Actualizado: 8 oct 2020
Thank you SO MUCH for this opportunity! I know you are a very busy man. I feel very honoured.
Thank you for being patient
Do you consider yourself a "fantasy realist"? How would you describe your aesthetic?
I've never really thought about giving myself a label. My main focus is on learning how to paint. I still feel myself a student in many regards because there is so much to learn with regard to the process of drawing and painting and I feel I have a long way to go. I realised some time ago that it's the process that's important to me rather than the subject matter.
I've heard you still enjoy old pulp fiction...
I read Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith as a teenager and in my early twenties and they both had a deep effect on me. I also used to like Michael Moorcock's Elric stories and his Eternal Champion cycle. Re-reading Lovecraft in recent years made me realise how variable his writing is. When he was good he was very good but when he was bad he was awful. I also returned to Robert E Howard and was surprised at how much fun his stories are!
Recently I've been returning to Clark Ashton Smith as a source of inspiration for some of my personal work.
I always thought that Clark Ashton Smith was an extremely imaginative writer, unjustly forgotten.
Clark Ashton Smith was able to create a great atmosphere but his stories are sometimes not exactly "action packed". They can have a languorous, lazily erotic quality which appeals to me but they can be quite slow and you have to allow yourself to be seduced by them. Possibly the leisurely pace doesn't appeal to modern readers.
By the way, what is your favorite Conan story by Howard?
I think my favourite Conan story is Red Nails closely followed by the Tower of the Elephant ( which has qualities of Clark Ashton Smith I think ) but my favourite work by Howard is The Worms of the Earth which is a Bran Mak Morn story.
I was kind of surprised to discover that you also love HG Wells' classic "The War of the Worlds". That's my favorite book of all time!
I still re-read The War of the Worlds every couple of years. It's still far and away the best invasion story and it has the best opening paragraph of any book with the possible exception of Shirley Jackson's Haunting of Hill House.
What do you think that still attracts people to this story, more than 120 years later?
I don't know the reason for it's longevity. While it's full of action it has a quite poetic quality to much of it. And has some great set pieces; ideal for filming you would think.
And what do you think about the TV and movie adaptations?
I'm surprised that no film version attempted the Thunderchild scene. The final scene where the narrator, at the end of his tether, is about to throw himself in front of the Martian is very affecting. The feeling of despair is wonderfully conveyed by Wells and it's something the Spielberg version seems to have missed. The 1953 version has the defenceless refugees cowering in a church which nearly gets the idea but is not as striking as the book. I think it's an essential element of the story. I like the Spielberg version very much; it's a great piece of film making with some spectacular scenes but it falls away at the end precisely, I think, because it doesn't have the sense of hopelessness that I mentioned above. As for the BBC attempt, I quite enjoyed it but it's hardly a classic and they made some strange and inexplicable changes. Perhaps I should watch it again but I think I'll stick with George Pal's version for all it's clunkiness. I love those Manta shaped machines.
What do you find more appealing about the horror genre? Its dream-like quality or the disturbing element of it?
I'm quite happy to watch or read some blood spattering if it's done well. It's shock value does tend to wear off quite quickly I find. Equally an attempt at atmospheric horror has to be carefully done because it can so easily become dull or just funny. I want a horror story or movie to stay in my mind after I've finished it but if you asked me to choose between, say, Hellraiser and I walked with a Zombie I couldn't do it.
Hammer or Universal?
I enjoy both.
I know you are a big admirer of Saturn Devouring His Children. There's other classic spanish paintings you like? Have you ever been in Madrid or have you seen the original in some sort of special exhibition?
I fell in love with Goya because of Saturn and then found some his other macabre work and particularly his etchings. He was the first major artist I discovered who dealt with such themes. These days I tend to look at artists to see what I can learn from them. I particularly like Velazquez and recently, while in Dublin, I saw an exhibition of Joaquin Sorolla's work. I knew of him slightly as a contemporary of John Singer Sargent but seeing his work in the flesh was absolutely stunning. I became a fan on the spot.
Most of your art features quite colorful characters but I also love the jungle ruins, the ancient temples, the alien civilizations and the imposing wizardry towers. How do you approach architecture in your art? Do you follow any kind of "rule" when drawing non-existent cities?
I always try to base everything I draw on something from real life to try and give a sense of reality to what is unreal. That applies to everything, not just architecture. You see so many badly drawn monsters or dragons, say, because the artist hasn't bothered to look at real life. The end result may be a long way from your reference but it's important to have it as a grounding in reality.
How do you achieve such realism in the textures and the lightning? Do you use photographs? Have you ever hired actors or used friends in costumes?
I've tried photographing both professional models and friends but without much success. A model needs to have some acting ability and to understand what's needed and it's not always easy to explain to someone who has little interest in fantasy that they are supposed to be a rampaging barbarian or a cunning necromancer. It really takes a professional to act naturally in front of a camera so photographing friends presents a difficulty. I have done it though and people are sometimes pleased to find themselves on a book cover. On the whole I've found it more useful to photograph myself and nowadays we have the wonderful internet which is a great source of images and inspiration.
I feel that realism in fantasy paintings has been mostly abandoned in the last decade or so. There's a lot of work for fantasy artists, both in games and books, but all of it looks "cartoony". What are your opinions on the matter? It's just maybe a budgetary thing?
Most of the work seems to be digital, some of it very fine, but I do think that contributes to a lack of realism in a strange way and a somewhat homogeneous look. The artists are just doing their best and if there is a cartoony effect I think it comes from the people doing the commissioning. Fantasy has become so huge through films and gaming that it's an industry all of itself. Naturally you get people working in that industry who don't really understand it and that's where problems arise. You've only got to watch certain Superhero films to see that they were made by people who didn't understand the material.
You worked on some awe-inspiring movie posters. The Thing, Hawk the Slayer, Graveyard shift... which one do you like the most? There's any movie you would have loved to work in but you never had the chance?
Of course The Thing was the most famous one but I must admit to a soft spot for Hawk the Slayer. I did do some preliminary sketches for The Empire Strikes Back, but when I saw the poster they eventually used I realised I'd been given a brief that was quite at odds with what the film company was actually after. That would have been a nice poster to do.
One of my favorite illustrations of yours it's the Heroquest Box Art. Do you remember how long it took? Was the "briefing" very specific or did you have some freedom to play with? I know the characters were designed beforehand but, is there any specific aportation of yours that you are especially proud of?
Heroquest did take a long time to paint but I can't remember how long. Probably several weeks I would think. I didn't mind how long it took because it was a very well paid job, but very complicated compared to my usual stuff. The main consideration for the clients was getting in as many of the characters as possible but the main design and setting was mine and the Barbarian figure is based on me. As I said above it was just easier to photograph myself. ( I don't have those muscles though ). I had a bunch of the miniature figurines to work from too and it was a challenge to get them to look animated and not too toy-like. It was a fun job but I never thought people would still be interested all this time later.
You also did some art for the expansions of the game...
My favourite of the expansion packs is Return of the Witch Lord which took nearly as long to paint as the original Heroquest box. There were so many small figures in it that I thought I'd bitten off more than I could chew. In some ways I prefer it to the original box as I think it's a better composition.
And last (but not least): If you could access the Necronomicon, is there any long-dead artist that you would love to have a conversation with?
My favourite artist is John Singer Sargent so I guess he might get the call, but really if I had access to the Necronomicon I'd be too busy raising The Old Ones.