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LOOK AT THE VIEW

an interview with
U.K. painter extraordinaire

KEVIN PARRISH



 

 

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LOOK AT THE VIEW...
an interview with U.K. painter extraordinaire KEVIN PARRISH

by Robert Silverstein



Even though MWE3.com is primarily devoted to the preservation of music on silver disc CD and all things music or musician related on DVD, not forgetting books, one thing is worth noting: where would music be without all the great artwork, paintings and photography that have graced albums and singles on CD and black vinyl, over the past half century? Back in the ‘60s when the world turned on to music releases from the Beatles, Beach Boys and every other major pop artist, the saying back then
for most was you were only as cool as your last picture sleeve or Lp jacket. Rock pioneers such as the Beatles, Moody Blues, Yes, Pink Floyd and countless other musicians put enormous emphasis on their Lp “cover art,” employing genius concept artists such as Klaus Voorman, Storm Thorgerson, Roger Dean and Phil Travers to help define their musical mission back in the day. One U.K. artist keeping the spirit of progressive music center stage in the art world is U.K. painter Kevin Parrish. I met Kevin in early 2006, around the time I had interviewed Justin Hayward, Mike Pinder and John Lodge of The Moody Blues for 20th Century Guitar magazine. Happily, Kevin's painting Long Distance Voyager was featured as the cover of the April 2006 issue of TCG magazine with the interviews of the Moody Blues as the cover story. Seeing Kevin’s artwork at the same time and in time to feature it on the cover was like a deja vu revelation, something that gave fresh insight into music that had shaped my musical life. After several years of appreciating his fab artwork, MWE3.com spoke with Kevin Parrish in May of 2009 about his life work, his childhood in England and his musical inspirations that has given rise to some of the most profound rock music related artwork in recent history.


MWE3: Can you say something about where and when you were born and your early family life? What was it like growing up in England, and how and when did your interests turn to thoughts of becoming a painter and what painters or artists, art forms inspired you the most early on?

KP: I was born in Birmingham, United Kingdom in 1953 and grew up in a suburb called Erdington in the north of Birmingham with my parents and sister. I had a happy childhood and was interested in freehand drawing from an early age. I used to draw British steam locomotives, portraits of comedians, Apollo spacecraft, astronauts (I was so excited about the American moon landings) and Doctor Who and The Daleks from BBCTV. I used to listen to the radio a lot. My favorite British program was I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again. Comedy sketches with John Cleese, my favorite comedian to this day. I did enjoy the cartoon art of Frank Bellamy which I found in the TV21 comic which I read avidly and it was a big comic in 1960s UK. It featured the century 21 TV of Gerry Anderson. I used to love going to the North Wales coast for a holiday vacation with my family in the Summer months of the 1960s and watch the steam trains puffing their way around the Welsh mountains. Although I did create and paint a few images of steam trains etc. in my teens it was not until the early 1990’s that I gained enough confidence to start painting full time. I left school at 17 and found a job as a trainee civil engineering draftsman more or less straight away. This was my formative career working in UK and overseas as a Technician/Draftsman on a contract basis, until I was made redundant from a company in Birmingham in 1995. I then decided to pursue art full time as I had always wanted to be a visual artist. At this point, I already had plenty of ideas in my head regarding genre from my life experiences.

MWE3: Can you say something about growing up around all of those historic buildings and natural scenic beauty of England, how it influenced you and how that lends itself to your paintings? I’ve been to England several times and I was always impressed by the incredible architecture of the English cities and landscape of the countryside.

KP: Well, yes, the deep history of my country with it buildings, beautiful countryside and traditions has certainly inspired me to paint. The National Gallery in London where a lot of the Great Masters’ works are hung, is a place I aspire to. It is a dream I have that one day, one of my pieces will hang there. But of course there is beauty and culture everywhere around the world and I have been inspired to paint some of the scenes I have been lucky enough to have visited. For example, I have recently completed some Venetian scenes from Italy. I have on hold some unfinished scenes of NYC, USA which I would like to complete at some point. I am currently creating a series of nostalgic scenes painted in black and white which capture bygone times of the 20th century in the UK.

MWE3: How important were your early musical inspirations in the development of your painting ideas and skills? What music, musicians and albums inspired you the most in your formative years?

KP: Very important really! The Moody Blues were the first band to stimulate my imagination to create montages as they had something to say musically. I began listening to the band from when I first heard Justin sing “Question” on the Question Of Balance album in the early 1970s. He has a beautiful voice, it is clear, distinctive, as are the rest of the guys in the band, and I soon connected with the lyrics and what they were singing about. You could clearly hear every word they sang. I could feel that their messages came from the heart and were universal and coupled with their wonderful harmonies and the ethereal sound of Mike’s mellotron, made me want to create something visual. I have always been a bit of a romantic and a deep thinker, and I am interested in astronomy, the weather, science fiction etc. and I wanted to create a visual universal message of love, peace and harmony on the artist’s canvas to reflect what I thought The Moodies were singing about. In 1995, I joined The Moody Blues Fan Club and noticed that they used visual artists to depict the band on their fan club newsletters. So I submitted an idea to Ivy Stewart who was in charge of the club at the time for a possible cover painting. However it was rejected by Ivy because I included Mike Pinder as part of my composition and of course he was no longer part of the band at this point. Reluctantly, I abided by the club rules and finally my ideas were accepted by the club and they published my images from time to time on their newsletter covers which felt really great as hopefully I could reach some of the fans visually. The club later donated my paintings to various charities. So I was pleased they went to a good cause. However, I had created other Moody images to include Mike, and I advertised them in the Moody Blues magazine as I had several artistic montage images and I wanted to create about the band’s great music. From this, Klaus Jensen, a fan from Denmark, bought and commissioned several of my paintings after seeing my ad. He is a bit of a musician himself. We still keep in touch. The fans seemed to like my ideas, so this gave me much confidence to create more images in a different genre.

MWE3: I was also impressed by your paintings of Cliff Richard, and those paintings, Move It To Stardom! and Shades Of Introspection also featured The Shadows. Being that America missed out on The Shads, can you give some insights into how important Cliff and Hank and The Shadows were to England during the pre-Beatles era and how they impacted you?

KP: I don’t remember much about Cliff Richard and The Shadows in their early days as I was too young to realize what was going on. But I do know they were very influential on the pop scene in the UK in the late 1950’s onwards. They had a massive fan base and received adulation and women were screaming at them. This was pre Beatlemania days. I have always enjoyed the distinctive Shadows guitar sound and the durable Cliff Richard. He just seems timeless and still comes up with some great pop songs. He is still very popular here and of course he wants peace on earth like I do, so yes, he is one of my musical heroes. Thank you for your comments about my Cliff art. I submitted my images to the Cliff Richard Organization and The International Cliff Richard Movement and they advertised them in their magazine. From sale proceeds of prints, I donated a percentage towards various charities through the organization at the time. So my print sales went to good causes. I remember in 1998 Ian Samwell, the writer of Cliff’s first hit “Move It,” rang me one Sunday evening in my studio from the US wanting to buy my original painting Move It! To Stardom. But anyway it soon sold to a fan in Holland.

MWE3: The Moody Blues are without a doubt one of the most revered of all the classic English progressive rock bands. What kind of impact do you think the Moodies had not only on your creative expression but also on the entire English approach to pop and rock music?

KP: They had a tremendous impact on me artistically. Until I first heard them I was listening to pop songs on TV and radio, especially The Beatles. It was my cousin who lived nearby, who introduced me to the concept album and The Moody Blues around 1970. I heard A Question Of Balance on his record player. In those days we had vinyl LP’s with gatefold sleeves and Phil Travers was the Moody Blues’ visual artist. He was good and captured the mood of the band I thought! Of course I listened to other Moodies albums as well after that and I thought they were brilliant. I had a friend too who was a Moodies fan and we used to go round to each others houses and listen to the latest Moodies album as they were released. My cousin always seemed to be on the cutting edge of what was happening with progressive rock and he used to educate me. For me The Moody Blues will always be the centre of my musical universe because through them I discovered other progressive rock bands like Yes, Genesis, Supertramp, Camel, Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple etc. After listening to Days Of Future Passed with its classical feel, I have in turn found my way into classical music as well. I know the Moodies have influenced many British rock bands. I was listening to Coldplay the other day and I could hear harmonies which sounded like a cross between Yes and The Moody Blues.

MWE3: What in your estimation makes The Moody Blues such an interesting subject in so many of your paintings of that band?

KP: The Moodies strike a chord with me as they have a way of expressing thoughts about people and life through love, peace and harmony. I think it is my interest in astronomy and science fiction and coupled with this, my wanting to say something visually, equivalent to what The Moodies are saying musically.

MWE3: I particularly like your painting of The Sixth Moody with Mike and Tony Clarke in the center of things. How did that painting take shape in your mind’s eye?

KP: Well, to begin I was a bit sad at the time that Mike Pinder had left the band in the late 1970s, so I decided to create an artistic statement to show parting of the ways. Using the Octave inside cover sleeve photo as my inspiration, we see Mike playing his mellotron and singing his cosmic lyrics, depicted by stars and planets above, looking over his shoulder to see his band mates deciding to stay in London and Tony Clarke (the producer and sixth Moody) in the foreground was left in the middle without a band to produce.

MWE3: When the Moodies split up in the late ‘70s we all suffered a great loss musically. As you’ve done just as many paintings with the Classic 7 Moodies as you have of the lineup with the quartet without Mike, do you have any thoughts or comparisons between the two bands? Especially as I know you worked with Paul Bliss, who plays keyboards with the Moodies these days.

KP: I have enjoyed listening to all the Moody Blues songs they have ever written, including their solo projects, but I would say the first seven albums (the classic 7 albums) I think are the best. I am particularly fond of Seventh Sojourn. Octave seemed to be a collection of songs rather than a concept album like the previous seven, but I was pleased that Mike had got a song on that album and their harmonies were still there. I must admit I was amazed when Patrick Moraz joined the Moodies as I had heard his solo album i, which I thought was stunning, and of course his playing with Yes which was so different from the Moodies sound. But I enjoyed his playing with the Moodies and the albums did inspire me to create images. I did think when he left the band in the early 1990s that they missed his energy. To me, their more recent albums seemed like a collection of solo songs, rather than a concept and their trademark harmonies seemed less evident. I still reckon they miss Mike and his arrangements. But I love “December Snow,” it’s beautiful, and I do feel inspired by it. Paul Bliss now does a great job for the band on stage and it was very nice to create a CD cover for his solo album called The Edge Of Coincidence released in 1997. There are some great songs on there and again the recurring message for a better world to live in.

MWE3: Can you say something about your favorite Moody Blues paintings?

KP: My favorite paintings are the ones with Mike in, as he tends to be the one with the most to say cosmically, and of course he was part of making the classic seven albums. But I was really thrilled when Mike and Tara Pinder bought my painting inspired by The Pinder Brothers called Jupiter Falls. I think the Pinder Brothers are very talented and take after their father. Their vocal harmonies are wonderful to listen to. It was really nice to talk to Mike and Tara on the phone too.


MWE3: Yes is another band you seem to have a lot of respect for as you have a number of paintings inspired by the original classic Yes lineup. Yes was one of the first bands to really implement the power of artwork in their album covers. Was Roger Dean a big influence and how would you describe the influence of Yes on your painting ideas?

KP: Roger Dean was not really an influence on me, but he is a brilliant artist and I think he captures what Yes are all about on their album covers. I love his Yes logo. For me, Yes were sending me similar messages to the Moody Blues but obviously presented in a very different way musically. What draws me to Yes is that the music comes first, it’s from the heart and is very creative and of course progressive. Like a visual artist, their music is something from nothing. It is not contrived and they don’t follow trends and fashions like so much music of today. I always look forward to their next album because you never know what you’re going to get. Will it be similar to the last album? Will there be another change of personnel and hence bringing in new ideas? They certainly are unpredictable and seem to have a myriad of different styles, when you start listening to their solo stuff too. What you can be sure of though is that it will be musically good and it will challenge the listener. I love listening to choirs too and Yes have that choral sound and coupled with their superb musicianship their music can be very powerful and emotional at times to listen to. This inspires me to create scenes relevant to their lyrics.

MWE3: I like your Mystical World Of Yes painting. I even see you’ve got Peter Banks and Trevor Horn in the painting! What’s your personal favorite Yes painting and why?

KP: As I have stated the Yes logo created by Roger Dean is rather good I think. I thought to myself how can I use it’s shape to create a tribute to Roger Dean and to one of the greatest bands of all time, if not the greatest, to depict all the members of the band and still make the logo look recognizable. Then I thought why not turn the shape of the letter E into Planet Earth and turn the logo into a Yes spaceship orbiting the sun. After all Yes music is all about life on earth and beyond of course! I wanted to include all Yes members over the years, alas Billy Sherwood and Igor Khoroshev joined the band after I had created the painting, so they are not on the image.

MWE3: Your painting of Yes called Nous Sommes Du Soleil is one of the best. Was that inspired by the Topographic Oceans era Yes lineup?

KP: Well yes it was. It is also a tribute to the band still going strong after 35 years. The Ultimate Yes! I am very fond of Topographic Oceans. I couldn’t stop playing it on my turntable when it first came out in 1974 was it? It seemed a natural progression from Close To The Edge. Of course it was challenging to listen to. I remember seeing them perform some of it along with Relayer at Reading Rock Festival in 1975 near London. Of course Patrick Moraz was on keyboards by then.

MWE3: You’ve worked on several paintings inspired by the Dr. Who series. For those of us not from the U.K. can you explain some history behind the Dr. Who series and your Dr. Who related paintings?

KP: Yes, I consider Dr. Who to be the greatest science fiction program ever made, closely followed by Star Trek (the original series). I have watched Dr. Who from the first episode in 1963 and watched it on and off ever since. I found the early black and white stories quite frightening as an impressionable child growing up in the 1960’s. But it was a healthy fear and it expanded my mind and ideas. For me the program works on so many levels, including morally, emotionally, and ethically. A story can be told in any time or place, or planet. The time machine called Tardis, (The Doctor’s space travel machine) which is bigger on the inside than the outside, always takes its companions including the Doctor, to any time or place in the universe. The Doctor is the pilot of the Tardis and has the ability to regenerate if his body becomes tired and worn out. He can regenerate twelve times and then that is finally it. We have now reached his eleventh incarnation. From this the scope of the show becomes enormous. It can always reinvent itself, and that’s why it has survived through 46 years now. Even when it was taken off TV in 1989, the power of fandom made sure that it continued with new stories on CD and merchandise from the BBC. Of course now we have a new series on TV since 2005 which is proving immensely popular round the globe and finding new fans too! I have been fortunate enough to have met Tom Baker, Colin Baker and spoken to other big names at Doctor Who conventions. I have donated some of my Doctor Who art to charity at conventions. Again in the 1990’s I felt inspired to create some Doctor Who montages about this great TV program after my success with The Moody Blues montages.

MWE3: How would you compare your musically inspired paintings to some of your amazing paintings listed in your web site under the Railways & Canals section?

KP: The common theme is a celebration of life. With the Railways and Canals it is a celebration of man’s achievements with transport. I particularly enjoy painting the steam locomotive because for me it is almost like a living thing. They are earth, fire and water (elements of planet earth) combining together to create the power of steam. Enthusiasts tend to refer to steam locomotives with the pronoun ‘she’. Many large locomotives have their own names, for example Queen Elizabeth. In the case of my musical heroes, they make our world a better place to live through the power of their music.

MWE3: Is it harder to paint musicians and music related topics or Railways & Canals and some of the landscape paintings?

KP: I would not say it is harder as every painting I undertake is a challenge and I try and do it to the best of my ability. What I paint always comes from the heart, unless I am asked to paint something specific, like a commission for instance, where I have to work to the commissioner’s instructions. I very often need to do research and find the appropriate photographic material to help me create an image

MWE3: Which of your paintings would you list among your favorites and why?

KP: Regarding The Moody Blues, I would have to say When You’re A Super Band, which is a play on words from Mike’s great song “When You’re a Free Man.” I wanted to capture the adulation from the fans and the pinnacle of their success at the time and of course their theme of love peace and harmony. “The Dream Realised” original painting was an interesting project as it aroused interest from Mike Pinder and The Friends Of Mike Pinder magazine in 1996. The painting was donated to a children’s charity in the USA organized by The Friends Of Mike Pinder. Angels Cry is a painting featuring Justin Hayward and Annie Haslam of Renaissance fame. Anyway, Annie rang me at home in my studio about buying the original painting. It was really nice to speak to her. “The Angels Cry” is a beautiful song in my estimation. Nous Sommes Du Soliel. We are Of The Sun. This captures what Yes Are all about in my view which is life on Earth and how we all need to go back to nature and be part of it. Without the sun there is no life. How life is an ever growing flower as represented by the band in my depiction. It depicts the incredible guitar playing of Steve Howe, the solid, assured drumming of Alan White, the pounding bass of Chris Squire, the symphonic playing of Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson singing his song poems in his mystical way to the audience. Move It! To Stardom was one I particularly enjoyed painting as it’s composition aroused interest from Ian Samwell, the writer of “Move It.” Duchess In Defiance. This was a commissioned painting by a steam enthusiast. For me it captures the beauty and power of that particular locomotive named The Duchess Of Sutherland. My image can be found on Getty Images, calendars and a 3d greeting card

MWE3: Do you have any advice for aspiring painters inspired by your great works?

KP: What I would say to any other artist who is just starting out, is to be prolific and create many pieces of art and then approach the art world, the media, perhaps an art gallery for an exhibition, or a magazine, but try to find a niche with your style of work and believe in what you are doing and never give up. Always get advice and feedback from people who are knowledgeable in the art world at the same time.

MWE3: What are your plans moving forward and as a follow up do you have any ideas or ideas brewing for new paintings, music related or otherwise?

KP: Oh yes, I have lots of ideas for future paintings including my favorite musicians. I am a fan of so many now. I have many paintings in my studio which are unfinished, including Yes ideas, and I do intend to finish them when time permits. I am very fond of Justin Hayward’s “View From The Hill” and I am Inspired by his lyrics which I think are really poignant. He has written some great love songs. I have been listening to John Lennon lately and I am inspired by him. I also find Morrissey interesting to listen to and again his music seems to come from the heart. At the moment I tend to focus on painting in black and white. This has provoked a lot of renewed interest in my art, as customers and the art world say that I have a unique style and my work looks three dimensional. I have an exhibition on Saturday 30 May 2009, (a preview evening) at The Mitchell Gallery in Warwick, United Kingdom. It continues through the whole of June 2009.

MWE3: Thanks for all your great paintings and for the opportunity to speak to you about it!

KP: Thank you very much Robert and for giving me the opportunity to share my art with you, and thank you for your interest and kind words about my art. I would also like to thank Stuart Hargreaves, my webmaster, who has worked tirelessly over the years helping me display my artwork online.

Special thanks to Kevin Parrish @ www.KevinParrishArt.com and to Mike Pinder @ www.MikePinder.com for his thoughtful comments about Kevin’s paintings and art.

 






 
 
 
 
 

 

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