Regular readers will know that one of my favourite books is The Peregrine by J.A. Baker. First published in 1967, it’s now received recognition of its importance to literature and wildlife conservation with a 50th Anniversary Edition courtesy of Harper Collins. I’ve written about this book several times before, recommending it unreservedly, but should you require any further convincing then read Robert McFarlane’s superb article on the book and the man who wrote it, published last week in The Guardian. McFarlane articulates the attributes of the author and his work with authentic passion and precision of clarity, and has clearly saturated his mind in Barker’s singular prose, stating that “I’ve never taken LSD: thanks to Baker, I don’t need to.” He’s right. Baker was high on his own supply, dreaming of flight, of actually becoming a falcon, lifting his spirit up out of his arthritic cage of bone and away from the Essex landscape that he loved but could already see being stripped away in the name of “progress.” It’s a dark book, for sure, but that’s because Baker refused to shy away from the lonely business of death which, let’s face it, is what a bird of prey is all about. I’m encouraged to see that Baker will soon get his first biography, My House Of Sky by Hetty Saunders, to be published by the excellent Little Toller books later this year and with the renewed emphasis on his work I am increasingly confident that this reserved and humble man will finally get the recognition he deserves as one of the great literature writers of our time.
Here’s my 2017 drawing of a Peregrine Falcon:
And this is my mock-up cover for Baker’s book, using my 2013 drawing ‘The Peregrine’:
Finally, a new painting: ‘Lover’s Day’. The title comes from a song by The Icicle Works, who I was listening to a lot while I finished the painting. It depicts a part of the Dramway path that runs along the edge of the new Lyde Green estate in north-east Bristol. This one exceeded my expectations and will definitely be available as a print sometime in the near future.
My 2014 drawing of Friedrich Nietzsche, mocked up as a cover for one of his books. It could have probably served for any of his books but I chose the one with the best title, a title that one of my all-time favourite bands The Cult “appropriated” for their 2001 comeback album, which I still rate as one of their best. The Cult were/are one of those rock bands who I always felt confident had actually read some Nietzsche and understood what he was trying to say.
When I first started keeping a sketchbook in 2010, I made a series of drawings based on photographs of some of the millions of victims of Stalin’s gulags. I found this one in my archives and have mocked it up as a cover for Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. To be honest, I could have used it for almost any of Dostoyevsky’s novels, but I picked The Idiot simply because I was listening to Iggy Pop’s album of the same name at the time.
Seeing as Star Wars Celebration is on this weekend, I felt compelled to respond, using my 2016 drawing of Daisy Ridley as a mock-up poster for The Last Jedi. I was of the generation that lived through the hype for the first film in 1977, the same generation that abandoned it when puberty kicked in and never expected it to ever come back, but come back it did and I was surprised as anyone to find myself caught up in the resurgence of interest in The Force Awakens. Star Wars gets a lot of stick, but I saw as a catalyst in the late 70’s for all the great sci-fi films that would follow – without the success of Star Wars there would have been no Alien, no Aliens, no Blade Runner. Now after the success of The Force Awakens, the genre is seeing a resurgence, and so far we’ve had really interesting films like Ex-Machina and Arrival and there’s more to come this year like Blade Runner 2049. Science Fiction is the therapeutic dreamspace where a culture makes sense of its present, and we could do with some of that right now. It’s a genre I grew up loving, and I still enjoy it when it’s done well, but it needs visionary writers and artists to really unshackle their imaginations. Having been impressed by Looper, I’m reasonably confident that Rian Johnson, the writer and director of that film and The Last Jedi, is prepared to take the chance to do something wild with Disney’s money, a chance he may never get again. Now that my daughter is as much a fan of this stuff as I was at her age, a new family tradition has been established, where we go to see the new Star Wars film on Christmas Eve, and this year will be no different. I am looking forward to seeing if Johnson and his crew have taken this opportunity to create something extraordinary.