Mark Wilkinson har främst gjort sig ett namn som mannen bakom Marillions omslag och sedan även Fish. Boken är en samling och genomgång av hans hela karriär och självfallet är alla illustrationer för Marillion representerade. Dock har Wilkinson även arbetat med andra storheter som exempelvis Judas Priest, Iron Maiden och The Darkness, även om de sistnämnda kanske inte riktigt kan kallas för en storhet.
Boken är snygg i storlek coffee table och sprängfylld med bilder. Att kunna studera bilderna som gjordes för Marillion i detalj är riktigt kul, men det roliga är att så här, uttagna lite ur sitt sammanhang med musiken, blir det lite hötorgskonst över det. Visst är de tilltalande på allehanda sätt, men det är samtidigt något med dem som gör att de känns lite B eller tacky, så att säga.
Tittar man dessutom på hans tidiga verk, av exempelvis diverse bokomslag, är det bilder så fruktansvärt fula och innehållslösa, att det blir svårt att kalla det för konst.
I boken berättar Wilkinson om alla skivomslag han gjort och arbetet kring dem och det finns även med tidiga skisser på exempelvis de bilder han gjorde för Marillion och Iron Maiden. Hans stil är genomgående likadan och han håller sig inom samma ramar hela tiden, oavsett vilket band han jobbat med.
Kontentan av boken är att det är främst bilderna för Marillion som är intressanta, allt annat blir sekundärt. En småkul bok, men inget att bli direkt upphetsad av.
Q&A med Mark Wilkinson
First off, who´s Mark Wilkinson?
Mark: A man in a perpetual state of panic and bliss, who occasionally sends out postcards from the edge - just to see if they warp the fabric a little.
Was the book your own idea or were you approached about doing it?
Mark: I was approached - by Claus Brusen, an artist himself, and gallery owner - and just to show he can multi-task - a book publisher!
When did you start working on it?
Mark: May 2009.
Did you have to leave out a lot of your art work?
Mark: Mostly the crap, which would be a bigger book!
Tell us about the first time you came in contact with Marillion?
Mark: This has a whole chapter of its own in Shadowplay - but the short version is...I shared a house in South London in the 80's with some designers who were mostly working for agencies in Covent Garden, London. I was very close to giving up being an artist - looking at other options like teaching...when one of them came back one night after a session at a bar to say he'd overheard a conversation between the art director of a design group called 'Torchlight' and someone else. They were looking for artists to put forward for a cover art project, working for a new band signed to EMI Records. I looked 'Torchlight' up in the telephone directory, rang them, they said come along that day...and I got the job!
Usually, how long did it take to make an album cover like "Misplaced childhood" or "Script for a jester´s tear"?
Mark: Around 2 weeks.
Did the artwork go back and forth between you and the band until the final version was done?
Mark: No - it was left up to me - Script came back for some minor changes, mainly to do with legal issues with things like the name of the brewery on the ash tray, Fairy liquid bottle, the sheet music I painted had to be played to make sure I wasn't copying Chopin, permission had to be granted for the lyrics of Yesterday etc etc.
How much input did the band have on the artwork?
Mark: A lot on Script - mostly from Fish. Much less so on Misplaced - they left me to do that one after the initial briefing.
What can you tell us about working with Europe and their album "Prisoners in paradise"?
Mark: A simple telephone call from their manager - and that was it. I supplied some rough drawings and they approved more or less first attempt of the final artwork.
What was it like working with giants such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest? Any memorable stories?
Mark: The first painting for Iron Maiden was briefed from the tour merchandise company Bravado for Monsters of Rock that year, I had provided the art for most of these festivals up to then. I can remember this one was unusual because Rod Smallwood - who oversees everything to do with Maiden artwork insisted on seeing it and I met him at Sanctuary offices with someone from Bravado. He approved with no problems and said that a lot of the artists he had used in the past (apart from Derek Riggs of course) had always got 'Eddie' wrong - doing his face too skull-like. He said he'd like to use me for future work at some point, but it was a few years later I had the call once again.
This was for "The Wicker Man" which at the time I was called in was the working title of their new album after Bruce had returned. There had been months of delays with the cover art because Derek had provided them with multiple ideas, none of which went down too well. There were disagreements and eventually, as I understand it, Derek walked away in a fit of pique vowing never to return. So I was brought in at the 11th hour and asked to turn it around in a week or so. Eventually, everything changed again and "Wicker Man" was the first single from the album, 'Brave New World' was the album title, they used the top half of one of Derek's paintings of Eddie in the smoke - done for one of his versions of "Wicker Man", and pulled in a 3D view of a futuristic London comped in below. After that - I was asked to do the second single off the album, "Out Of The Silent Planet".
When the idea was mooted for a celebratory box set for the 25th anniversary of the band, I worked on a series of ideas for that. Eventually, the image I had in mind for a large book of photographs of the band caught the eye of Steve Harris who asked if that could be developed somehow into the box itself. I did a lot of research into this and put forward the idea of actually printing on to a metal box and also embossing it to match the art. This was, at the time one of the most complex pieces of embossing work ever attempted on metal plate and took a long time to get right. But it came out brilliantly and went on to win an award. I also provided the art for the "Best Of The B'Sides" album that made up one of the set ot of double CDs inside the box. I also designed the pewter shot glass for the set. It was a limited edition release and sold out in record time, as does most things related to Iron Maiden these days.
Most of the art I've done for Judas Priest has gone through really smoothly, apart from "Demolition", ironically the simplest design I've ever done. This had a lot to do with the prevailing fashions at the time for more simplistic imagery for cover art, and to be honest I did struggle with that one. Perhaps I know the more complex, detailed area of fantasy art better, certainly when we returned to that world afterwards, the results I believe were far more effective. The metallic cyborg creatures of "Painkiller" and "Angel Of Retribution" took awhile to work out, but the band were never less than enthusiastic about their development, which played a big part in their success. I think if the band are willing to get involved in the decision making process at every level for album art, the better your chances are for getting a great result that pleases everyone.
Are you still working with Fish? Anything going on?
Mark: Yes - I believe there is going to be a new album this year, as with all of his projects he has a clearer idea of the album art at an early stage than he does necessarily for the songs! This was true right at the beginning when he was with Marillion and he used to call me months ahead of the writing. He has a very strong visual sense and he and I have been working together for so long now it is almost a sixth sense where he can describe a scene or situation and I can more or less see the same image in my head. We have been friends and colleagues now for almost 30 years, so I guess that's quite unusual in this business, but we have a lot of respect for each other and the creative process that drives an album and its attendant visual depiction.
Of all the album artwork you´ve done, which one has given you the most attention and why?
Mark: After The Wicker Man I had more hits on my website than ever before. Maiden are most probably the biggest rock band in the world now, and they were then, so I suppose that has to be the one. In terms of longevity though, "Script For A Jester's Tear" is the image I'm most associated with - that jester was so successful, right at the start of Marillion's career - and mine too...it is perhaps my signature image, though I believe he was better painted and imagined in a painting I did years later called 'The Fool', a private commission for a fan in new York.
What are you working on right now?
Mark: I have just completed the art for "Epitaph" - the Judas Priest farewell tour image and stage backdrop which will appear 50 foot wide at their shows. There is also more work for the tour: T-Shirt designs, etc
Will there be another book?
Mark: I don't think so, it took 35 years to put that one together in terms of work - I'm 60 next year, and I'm not getting any faster!
What´s your favorite album when it comes to Fish, Marillion, Maiden and Priest?
Mark: Fish - "13th Star", Marillion (by far) "Clutching At Straws", Maiden - not sure, I don't actually follow them at all believe it or not, I did like 'Brave New World' though. Judas Priest - would have to be "Painkiller" - I remember when that was released - it blew everyone away - and even the cynics who would normally hate anything metal were astonished by its energy.