BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH

Last year I gave high praise to Dave McKean’s Raptor. All of the stylistic techniques he deployed in that book were established in this earlier title, first released in 2017 and now republished in 2022 in an expanded second edition. I’ve detailed my history with comics and won’t repeat it here, suffice to say that McKean was the artist I most admired when getting back into the medium in the late 80’s, after a few years lost in the teenage wilderness. Nowadays he’s one of the few comics artists and writers I really pay any attention to. The radical change to his style that he made in the early 90’s was one I took a while to attune to, having got so comfortable with his photo-referenced dark fantasy tableaux, but the results have come to speak for themselves over the subsequent decades, and for the narratives he prefers, where dreams and ‘reality’ often blur, they’re really the only viable way to achieve the results he’s after:

Pencil, ink, acrylic, photography, collage and a lot of digital electrickery, all used with confidence and an obvious delight in the degree of experimentation and expression it offers.

The subject of this book is the Neo-Romantic artist Paul Nash, whose relatively short life has always interested me. He’s an artist whose work I admire more than actually like, simply because his technique is a little too raw for my tastes, but I appreciate the vision behind the brushstrokes and fully recognise the gravity of his influence. But his back story is fascinating and McKean does a great job of extracting the most vital details and using them to bring all his skill and experience to bear in creating visualisations of Nash’s inner turmoil, especially in relation to the absolute horror show in the trenches of World War 1.

What a fantastic page this is. The confidence in the distortions of form and proportion is remarkable and heightens the sense of profound personal crisis that Nash was experiencing. McKean is familiar enough with the Nash back-story to know that it was The Great War that served as a hinge point in the man’s life. There is the Nash who went to the Slade to study art, and then enlisted to do his duty for king & country, and then there is the Nash who returned horrified by what he saw, famously writing to his wife: “I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on forever. Feeble, inarticulate will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth and may it burn their lousy souls.” That sense of outrage fed into the canvas that made his name, titled with caustic irony, ‘We Are Making A New World.’

The war wrecked him psychologically and physically, with exposure to the chemical weapons unleashed by both sides settling into his lungs, initiating the long slow health crisis that would eventually finish him off. But before all that, when he was still a child, he was exposed to his mother’s debilitating depression, which shaped his perspectives forever after. McKean uses the potent metaphor of the ‘black dog’, hounding Nash throughout his life, functioning somewhere between a harbinger of ill omen and a symbol of that thing within him he could never outrun. Moving with apparently effortless confidence between pencils, inks, acrylics, photographs, collage and digital, McKean is using the comics medium in a way I’ve seen very few dare to, and it’s the way I always hoped it could be done.

I mean, look at this beautifully designed page, with its expert use of colour and tone. The dread and tension of Nash facing down his bete noire through bloodstained eyes is released by the establishing shot of the robin outside, his redbreast glowing the same shade of scarlet. So simple, and so effective. A cinematic technique applied to a comic book that defies by it’s very nature any attempt at a film version. Note to Hollywood: don’t bother. The book is all that is required. Nash would have, I think, been impressed with McKean’s art, recognising in it the dream imagery and surrealistic flourishes that were evident in his later work. This new edition includes 15 pages of new material, mainly ‘out-takes’ of first attempts at images that were revised for the finished pages of the book, but it’s very interesting to see how McKean develops his ideas and is unafraid of abandoning finished work when he thinks of a better way of doing things. Highly recommended, even if you know nothing about Paul Nash, because just for the display of an artist operating at the top of his game, it’s worth the price of admission.

PAINTINGS FOR SALE

I’ve put two more paintings up for sale:

From left to right:

Moonlight Shadow (2017), Nothing But Thunder (2019).

These paintings have never been offered for sale before, and are some of my personal favourites, but they serve no purpose if they’re not hanging on a wall somewhere. As an added bonus, all paintings purchased come with a free ink drawing, which you can select from those shown on the Art For Sale page.

All enquires should be via email: rikrawling@gmail.com I don’t use any other communication method so no IG or FB messages, as I won’t see them.

A CERTAIN JE NE SAIS QUOI

Many thanks to David Banning @ Chroma Editions for the kind words regarding my artwork. Martin Jones, the Dr Lecter to my Clarice Starling @ Exile In The Margins, sent him a copy of my recently-published booklet Sick As A Pike: the Withnail & I Drawings. That booklet was published for the imminent WithnailBrum which is now only two weeks away, with limited copies available on the day, together with the chance to buy a few of the originals, with all proceeds going to the organises of this annual event, celebrating the finest film available to all humanity.

MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE

My daughter’s all-time favourite band, so guess where she’ll be on the 28th? It was her enthusiasm for the band that caused me to listen to them, and I can now unapologetically assert that they are one of the last great bands, and there’s really not many of them left now. And who would have thought that after a 13 year hiatus they would come back with a song as good as this? Most bands who reform end up as cover bands for their own back catalogues, but this is up there with anything on The Black Parade album. Lyrically, Gerard Way has lost none of his knack for the beautifully bleak image:

Now, if your convictions were a passing phase
May our ashes feed the river in the morning rays
And as the vermin crawls
We lay in the foundations of decay

Baudelaire would be proud.

Suitably inspired, I made this mock-up poster, using an old painting from about 10 years ago that felt suitably apocalyptic, featuring as it does Robert Graves’ The White Goddess and Blake’s Great Red Dragon.

My Chemical Romance – The Foundations Of Decay

ALTAR

As I work on a new book project (see here for a taster), one requiring a drastic change to my artistic approach, I thought it timely to revisit an earlier project when I also let me freak flag- more often these days to be found neatly folded and hidden in the loft – fly free.

Altar is a 2006 album collaboration between the bands SunnO))) and Boris. It’s one of the great art rock albums of all time. In 2010 I embarked on a series of paintings, inspired by the titles of each of the nine songs. These came after Project Mogwai, and were more experimental in nature, using different size canvas panels and materials, and working more intuitively than I had before in my paintings. I worked fast, and did not over-analyse the results. A couple of years later I decided to collect all the paintings in a self-published book, adding some ‘automatic’ drawings made free hand with ink and brush, and some found photography and text that I felt suited the mood of the album. Here’s some of the page layouts from the book:

It remains one of my favourite things that I’ve ever done, primarily because it was done so purely and with no over-thinking. All the paintings sold as well, which tells me I was onto something here.

Download a free PDF copy of the book HERE

Order a hard copy of the book HERE. £8 & shipping.

FUTURE ATTRACTIONS

Following the completion of my most recent painting, I’m now dedicating the remainder of the year to two major book projects for Exile In The Margins. Below is a taste of what’s in store:

This one has been over ten years in preparation. Consider it the Fitzcarraldo of all our book projects, with Martin Jones (the author and Herzog in this analogy) and I (inevitably serving as Kinski) dragging this boat of a book through the uncharted jungle wilderness of our imaginations. The script has been written and I am now working on the illustrations, which require some significant stylistic changes on my part. The collage above can only hint at what’s coming. With all our books we take the Sinclair & Catling position of asking: “is it mad enough?” This one really is mad enough.

I’m also working on another book, which is a fully illustrated anthology of stories inspired by a singular source. I’ll say no more about it than that, except that those who’ve seen our earlier book Black Water will be familiar with the format in which we intend to publish it. I’m providing a full colour cover, highly-detailed black and white illustrations, and overall book design, together with some of the text content.

Both books will be published in late 2022. Stay tuned for further updates.

YOU WILL MISS ME WHEN I BURN

You Will Miss Me When I Burn (2022)

It is finished. A painting started in reaction to the news of Mark Lanegan’s death which coincided with my reading of Burning Man: The Ascent of D.H. Lawrence. Both were maverick figures, somewhat adrift within their times, who never stopped making art right up to the point where their bodies gave out on them. Their spirits blazed brightly though, right to the end, and that fire carries through in the work they left behind. Lawrence’s symbol was the phoenix rising from the ashes, and in my imagination that’s what I was painting. Yes, it’s a goshawk, not some mythical bird, but when I was a kid they were mythic, in that they had persecuted into extinction decades before. Thanks to some falconers making strategic releases of captive-bred birds, they began to slowly reintroduce themselves across the British mainland and while still a rare sight, there are documented pockets of healthy populations in several areas. So, to me, this is Lawrence’s phoenix, risen from the ashes of man’s folly, infernal eye blazing, carrying the fire into the future. And it’s a symbolic of Lanegan’s uncompromising attitude, a man who stared into the abyss and never flinched, until the abyss had to look away, realising it had finally met its match. The title comes from a song Lanegan recorded with Soulsavers, one of his finest moments, and a fitting elegy for his own departure from this heathen earth.

Here’s how the painting progressed from beginning to end:

26 Feb 2022

27 Feb 2022

09 March 2022

11 March 2022

21 March 2022

25 March 2022

27 March 2022

02 Apr 2022

10 April 2022

17 April 2022

You Will Miss Me When I Burn (2022)

Soulsavers with Mark Lanegan – You Will Miss Me When I Burn

THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN: SCRIPTS AND THAT

The League Of Gentlemen is my all-time favourite TV series. Often referred to as a “comedy” it is admittedly one of the few things to make me laugh out loud, but it really is laughter in the dark, as I tend to regard this as a documentary of my hometown of Morley, West Yorkshire. The dark surrealism that runs throughout all three series and the Christmas Special is only a slight turn of the dial up from what I remember growing up in a place that could so easily have been Royston Vasey. At the peak of the series’ popularity, in 2003, BBC Books published a lavish full-colour hardback collection of the scripts for all the episodes. Wrapped in a remarkable dustjacket that features an incredible Stanley Spencer-esque painting by Stuart Pearson Wright, it’s a unique document that reproduces all the scripts, including many cut scenes, along with behind-the-scenes photographs, marginalia and Biro doodles that give a real sense of the inspired energy that went into the creation of the programme. Here’s a few examples:

I sincerely doubt that the BBC would publish anything like this today. You’ll get books based on the new Attenborough series, of course, but something like this, made with such love and attention to detail… forget it. Nor will you ever see a series like this made by the BBC of 2022. No wonder I live in the past, before it all went to shit.

THE ARENA OF THE UNWELL

Further to this earlier post, I’ve run off a few more copies of this self-published booklet that collects all my Withnail & I-related artwork into a single volume. These will be given away for “free to those who can afford it, very expensive to those who can’t” with the next orders for any Exile In The Margins titles. There’s only ten available, so don’t dick about, lest you “rue the day.”

LOW

So guess where I’ll be this Saturday night?

Mock-up poster, using my 2021 painting ‘I Am The Resurrection‘, which seems fitting for this particular band.

Low – The Price You Pay (It Must Be Wearing Off)

%d bloggers like this: