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Monday, February 26, 2018

Illustrators #21 (Winter 2017/18)

Reading the first few lines of Diego Cordoba's interview with Rodney Matthews was a trip down memory lane. As a Prog/Metal-head since schooldays, every band named brought back memories: buying the original Diamond Head Am I Evil? album in its white sleeve at a seriously under-attended gig at the Electric Ballroom; despairing for the Tygers of Pan Tang when John Sykes left to join Thin Lizzy (readers will be pleased to know that I got over it about five second into the first track of Thin Lizzy's Thunder and Lightning).

Parrot Records in Chelmsford was little more than an alleyway lined with wooden toughs filled with the latest releases and an amazing back catalogue. When I discovered Rush, I was able to buy everything they'd released within nine days – six albums, Rush to Hemispheres. And when I picked up Permanent Waves it was the original Anthem label edition with the headline visible. The walls were hung with albums, gatefolds open... it was like walking into a Rodney Matthews gallery exhibition.

But I'm heading down memory lane when I should be reviewing the latest issue of Illustrators. Rodney Matthews was maybe the biggest name when it came to cover art for all these bands that I was exploring back in the late seventies and early eighties, from Nazareth to Magnum. The rule of thumb was that if it had skulls or wizards it was Rodney Matthews, if it had floating islands it was Roger Dean and if was some weird shit, it was probably Barney Bubbles. But Matthews was much more than that, as you can see from the Alice in Wonderland illustrations, logo designs and later artwork on display here. It's great to hear that he's still busy, working on a new version of Moorcock's Stormbringer and album covers.

Stevan Dohanos (1907-1994) was a prolific cover artist for the Saturday Evening Post, producing 125 covers in the 1940s and 1950s. Like Norman Rockwell, he charted a period of tremendous change in America and his paintings of everyday life, every one of his paintings an engaging and charming tableau.

The last two big articles in this issue feature artist who were able to capture the lithe power of animals. J. Allen St. John was famous for his illustrations and book jackets to Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels. His images are iconic and influenced other famous Tarzan artists who followed, from Hogarth to Frazetta.

Lucy Kemp-Welch's artwork is of a gentler nature, although there's power in her depiction of horses. She was a petite Victorian artist, born in 1869, who grew up in Dorset and spent her early years wandering and sketching in the New Forest. She endured some tragedy, both parents dying while she was still attending art school, but she was an immediate success, with her painting hung in the Royal Academy, where, because of her sex, she was refused membership. But she did become the first President  of the Society of Animal Painters.

Her first illustrative work was 24 colour plates for an edition of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. She also illustrated enlistment posters during the Great War, but she was primarily a painter of naturalistic scenes featuring her beloved horses.

For more information on Illustrators and back issues, visit the Book Palace website, where you can also find details of their online editions, and news of upcoming issues. Issue 22 will feature the history of the Spanish-British agency Bardon Art, which was responsible for bringing to the UK many of the finest Spanish artists to work in comics and book covers.

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