost a checklist of elements: jester, poppy, magpie, wedding ring, etc..

"To begin with. Certainly Script was pretty much made to order - there was a list! I put pretty much everything that was on Fish's list in that one, apart from the rubber plant. I forgot that, for some reason. And I put one or two things in there of my own, like Mr Punch on the TV. I don't know why I did that. I thought I'd spurred Fish on to write Punch and Judy, but apparently he wrote that before, so that was just an amazing coincidence. But yeah, there was a checklist of things. As we went on, I stood my ground a bit more and said 'Fish, that won't work' or 'That'll look ridiculous' and 'What about trying it this way', but Script was pretty much a checklist of things he wanted - the bedsit, the mattress on the floor, the pre-Raphaelite painting over the mantelpiece, the fireplace. It just so happened that I lived in a bedsit with a fireplace and I had a seedy mattress, so that lived-in room was mine. It really was."

"I think it got more symbolic as we went on. Script -if you take the jester's uniform off, that could just be a pretty realistic picture of some guy playing a violin in a room. Obviously the chameleon makes it a little bit weird - I mean there's not a lot of fiddle players with a chameleon! But Fugazi was a lot more symbolic, I think, and Misplaced Childhood -that was far more symbolic. The whole business of the rainbow, dark to light, the four magpies, which you had to know was 'one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a birth, four for a boy' or something. I can't remember!" Three for a girl, I suggested. "That's it, three for a girl. So that was a lot more symbolic. I mean the whole business with the chameleon being in the cage, and the magpie. I've just been reading some of the final copies of the book, just to reacquaint myself with some of the answers that I should give you," Mark laughed.

Rather conveniently for another article in this very issue of ROBW, Mark continued; "Misplaced Childhood has very strong references to almost a misogynist view of life. His wariness of women comes out a lot and that whole business of the she chameleon being in the cage and the magpie holding the key, flying off for freedom. You know, all of that is very symbolic of that, but I don't really know - there certainly wasn't a checklist with Misplaced Childhood. That was a meeting with the band, and Fish, and they weren't so sure of exactly what they wanted. It was just that it's called Misplaced Childhood, we ought to have a boy, and Fish was very keen that it should be a drummer boy, because of the tin soldier connection with childhood. And that was pretty much it. It wasn't 'can he be standing in a room with a rainbow' - that all came from me. As I sent him sketches, he would say 'Yeah I like that' and 'What about adding this', so it was a real mixture of ideas from that point on, but I think the first two were definitely a sort of checklist. Am I rambling a bit here, or does that answer it."

It did, and it also led into another question. When Mark first started working with Fish they were both young and fairly wet behind the ears, but as things went on and they got to know each other better, how much did the creative process change? "There's no recipe, if that is what you are implying. It's different for every album, it really is. I mean, there's some projects (Fish the solo years now), where he has a very clear idea. On Vigil he had a very acutely clear idea of what he wanted, and that goes back to the checklist, which again is covered in the book. It's quite interesting, because there's three chapters on Vigil. It was such a pivotal album and it comes pretty much in the centre of the whole story, so we devoted three chapters to it. The first one is, ironically, the last conversation that we taped when it was supposed to be the next Marillion album. It's very interesting to contrast that with the next conversation, which is the third part - the middle part is a step-by-step 'how I did it' kind of thing. The third part was recorded ten years afterwards. It's very interesting because we both looked back on what was the initial brief and it's two very different people - Fish the solo Fish, and Fish the Marillion Fish. That was supposed to be the next big album after Clutching. You know, the whole meeting with Bob Ezrin, the American producer that was going to give them a leg up to the next stage of conquering America, or whatever - the whole corporate thing. Nobody really knew where they were going. I don't think the band knew, I don't think the management knew and I don't think the engineer, or the producer… Nobody knew where to take them. They were floating. They were ripe to go onto that next stage and Vigil really does describe the attitude that Fish had to all that at the time. And then the third part, the conversation ten years afterwards, it's very interesting his reaction to all this. What was the question again?"

Even I couldn't remember, but I assumed he had probably answered it somewhere in there. And anyway, I wanted to stay with Vigil, because it started as a Marillion album, and then became a Fish album. The artwork obviously changed… "No, not really. It was pretty much set in stone." So Mark Kelly was always going to be at the bottom of the hill, and Rothers' Porsche was always in there?

"You've found me out. I have to say, for the record, and this is the honest truth, that was my idea. It certainly wasn't anything to do with Fish. I think it would probably discussed in a joke sort of way by Fish and me, talking about the whole concept of who's at the top of the hill and who's at the bottom. I can just imagine a little jokey reference in there - let's put them at the bottom of the hill. It probably came out of a drunken talk one night, but it certainly wasn't a serious intention on Fish's part. When the artwork was delivered to EMI, they were extremely worried about it. I think Fish missed it. I remember showing him the artwork, which was a massive piece of work, a massive painting. He loved it, and he scanned it, very quickly and he took the whole thing in, but he didn't go into details. Because there's a lot of detail in that picture."

Ironically, that was the first album out of the whole Marillion / Fish catalogue that I bought on CD as opposed to on vinyl. "So you missed the whole thing.", Mark said. Everyone always asks cover artists about the problem of the smaller space on CDs, but that is "heavily discussed in the book", so we discussed how the designs themselves have become simpler over the years, less 'cluttered'. "Yeah. I think also a correlation can be drawn with Fish's lyrics. I might be going out on a limb here, but I think his lyrics were… what's another word for cluttered… involved. He's trying to say too much. That, for me, was Fish in the early years, trying to say too much with too many words. I think he's learnt as he's gone on, as I have, as everybody does. I mean you try and get it all out, don't you. When you first start in whichever artistic endeavour you wish to make, it's 'bleurgh' - the whole lot comes out. You think it's the best thing you've ever done, so you want to get everything in there. You want to cram that bag with as much stuff as you can. Sometimes you can say a lot more with a lot less and I think Fish has learnt that in his lyric writing and I think I've learnt that with the pictures, as we've gone on."

As well as Vigil being a pivotal point, it was originally when the book was going to come out. "Yeah - that would have been the last chapter. It would have been a much shorter book." But why didn't it come out then, and why such a long time coming? The answer was very simple - "Because Fish left the fucking band, that's why!" Mark went on to tell the story in more detail:

"We had two publishers that were going to go with it; Sidgwick and Jackson (that published MSH) and Hamlyn Books both wanted it. It wasn't exactly a bidding war - we're not talking Harry Potter here - but they were both very interested. And as soon as he left the band, they both withdrew. They didn't see the market would still be there for this book, in such a way. They were nervous anyway, because Hamlyn had released a book on U2, who were just about the biggest rock band of the day, and it hadn't been successful, because you can't necessarily relate album sales to book sales. 20,000 copies of an album is a relative failure, but that's pretty good sales for a book. In fact that's very good sales for a book of this nature, and they didn't sell anything like that. But we thought there was something a little bit unique here with all the covers and the designs. Alright, Yes and Roger Dean, etc. but there aren't that many bands that have had this sort of relationship. Anyway, they said no we're just not interested."

"We hawked it around and showed it to Dragon's World, ironically, and they were interested for a while. We took it a few stages further and got mock-ups, but it takes a long time to put a book like this together and by the time we got all the material ready, I think in the publishing world their star had been seen to wane a little bit. On both sides - Marillion and Fish. So they weren't interested either and it was dead in the water for years." But to a certain extent does it make more sense to bring it out now? "In terms of material, yeah."

A lot has been said about Mark's move from airbrush to computer, and he explained. "It's easier, it's quicker, you can get your ideas on paper, or screen, a lot more effectively and it's not one at the expense of the other. If you look at the book [cover], that is a real mixture. All the figures are airbrushed and all the background is done digitally. The foreground of the background, if that makes sense, is actually an old, disused car breaker's yard. I've just taken bits and pieces and collaged them together and coloured them up on screen. And the background, the flames have all been collaged in there. But I hope it makes a seamless picture, so that you can't tell where one technique ends or begins. That is what interests me about computer-based art. I like what computers can do to texture, for instance. With the foreground of this book, you can add texture, you can make it look as though it's been painted. There's programs (Painter) where you can mimic oil painting very effectively and you also use the airbrush facility. It is exactly the same as using an airbrush: you build up layers of colour very, very gradually, because you can turn down the opacity of what you are spraying to 10%. You can put a very minute amount of, say, green over a blue, and get a sort of aqua colour, and that's exactly the same as using an airbrush."

"I know that there's a lot of people out there that seemingly prefer the airbrush style because they think it's more human, perhaps. But the middle section of the Vigil chapter is a step-by-step and you can see what a painstaking technique it is. In the old days, when the record companies had the money, you could afford to spend months on a record sleeve. You can't do that any more. I mean there's not many bands that have got that sort of money. But even if they have - I've been working for Iron Maiden and they have got the money - I would still prefer to work with a computer, because the effects are that much more instant. I do say this in the book, but it is very true of any artist I think - the most important part of doing a picture is what you see in your head. What you see on the paper is always a disappointment, because it is never as effective. And I'm sure that's the same for a poet, or an author, or whatever. It's the idea in your head that is perfect. It should be irrelevant whether you do it with collage or you paint it with oils or you do it with an airbrush or you do it with a computer. It's the idea in your head, not how you get it on paper: it's the finished result, the look of the picture. But for the artist, how you do it is not important, I don't think."

I compared this comment with those of Storm Thorgerson, who shuns computers, preferring to set covers up and actually photograph them. Take Momentary Lapse of Reason as an example - it must have been tempting to say hang on, they're beds, they're identical! Take a picture of a bed, a picture of the beach, put The Bed on The Beach over and over again and nobody would know.

"He did the same thing with Elegy by The Nice. He flew to the Sahara with a photographer and film crew and everything, and put all those red balls on the dunes, and that picture was exactly how it appears in real life. My answer to your question would be that I've met Storm, he's a nice guy, but I think that's bullshit really. If you've got the money behind you to do that, wonderful. I would love to have set up a scene for the cover of Masque and had all the models dress up, make up people, got three jets to fly by at exactly the right moment - I'd love to do that, of course I would. That would be all part of the artistic dream, wouldn't it? But in reality, how many people could afford to that? Luckily he can."

To people reading this, Mark is intrinsically linked with Fish, but he has worked with many other people. Iron Maiden we already mentioned, and Mark pointed out he was currently working with Judas Priest. So how differently does he work with different people? Fish gives him a lot of ideas, and they know each other very well, but what approach does he take when he is given an open brief?

"Well, it's very different for somebody like Iron Maiden -basically you are dealing with a franchise. You've got to deal with Eddie, and I think poor old Derek Riggs, he just had enough! I don't really know why Derek didn't work on the last three singles. I think he was just exhausted with the theme and sometimes it takes somebody new to bring a new sort of insight onto the whole thing. I don't know - that sounds a bit grandiose for old Eddie. With Iron Maiden it was a case of the Wickerman, which was supposed to be the album sleeve, not the single. I was very disappointed that it ended up as a single, and that was all down to problems on the Internet. Apparently somebody leaked the title and the band were extremely upset, because there's a lot of secrecy around that band and what they do. So they said right, we're going to change it and we're not going to tell you what the album's called. Of course, meanwhile I'd done the album sleeve and been paid for it as an album sleeve. So I was happy from that point of view, but it was a shame that it came out just as a single sleeve. Anyway, the Wickerman was quite easy in terms of the brief. It wasn't easy to do, but the brief on that was the Wickerman movie, 1973, Christopher Lee, burning effigy. They didn't really know if Eddie should be inside the Wickerman tearing out or whether he should be the Wickerman himself. So I had to try different ideas and that again was a mixture of illustration and photography and touching it up on the computer."

This took us back to the issue of budgets again, and his earlier comment about Pink Floyd. "I'd just love to work for Pink Floyd. They were THE band for me and, I say this in the book, I was fan club member number 425. I was there right at the beginning. I caught them at Alexandra Palace when Syd Barrett was in the band and they were just so unique. I don't care what anybody says, I think from start to finish they were completely different. And that for me was the perfect relationship - Hipgnosis and Pink Floyd. I'm not a huge fan of Hipgnosis's other stuff, but for Pink Floyd they were perfect. And I don't buy that from Storm Thorgerson. I mean I've got that book, about the Pink Floyd stuff [Mind Over Matter]. You can't tell me that tree, for instance, that's in the shape of somebody's head… Storm did not get Edward Scissorhands to cut the exact shape. I don't buy that, and I do not buy that with the naked figures coming out of the water, with the spiralling water. Nah, come on Storm, you're being a bit disingenuous there - you got that done by computer. But I understand what he means, or I imagine this is what he means - there is that perception by the public that if you use a computer you're cheating. I think they think that there's a Surreal button on the computer that you just press."

"I had this when I was at art college, using the airbrush. For all you purists out there, the airbrush was considered to be anathema -that wasn't real art. For God's sake, you don't even touch the paper! It's got to be the artist's idea in his brain, it transfers to his hand, you touch the paper with the paint dripping off the paintbrush. For Christ's sake, you're using an airbrush and you're getting an instant… For all the artists out there, it's bloody hard to get that effect , because you have to use a fan brush and all the rest of it to get that gentle fade from one colour into another, then you have to wait for the paint to dry, you know it takes weeks. An artist like Patrick Woodruff, for instance, who did stuff for Pallas, could never take his paintings into the record company because they were always wet! So they were photographed and he took the photograph in. Then, about five weeks later, the painting finally dried. There's a lot of weird perceptions out there about what is real art and what isn't, but when I was at art college I wheeled out the compressor for the airbrush and everyone groaned. I was at college when punk was very big and it was all collage and quick stuff and people like Jamie Read, they were the heroes of the day. And there I was and they said 'Oh you're going to do Mott the Hoople covers are you'.

" So who would Mark have liked to do stuff for that he hasn't? "Apart from Pink Floyd… Oh God I haven't really thought about it. It is a good question, and I was asked something like it at the convention a few weeks ago. I said Radiohead, purely off the top of my head, because I do like Radiohead." But Thom Yorke does his own covers. "Yeah, I'm not very keen on their covers. The question then was which covers, of bands you like, do you not like and you wish you could do. And I said Radiohead, because I don't like their covers very much, but I love their music. To answer the question, though, I'd like to do Wire. I used to go to college with Colin Newman and he started off being a Todd Rundgren fan. Overnight he threw his greatcoat away, cut his hair and suddenly he was spitting everywhere, and was down the Vortex pogoing, and I thought 'Good God'. But I think they turned into an amazing band - very, very influential and I'd love to work for a band like that. But it certainly wouldn't have been anything like the stuff I did for Marillion."

Coming back to Marillion, Mark must have his own favourite cover - what is it? "Well, in the book I say Script, because it was the first and I didn't like it at the time. I don't really like any of my stuff at the time. There's nothing I've done I think, apart from one - the Chocolate Frogs thing for Raingods - as soon as I'd done that I really liked it. I put it up on the wall and to this day that's the only thing of mine I've got up on my wall at home. It really means something to me, that picture. But anyway, Vigil, I think - the hill, rather than the front cover picture. Again, I didn't like it that much to begin with. I appreciated the amount of work that had gone into it, but it grew on me by stealth, because it took so long to do. I can only see the mistakes, that's the problem, especially with the airbrush years. Script is far enough back now for me to forget about the mistakes - I look at it and it's not me that's done it, in a way. Vigil I can remember so well because it took so long to do - six months I think, solid work on that, which is ludicrous. If I was doing that now, I'd use a computer, and it would probably be six weeks, probably less."

It's well-known that Mark wasn't happy with the cover of Clutching, because of the rush to finish it. "It's terrible. Back cover's not so bad, but the front cover's awful. I hate that one. I think the concept is great - the original concept from Fish was to have all these writers and musicians colliding with the walls and each other in this bar. It's like the great bar in heaven, where Jim Morrison is chatting with Tony Hancock, bizarre as that may seem, and wouldn't that be a great place to be. And nothing like that is conveyed by that cover, at all. And this whole thing about the patron saint of drinkers being at the end of the bar, actually I think that was my idea. I just grafted it on at the end because I just said that there was something that was missing. The timing got ludicrously slashed - that was down to, I think, having to have a simultaneous release in America as well as Britain. Again, that was this whole thing that was going on at the time -where do we take this band now? This is EMI - we've got them so far, now they need this big push for America. I don't know if they ever would have worked in America. That wasn't the album to do it with, though, because of the subject matter. Everyone was very nervous about the subject matter on that. Nobody really knew how to market that album, certainly not EMI. And as far as the picture is concerned, they look like four, five, six figures stuck on a photograph. I could do a much better job with it now." If he had the computer technology available today, he means? "Well, the technology existed then, but it was hideously expensive, prohibitively expensive. Pink Floyd could afford it…"

Whereas now you buy a Mac, hook it up and off you go? "Yeah. Yeah, that's right." So before you know it, we'll all be doing album covers? I was rather surprised when Mark agreed: "Yeah - I think that's the way that people think it's going to go, unfortunately. We'll all be downloading stuff from the web, and we'll all have our blank CD cases, which will probably only be two inches square, and we'll do our own pictures. That is the way it is going to go, I'm sure. So you're talking to a dinosaur."

Dinosaur he may be, but a nice bloke nonetheless, and quite a talented chap. He never did tell me who the five people on the front of Thieving Magpie were, though.

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