Saturday, 15 August 2009

Fantasy, Wolves and Art

I love books but I also love the whole tactile and visual book experience, so a local exhibition of the book cover artist Geoff Taylor's work was of interest. This was a display covering 30 years of his work and also cases of the books, a considerable number of which had the original, acrylic paintings on display. He specialises in fantasy and science fiction and has designed for some of the big names in this genre. It was interesting compare the two mediums and to appreciate how the artist works within the restrictions. The huge paintings and the small covers. Taylor trained as a graphic designer but midway through his degree course realised that he might have preferred fine art but by that time it was too late to change. (By such decisions sometimes the courses of lives are made).

The amount of detail in the original paintings was phenomenal, but he also has the imagination to create and bring the author's other worlds into reality. Fantasy art can all too easily be cliched and flat but Taylor's seem to really live and have texture and movement. To see examples of his work go to his website here

Browsing the books I realised that I had one of his first commissions which he was given in 1976 which was Philip K Dick's 'Counter-Clock World'

As was the case in those days the cover was uncredited. Its years since I read this book but basically it is about a society experiencing something called the Hobart Phase where people age backwards (the old born) gradually getting younger and entering the womb. A dead religious leader about to be reborn, hence the cover design, and throw in an evil Library and away goes the plot. That's all I can hazily remember.

Coming out of the exhibition, apart from the prints, they also had some signed bookmarks for sale, and I do like a bookmark. While I was trying to decide which to get I noticed there were also postcards. Geoff Taylor also paints animals, and it would appear from the exhibition these are generally of those types beloved by myth makers as symbols - the deer, wolves and owls. One of the cards was 'The Last Wolf'.

This is the local legend that the last wolf in England was killed in the Middle Ages on Humphrey Head, a promontory on the north shores of Morecambe Bay. My grandmother's family farmed in the area, so maybe this is why she owned the book I inherited called 'The Last Wolf', published, and written, in the Victorian times by Mrs Jerome Mercier. It has some nice black and white plates and sketches of the area.

It is written as a medieval romance with a poem at the back which describes the legend in verse form. The chase of the wolf, which must have had superhuman, or should I say, super wolf, stamina, covers a huge area, but it all ends badly for the wolf, however true love is found by the human protagonists. For a description of the full story, and other wolves go here

So now my Grandmother's book has a picture it was lacking, a wolf against the backdrop of Morecambe Bay.

Thusslow they strain o'er Humphrey's Height,
When low! a chasm appears,
That dips in darkness to the sight,
And fills the heart with fears.

Begirt with rock on every side,
It slopes in shade away:
But at its base may be espied
Against the light of day

To this black hole the quarry draws,
Now racked with sore distress,
While hard behind, with out-stretched jaws
The yelling bloodhounds press

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