THE WEB INTERVIEW 2011



Be careful what you wish for that’s a good motto…One to guide us through the vagaries of life, you could say. So what, I ask myself, am I doing here in the hinterland of Essex, approaching the Suffolk border, on a remote lane under the stars of a cold night in Januar 

I opened my big mouth, that’s what. And I come in peace to get to the bottom of something: how did Mark Wilkinson do it? What makes him tick? I am here reader, because I want to know…

So, let’s start by asking you what kind of questions grate, or irritate you when you are at gigs?

I never get any daft question from fans, I do from magazines!

What’s a typical question?

What’s your favourite cover…that’s one. Which was the hardest to do…how long do you take? Are there any that you feel that you could’ve done better? Along those sort of lines.

Does that ever get tiresome?

I never get tired of that kind of thing.

Cool, I think the first time we met you signed Vigil for me.

Yeah I remember…

You were quite complimented that I hadn’t asked Fish to sign, I asked you and I said that I didn’t want to devalue the cover…

[Laughter] It probably is now…

Well, my intention is to focus on you and not Marillion vicariously through the prism of Mark Wilkinson; is that fair?

It’s entirely up to you, it’s your gig!

Ok, starting with Shadowplay, I was quite interested to read that the doodles were an undiscovered thing until you were in your late teens, is that not a bit disingenuous? You must have realised that you had a bit of a talent before that?

No, I think I went through a bit of a pretentious phase; in fact I went through lots of pretentious phases. But one of them when I was at school  growing up in the late sixties; I had long hair in a boys school in Windsor, it was a very stifling place to be, I just thought there’s got to be something else out there. People wanted to be artists, they wanted to be poets and be creative. In those days everybody felt that they wanted to express themselves in some way. So the only bit of artwork I did at school was related to a Pink Floyd concert that I had been to. They had called it (a bit irreverently), ‘Turn on the Tap Zap’ a gig at Middle Earth at The Roundhouse in London, one of the all-nighters there and I created a painting for a competition based on the subject of ‘Water’! I earned the massive score of 20 percent for my House. So that literally was all I had done before I left school.

What even primary school?

Yeah, I have vague recollections of doing one or two things and being encouraged to do more but I never did. I really didn’t and it [art] came out of sheer frustration and boredom.  I worked in Slough, it was a very similar set-up to the Office, Ricky Gervais’s ‘The Office’, you know, open-plan seating I was a junior draughtsman there. I started off in engineering and hated that, but eventually ended up in a drawing office and I thought that’s what I wanted to do, but it was stiflingly boring. It was one of those companies that had a very strong social club; dances every week, a snooker and tennis club and all of these events needed posters. Because I had long hair of course it followed that I ‘must be artistic’ and I was like the house hippy for quite a while. Any time that they needed something ‘artistic’ they would get me to do it. I enjoyed doing that a lot more than I did being a junior draughtsman. So that’s really where it started, I started to do doodles on ink rags, we used to use Rotring pens in those days and because they were always clogging up you needed a bit of rag to wipe them on and I just started doing caricatures of Department Heads on these rags [laughs].

I suppose that the interesting thing from my point of view, as someone that can’t draw to save his life, is that to discover that talent as a latent ability must have been quite surprising?

Well I was 18/19, I suppose, when I started to do it there were some people with strong facial characteristics in the company that I worked for - department heads for example - there was one guy who had one of the most atrocious comb-overs I have ever seen in my life, so he was a good one to do especially with a Rotring pen cos it was quite easy to get the thin lines of hair, so I put him in one of the posters. I think it was for the cricket club that he organised. That was one of the first caricatures that I did. So what happened was, and this is the honest truth, I happened to bump into somebody that I hadn’t ever spoken to before at the company and he said “are you the guy who does the posters?” I nodded and he said “what the hell are you doing here, you should be at an art school - you should really be doing something with this!” It was like an epiphany. I thought ‘maybe he’s right’. I saw an advert for an Art College in Watford that week in the Melody Maker, which I read every week, they were advertising for new students, even if you didn’t have any training, just if you showed an interest was all that was important. ‘Come and show us what you can do.’ I mean they were desperate for students, it’s very different these days. This was a diploma, not a degree course, they just wanted bums on seats as they were getting money from the government and obviously not getting enough, it being a provincial art college; so it was literally the first place I went to. I didn’t do any research, Julie my wife and fellow artist [Julie in the kitchen is interrogated] probably did some when she went to Art School [Julie demurs] but I didn’t. I was as naive as that. A friend of mine, Bob used to do screen printing in an old caravan in his garden for local gigs at Reading and Brunel Uni’s and Slough College; all hand cut work, he showed me how to use a stencil knife for cutting the stencils for screen printing. I had also bought an Airbrush because I was fascinated by the medium, and the work of Alan Aldridge of ‘the Beatles illustrated lyrics’, so I had started to experiment before I went to art college. I took a couple of very simple airbrush paintings along and a couple of the screen prints that I had created and a couple of the drawings of the infamous department heads, really not thinking I stood a chance, however they accepted me. It was like, er, the first step of a journey!

Do you see art as a creative or logical process?

What do you mean, a left side of the brain, right side of the brain kind of thing?

Well yeah I find it interesting because when I was trying to draw I never felt in control of what I was putting down on the paper, I just couldn’t get what was in my head on to the paper, so there’s quite a logical process isn’t there, getting what’s in your head onto the page in quite a structured way, does that make sense?

Yeah, the thing about airbrushing, it is a very logical process. You do the drawing first and then you transfer the drawing on to the board or whatever surface you are working on, then you have to cut stencils. So there is a very logical process - you have to be very tidy with your work because you can’t have open bottles of ink all over the place, in case you start knocking them over.

Yeah, so the archetypal view some may have of someone involved in the creative process as someone who is not quite with it, a bit flowery and bohemian and everything…[isn’t entirely true]

Well that is me as well, but my work space - Julie will tell you - used to drive her up the wall because it was SO tidy [we learn that Julie was the other way]…

It always fascinated me, that if we extend the left brain, right brain thing that there is this perception for instance that left handed people are quite creative [and therefore should be good at art] yet I see art as quite a logical thing. Artists I have known in the past are quite process driven, the lifestyle surrounding what they do may be bohemian and whatever but when they are working it’s very organised…

Oh yes…

So could an inability to draw – I mean we can all draw but mostly in ways that most people are only going to see as childlike –  could that be defined as an inability to create a logically distinct image? What you are putting on the page is quite logical isn’t it? You are conveying what you are putting on the page in a very clear way to the person that is looking at it…

Yeah, I always like to have an idea of what the finished thing is going to be before I start, I have always viewed my work as being like a freeze-frame of a movie, I love telling stories with my work, so it follows that it is very planned out.

So do you have a process map?

Yeah, I do, exactly. When somebody comes to me with a brief even when it’s a fairly open brief, I don’t put pen to paper really until I have done some tiny sketches, no bigger than an inch square... Once you do anything bigger than an inch square it may become too important - like an early demo for a musician - so it’s best to work very loosely. Now, I blow those early thumbnails up [on screen]…

So, you’ve a band on a stage, essentially quite a non-descript image, quite a colourless thing and then you’ve got an audience…We have the five senses, sight sound touch smell taste, that’s what we bring to anything (as humans) with the sixth one being emotion. I kind of see what you do as someone that joins the dots, joins up the senses and conflates that into an emotional reality, and that’s the interpretation you deliver. What’s interesting to me though is that you weren’t a Marillion fan and you weren’t into the music…

[MW interrupts]…yeah but that’s not the way it started, I mean I didn’t go and see the band and then go away and have to come up with ideas, It didn’t happen like that. Just as my going to art college was an accident. It was a total and utter accident with Marillion, a bit of luck which let’s face it, you need in this life. We used to share a house in Penge with three designer friends that worked in Covent Garden. It was a very different place a few years after I had left my first studio there, this was the early 80’s - swanky wine bars and model agencies. A lot of design groups had moved in too, it was an overheard conversation in one of these bars - my flatmates didn’t know who it was - but they knew I was looking for work. They overheard the name [Torchlight] were looking for a new artist, someone that had never been shown before, a good artist but for this brand new band that had just been signed, so they came home that night and said ‘check this company out’. So I rang Torchlight the following day and it was exactly as I said in my book: “You’ve rung just at the right time, we are looking for an illustrator”, “oh really!”.  “Can you come now?” ‘Yep right now’. I took the portfolio, saw Jo Mirowski, he looked at my work, loved it and he said ‘you’re dead right for this job’. I was told fairly recently that three artists’ work were actually presented to the band that day - I was second choice, not the first at all! Jo knew this other artist and that he was known to be ‘difficult’ but more importantly very, very slow; God knows how slow he must have been because I’m not fast, so he must have been Mr. Super-Slow, I’ve since been told that Jo kindly manoeuvred them [my way], so thank you Jo…

But when you then came into contact with the band and the music, I am interested in how you conveyed an imagery so well, that spoke to the fans, even though you weren’t part of that fanbase and captured a visualisation that was so on the money for something that you weren’t part of; do think that helped you?

I think that it would have been detrimental to my progress had I been a fan. I don’t think that it would have helped me in anyway whatsoever, because I would have been trying to please the ‘fan’, in fact I wasn’t trying to please anyone apart from myself. Obviously I was trying to please Jo Mirowski who was my Art Director, but I had had no contact with the band for Market Square Heroes. It was only during the second single art and then Script that I eventually got to meet them. This was at The Venue club in Victoria to discuss ‘He Knows You Know’. Fish wasn’t there until 5 mins before the end, so I met the rest of the band and they said come along to the show tonight and I said “yeah - OK love to”, Julie and I went and I have to say I was astonished, I really was [laughs]. You see I went to Art College at the tail end of the progressive rock era if you like, and when I left the whole thing had been turned upside down through Punk, suddenly it was Jamie Reid’s cut up imagery [Sex Pistols artist] that was all the rage. The kind of artwork that prompted me to go to art college in the first place was considered to be really passé, as was the kind of music that I used to listen to. Punk and New Wave were in; the old gatefold sleeves were out. So to see a band called Marillion who were - and I didn’t know this at the time - part of a ‘movement’ which included - Pallas, Pendragon etc - who had all discovered this need, or whatever, to start doing that style of music again. I thought it was just Marillion; I thought that they were on their own, and I honestly didn’t think that they stood a chance in hell. But the thing that knocked us out that night were the fans, they went crazy for it, absolutely crazy for it…

Well this is the thing, in essence, you have discussed in the past your relationship with Fish and the input that he had into the artwork and what went in, but in the early days you were on your own; just Jo Mirowski and yourself; so did that early imagery come from your own concept/vision?

Well no, Jo had got a brief from the Band…

What the Jester’s hat etc? Had you seen the Saliva Tears imagery on stuff like the Web, had Jo showed you that?

No no, I had the brief from Jo, he rang me up and said you’ve got the job, you’ve got the gig – you’ve got three singles, if they like what you do - then you’ve got the album and possibly future albums after that; so what they want is this - a manic character that’s hiding behind a mask who’s a Jester and the band have expressly asked for you to do something weird with the eye, because that kind of relates to the imagery they had in the past, I said ‘define weird’! At that time I was using Polaroids for reference for my paintings, and that whole thing with SX60 film, you could squidge it whilst it’s developing, you have a very brief window of about 30 secs whilst it’s very plastic, Peter Gabriel had something like this done for one of his single covers through Don Liber at Hipgnosis. I’d read about this technique so I thought maybe I could use that for the eye just to make it look a bit ‘weird’…So Julie photographed me for Market Square Heroes and I just squidged the eye, it was the perfect reference!

So everything, the concept sprang from that and we’ve already established that there’s quite a logical element to produce the kind of art that you do; so we are already establishing that the main progenitor, the main creator behind the early artwork was Mark Wilkinson himself…

Absolutely…

So, the ego of the artist; do you see yourself as a cipher for the imagery; between the band and the fans or do you see yourself as a controller of that imagery? You certainly were at the start…And how do you develop from there?

Well after Art College, I had four or five years working as a professional illustrator at a studio in London. I shared this with Graham Rogers who had been the Art Director on Magical Mystery Tour. He was a hero of mine by default because he had worked for the Beatles and that was always my dream, to work with a band, to have a relationship with a band, the kind of thing that I had read about in ‘Views’ the book by Roger Dean. I was never a fan of Yes but I was a fan of the artwork and it seemed to me, like it did to many other people who had bought that book, that it must be an incredible thing to do as an artist; to find that relationship , but I really didn’t think that Marillion were it…I didn’t think that I had hit pay-dirt or anything like that, I thought that this was gonna be one job, a transition - then I would have to find something else. I never realised that they were going to progress in the way that they did, but the artwork side of it, the collaboration with people, albeit mainly with Fish, I had never had that before.

How you were describing the process before as a cipher or sole creator; I’d never had the ‘cipher’ thing, I was always the ‘controller’. I remember doing a book jacket for a publisher and as was mostly the case back then, I had to please the Art Director, who in turn had to please the publisher, the author, and the sales team - all of whom I would never meet. I was given a written brief, do a rough and if they liked the rough I would go on to deliver the final painting by hand to the company, never meet the author and never meet the sales team who were gonna use this artwork to sell this particular book. So to have the opportunity to work with a group of creative people like this and to see your work out there blown up to 5’ by 4’ on the streets of London was just so exciting for a young - or maybe not so young as I was in my early 30’s - artist was, well, I had never had that exposure before so the whole thing was just fantastic. I loved it.

So we’ve talked about the marriage of the senses and your art being the emotional part of that, you’re conveying a sense which certainly resonated with people like me; I mean were you aware that the majority of the fanbase was pubescent boys, young angst ridden teenagers [laughs]…

I didn’t, certainly none of the above, I didn’t have any contact with them I didn’t know who they were, no.

So there wasn’t any sort of sardonic element to Script’s cover for instance?

No.

So the imagery came from Fish’s lyrics I suppose…

Yeah, I used to go to concerts completely unobserved and unknown and that’s how I liked it. I used to slip in and then slip out again; I didn’t go backstage, I didn’t do any of that stuff, the schmoozing - I just didn’t have any interest in it. For me it was enough to be the guy that was doing the artwork and to know secretly that it was me that designed the T-shirt that someone was wearing  - I took a lot of comfort from that.

So you are acting as a cipher, you are picking up all these vibes from the gigs even though you didn’t identify with it as an individual, but maybe you’re developing an empathy by doing that?

Definitely empathy, it’s been very hard for me to be objective about Marillion over the years…Would I have ever followed a band like Marillion had I not been working for them? Er, let’s put it this way – I’m ashamed to say I used to be a terrible musical snob, hanging out with other ‘purists’ at gigs: Pink Floyd, King Crimson and The Nice were my faves to begin with. We would analyse it all, I was that nerdy fan in his bedsit - very irritating I expect – I’d virtually given up on music from the UK by the time Marillion came along. I hadn’t a clue about any ‘prog revival’ or whatever you want to call it. I don’t think Marillion would have appealed to me at that time in any way. I was then really more interested in instrumental or ambient music: Krautrock like Neu, Can, Cluster and Edgar Froese. The only person I can remember listening much to in the UK was Brian Eno; I just lapped up everything he did. - I still love what he does, the guy’s a genius! So I used to be a bit of a snob really and just being that bit older than Fish, early thirties, I stuck to what I knew, very pompous in retrospect - I don’ t think that there were many 30 yr old Marillion fans in the early days were there?

They had a real mix of fans…So it’s interesting really, you came from a background where you were the controller of the artwork, you weren’t really into the band, you wouldn't have been a fan of the band and yet you kind of nailed it with the imagery…

Well, let me ask you then, how much of their appeal was due to the live shows, so much so that the fans would have bought the albums housed inside a brown paper bag if they had to, because they adored them so much?

Well, certainly sitting there holding a gatefold sleeve, with Jo Morowski’s gothic font on the lyrics and logo coupled with Nick Tauber’s eggshell like production, gave it all a mystical vibe. As I said before what really appealed to me was the fact that you had this grandiose imagery and music but it was able to speak on an emotional level unlike, for me, Genesis and Yes, who left me cold…

Me too…

…And Marillion were able to speak on that level which cut through all the pretentiousness and then of course for me there was also Rothery’s guitar which sliced through that….

…yeah, I really noticed that as well, Rothery’s guitar, he certainly stood apart from everybody else in the live shows, well him and Fish…I mean I’d never seen a performer quite like Fish… The Doors maybe, with Jim Morrison…the song ‘Forgotten Sons’ reminded me of ‘Unknown Soldier’; I never got the Genesis comparison at all, because I wasn’t a fan of Genesis  - I’ve still never got it to this day. I had never listened to ‘Supper’s Ready’. The only album I had was ‘Lamb’ because someone gave it to me at college – after that I was much more of a Peter Gabriel fan. So when my pals said to me “oh they’re just like Genesis” I used to say “are they?” Somebody played me ‘Foxtrot’ after Script came out and I just couldn’t hear it at all, it was keyboard led for a start and I always thought of Marillion as being guitar led, definitely with Rothery. That was the main instrument at the fore and Fish’s lyrics were very different, I mean apart from Grendel of course, you knew he was writing about fairly personal experiences, and also quite political songs which correct me if I am wrong Genesis never did in those early days – they were about fantasy…it left me stone cold as did a lot of music from Yes…apart from their very early work which I loved.

Yeah, a lot of the guitars on Genesis and Yes were undershot, undercooked and I think deliberately so to elevate it away from stuff like Cream, Clapton, Hendrix and stuff that was going on at that time, so for me Rothery was the difference and Fish’s lyrics being much more hard hitting and emotional and you had the two polarities….So, did you grow into the music over a period of time?  Yeah, definitely, not with Script, I do like it now but only from the perspective of someone who’s grown with the band. The real high point for me was seeing them at Reading festival, when Ian Mosley had been recruited, the drumming was a revelation in comparison to what they had had before - I think that Mick Pointer would be the first to admit that actually. The first thing I remember [from the Festival] was ‘Assassing’ and I thought “oh this is so good” - that was the sound I loved. The sort of eastern influences really appealed, I thought that live they had just raised their game to such a degree. In my opinion I felt that if they had done that with just one album or two albums; developed so well - I began to think that maybe I had been wrong about them, perhaps that was the point when I started to listen  a lot more. I also tried (with little success) to convince my old muso friends about them - I used to say ‘look guys - listen to this, it’s actually bloody good’ you know - ‘forget all the prejudices that surround prog rock or whatever you read, this is really good’, but it mostly fell on deaf ears. If you didn’t get it you didn’t get it. It was very hard to convince people outside their circle of fans.
Did you engage with the concept of unrequited youthful lust or whatever? A youth that’s not disfranchised like a punk, but disaffected like a geek?

I was at a different stage of life perhaps to what most of the fanbase were going through - them being a bit younger.

I’ll just put ‘no!’

I remember Fish saying to me around the time of Fugazi “you’ve done a lot of acid haven’t you?” and I said “yeah” - it had certainly ‘informed’ my artwork for many years, still does in some ways…it had had a profound effect on my coming of age dramas.

Well what I am trying to get to [I promise I will get there reader] is that Script really spoke to teenage boys who just weren’t ‘getting any’ I’d imagine [laughter]. It’s true, it’s the geeky unrequited youth, the ones who are a bit awkward and you could see that as maybe autobiographical with Fish, but did you identify with that?

Dunno about geeky - I was tall though… [laughs]

Well I feel that H maybe finds it difficult to identify with Fish’s lyrics, in part, because he was good looking and got the girls and can’t identify with tales of unrequited youthful wanking basically, ha [lots of laughter!]….

There was more of a detachment with me [smiles]…

But was it an ironic detachment?

No, no, there really wasn’t, I was completely truthful with it. You know going back to my peer group of friends down the pub on Friday night talking about which bands we would go to; trying to trip each other up in the ‘cool’ stakes - and I would get the sarcastic ‘so how’s it going with Marillion then’…I mean I had a really rough ride from them, they thought it was hilarious!

Well this is what I am trying to say…

Yeah they were never the coolest band on the planet, but if you’re saying did I do any of the work with an ironic detachment, then no, I would never have got away with that. I was doing exactly what I wanted to do…I was in my element – anyway who else was there in the UK at the time that would have provided such a perfect platform for my work?

Well, H doesn’t sing a lot of the early songs and gets unfairly criticised for that, but I think it’s because he cannot identify with some of those lyrics. Do you know what I mean? So I don’t blame him for that…

Perhaps he doesn’t draw from the same well-spring then! [laughs]

No maybe he doesn’t no… (we go off the record here!)…

So, my personal favourite cover is Script because it most perfectly illustrates the message of that album; it may not be yours?

Actually it is…I normally do say that one out of the four…

Because I thought that might be the case, I wondered how you stopped the work becoming ever more contrived as that was source and you had to go back to the well to draw inspiration. Do you kind of feel that you lost control as the years progressed? Did it get diluted with the whole explosion?

What do you mean by explosion?

Well the whole fame thing, there must have been committees getting involved in the artwork…

No, no there was never anything like that, the only time I remember that happening was CAS and look at the end result. Before, we’d had one meeting at Bray studios where they were rehearsing for Misplaced and I suppose I felt more involved by then and maybe I started to get a bit lippy. Maybe the words of my pals were ringing in my ears [when I said] “you aren’t gonna do a concept album are you, you must be crazy!” And I can remember saying something to Mark [Kelly] like “don’t do any widdly-widdly Wakemanesque keyboard…!” God what a pompous thing to say [laughs]. I can’t remember his reply [laughs] but look what happened – see how wrong the non-believers were! In any case – there was no ‘widdly-widdly’ and the concept album came of age – totally wrong footing most observers .

The input over artwork became less as it went on to be honest…

From you?

No from them, from Fish….I mean Script was scripted, it was paint by numbers more or less, a shopping list of items “I want this, I want that…“

So it was your interpretation [of the given theme] then?

Yeah, more or less. He described a scene which I thought was really interesting…I remember Derek Riggs [Iron Maiden’s artist] saying that Eddie was so successful because he was planting something strange into the everyday: putting a deranged creature into a council estate with an axe. I felt the same about Script. You wouldn’t get a dingy bedsit in Penge, [because that was what I based it on – my own] inhabited by a guy dressed up as a Jester, not unless he was certifiable…So it was so utterly bizarre. The thing I responded to was the surrealist aspect involved…take a jester, put him in this dingy bedsit with a chameleon etc etc…bizarre!

We could say then that Clutching is where it did become a bit contrived or forced, because personally I think Misplaced and Fugazi are just as strong as Script [visually]. Something happened between Misplaced and CAS….

Well, they kind of run out of ideas, Fish was not so positive about what he wanted…nor was I – we all floundered on that one.

But the imagery on Sugar Mice and Warm Wet Circles is strong…

Yeah Sugar Mice is great…but maybe I had the lyrics to that which I thought were really good…

But there is strong imagery there that could have been the album cover, is that a regret?

There was talk of it maybe being the cocktail glass, or, I don’t know where the idea for the bar with all Fish’s heroes came from. Maybe it was a telephone conversation we had later. I only remember having one meeting at EMI in their boardroom, and I think that we had already established that we were gonna experiment with part photography and part illustration and that came from me. I think they felt they’d killed the jester off, they were all absolutely adamant about that and I totally agreed, they did not want that jester character to be their emblem a la Eddie and be stuck with him forever. They wanted to move on, something new something different…I think [and I’m willing to be corrected] that maybe it was me [who came up with the idea], but I’d got access to the lyrics and I had read about the silver haired angel at the end of the bar and I said ‘why not make him into a guardian angel type thang?’ But maybe a ‘black’ angel and it was John Arnisen who really responded to this. He said that there was a tradition in Germany of black angels: the Valkyrie, possibly he thought that it could be a really good image for the album. Especially you know [laughs] as Germany was one of their biggest markets! But I never had the time to develop it properly. That was and still is to this day the one that got away – one of my biggest regrets; that the last work I ever did for Marillion (apart from live albums later on) is one of the poorest things I have ever done in my life…It has its admirers I know, but I think that’s because of its association with a very powerful album…it is still my favourite Fish-era album.

Yeah it is a powerful album…

Misplaced is very evocative with the gatefold, lyrics and the collage effect,…that’s very evocative…yeah, so I am only mentioning Script if one has to choose..

I think Script is the most successful…

Yeah, where all the elements came together in one place…

So, leaving Fish’s solo career aside which is well documented, what’s the life of an artist like now? What do you do?

Bands write to me, some really young and some more established, I mean I was really fortunate with the association I had with Marillion, I do realise that, I have a lot of prog bands write to me because of them. 

I worked on all the Monsters of Rock  festivals after my contacts were made with Bravado via Marillion, both here and in Brazil, the first Download Festival - the ‘download dog’ and programme design - and through those associations I met Judas Priest and provide all their art for albums and stage backdrops etc. Because of that connection the whole world of Metal bands opened up for me and these are people that have no interest whatsoever in Marillion [laughs]. I get some pretty heavy stuff to do sometimes, Death Metal and all the rest of the sub-genres, so in that respect if you look at music related art, drawn and painted artwork for bands that is - there are only two areas that consistently commission it - prog and metal, I have been really lucky having a foot in both camps…so that’s my life…

 

Do you identify with any of the music in the metal arena?

Yeah some of it, yeah, again one can be very sniffy about a band like Judas Priest, but they’re immensely respected by people like Metallica and some of the younger metal bands coming up. They are always being name checked as big influences and if you go to one of the shows you realise why. It wasn't not my sort of music at the time, I appreciate it a lot more now having worked for them over a number of years. Back then I doubt Marillion's music would have appealed to me much either…to be honest with you, until Fugazi, at least. The one that I absolutely love to this day is Clutching at Straws, that’s the one I play more than any of the others. So, no, you don’t have to identify with the music to create a cover for it; it’s still a fantastic vehicle for an artist to be working on.

So the essence of your ability then is to be able to be the cipher, whilst not necessarily identifying with the music, the imagery or the lyrics or whatever. You are able to tap into that with empathy as a visual link between the fans and the band…

Yeah, yep, you nailed that one Mark…

Um, yeah, took me a long time to get there! [laughs]

So what motivates or inspires you now, what makes you get out of bed?

I had the opportunity to get involved a few years ago with Claus Brusen’s gallery in Denmark, to do some paintings. He was the publisher of my book Shadowplay and widely respected  worldwide as a champion of ‘magic realism’ which you and I know as ‘fantasy art’! Some of these paintings have been successful, it’s not something that I think that I could make a living at though, not at the moment, especially because of the downturn,

What, commissioned art?

Yeah, gallery work, I have though ironically enough this year received quite a few commissions; I had a real internal battle with myself last year about whether I should be pushing more into that arena rather than continuing with the album cover work. But I do a lot of design too - a lot of package design, re-packaging for various things [Mark goes on at length to describe how the majors in conjunction with a packaging company called Pozzolli in Milan had a meeting a few years ago to discuss ways to make things more collectable in the ‘download era’ with packaging and making things special. Jewel cases were recognised to be cheap and uncollectible, so luxury packaging is where it’s at and there is plenty of work around for designers at the moment, but who knows…] [This is a whole different context and interview]

So do you think photography falls short in interpretive power?

There’s been a constant battle between illustrators and photographers over the years, illustration has always been seen as a poor relation, which is a shame. Of course there are some illustrators that are working in this field, and an awful lot of Photoshoppers but not many 'illustrators' as such. When you do notice the good work, it’s just a joy to see it, because with photography there’s just so much around. There is a lot of hybrid work out there too, a sort of ‘Hipgnosis-Lite’ without their wit or expertise.

Well we nailed what we thought was your defining ability and I would think that it’s quite hard for a photographer to get that, to be given a brief and then to nail that, it’s gonna be quite hard because all he can do is photograph something that’s in front of him…And that doesn’t convey the required interpretation necessarily, does it?

I agree with that. Although Storm Thorgersen [Hipgnosis founder] uses photography it’s not necessarily played with afterwards on a computer, it’s real old school…the set-ups are how they appeared to be in real time.

Well the beach on Delicate Sound of Thunder was hundreds of real beds and the heads on Division Bell were real commissioned sculptures in a field, so that kind of is art mixed with photography isn’t it? A lot of bands photograph something and then try and make it more meaningful for the cover…

Yeah…

So how does sit feel to leave a legacy of fine work, which must feel good?

What for Marillion or generally…?

Generally, as an artist…you see, people live on the planet, they die [ MW laugh] well its true they do….

I’ve got a friend who’s the headmaster of a very challenging school and he often says that to me, “well at least you are leaving something behind”, but I have often said to him that what he does, and Ross and your wife [MW’s daughter’s bf and MC’s wife] do [work with autistic children] it’s intangible isn’t it? They might not see it as a legacy but it will have an effect on a disturbed kid and change their life around, I mean who’s to say that some bloke who did a few album covers has got any more important a legacy than that…?

Well, I would disagree with you in a way. Yes I understand what you are saying, but surely that’s being human, that’s what we should do. But as we discussed as an artist you are crystallising the senses. The emotions and that image you have created are a legacy for the future and in way that’s something that photography can never achieve because if someone takes a photo of a building today, in the future that will be simply be seen as a photo of a building, whereas an artist provides an interpretation of an image and that conveys a sense of a) self and b) emotion, would you not agree?

Yes

So there are going to be elements of Mark Wilkinson that someone viewing your art in the future will get a sense of your emotional input…

You asked me earlier what gets me out of bed in the morning, and it’s not only to make my living, though that’s important, it’s that challenge…I don’t know one week to the next what I am going to be doing and I feel incredibly fortunate that I have been able to carry on like this for 35 years…and counting.

So it does feel good to leave a legacy behind then?

Yeah it does…

So do you think you’ve made your mark?

Yeah in a small way I suppose, [self-deprecating laughter] the fact that it’s affected people, you can’t ask any more as a creative person, if what you’ve done has moved somebody enough - to the degree that they write to you, that they like what you’ve done and they want to buy your work and put it up on their wall, all of that. Sometimes they get emotional about it, the letters that I get and the emails that I have had confirm this, that’s the cherry on the cake, it really is…

[Not letting you off the hook with that fluffy stuff Wilkinson!] However, is the life of an artist forever unfulfilled by definition?

Getting deep here. No I am never comfortable…Picasso said you never finish a piece of work, you walk away from it, and it’s knowing when to walk away that defines the great artist. I can really sympathise with that because I am one of the worst tinkerers, I really am, I never like to let anything go, which is why I have always had a battle with deadlines. But sometimes and I am sure this is the same for musicians, if you overwork it you start to lose it…that essence.

So, what is your favourite H era track then [laughs]

'This Strange Engine’

Yes, any ardent Fishist would be a fan of that track, it’s difficult to argue with isn’t it…

And Brave, I really like that, I can’t fault that album, and it’s my favourite piece of artwork as well…

Mine’s Holidays in Eden

Yep that would be pretty much up there as well, Sarah Ball, yep…

So what’s you favourite Fish era song?

Sugar Mice, Incubus or Fugazi itself, do I have to say one?

I’ll give you two

Ok then, Sugar Mice and Incubus…

So Mark Wilkinson, do you have anything else to declare?

Nothing, except my sanity…[laughs]

Did we get there? I hope we did and I think we found out more along the way. We uncovered an artist’s ego for sure, yet someone possessed with a rare talent: the ability to harness with true empathy the imagination of viewer and subject. We are lucky that he came, all too briefly, into the Marillion family.

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