Well to pick up on where we were with my ongoing Maxfield Parrish reminiscence, some two years or so after being introduced to his work suddenly and almost out of the blue there was a revival of interest in the artistry of this hitherto "illustrators illustrator". This was at least in part engendered by a sumptuous biography which included a lot of reproductions of the great man's work and an accompanying article in The Sunday Times which helped spread the word across the coffee tables of middle England.
The book by Coy Ludwig soon became a staple of art college libraries and once again poster sized reproductions of many of his classic paintings were back in circulation. In addition and hardly suprizingly there was also a whole generation of illustrators paying homage to Parrish with varying degrees of success. A lot of the work inspired by Parrish was in danger of veering towards the slightly tacky but amongst all the variations on a theme of urns, colonnades, misty mountains, gradated blues and androgynous nymphs there were some really lovely pieces of work being created.
One of the best exemplars of the art of creative use of reference points as opposed to slavish imitation is a very dear friend and colleague Steve Lavis. Steve was one of those very motivated young guys who outgrew his art college before he had time to qualify, in fact he ditched his third year as the tutoring at his college was so lamentable and at the age of twenty two was married and living in London building up a career as a successful fantasy artist. His work was sufficiently strong to bring him to the notice of some of the leading commissioners of paperback covers and some of his earliest covers were for Alan Garner, where employing a work method not dissimilar
to Parrish he took photographs of real teenagers and using an epidiascope projected the images onto the board that he was working onto. The results were really alluring here again was that lovely juxtaposition of fantasy made tangible by the alliance of real-world elements and imagination run wild.
The Garner covers were soon followed by a re-working of Pauline Baynes Narnia covers, Pauline's original covers were full of charm but lacked the connectivity with children of the here and now, which Steve's work so adroitly captured. The series of covers had after the usual beauty contest which accompanies such commissions already been assigned to an illustrator (me - Steve I needed that job!!!) but the editorial team were evidently a little unsure and so Steve was invited to produce a painting to the same brief which was to create a cover for "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. The resulting artwork was so far ahead of the rest of the competition that Steve then commenced work on the entire run and was also commissioned to create the box that they should sit in for people who wanted to buy the entire run as a collection.
The box artwork is a truly magnificent reworking of Parrish with more than a smattering of Parrish's painting "Romance" which was the end papers for his last and most eagerly sought book "The Knave of Hearts" the original 1925 edition when it does turn up in collectable condition commands four figure sums from Parrish enthusiasts.
Anyway here's Steve's Narnia covers, plus the original artwork for Alan Garner's "Weirdstone of Brisingamen", the texture running throughout the artwork is via toothbrush splatter - lovely stuff!!!