AT THE VIEW...
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
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
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 Kevins
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
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 Im Sorry Ill 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 1990s 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? Ive 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 Mikes 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 artists 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 bands 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
KP: I dont 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 1950s 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
Cliffs 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 LPs 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 minds 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 youve 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, its 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
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, its
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 dont follow trends and fashions like so much
music of today. I always look forward to their next album because
you never know what youre 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
youve got Peter Banks and Trevor Horn in the painting! Whats
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 its 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 couldnt 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: Youve 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 1960s.
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 Doctors 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 thats 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
1990s 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 mans 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.
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 commissioners instructions. I very often need to do research
and find the appropriate photographic material to help me create an
MWE3: Which of your paintings would you list among your favorites
KP: Regarding The Moody Blues, I would have to say When Youre
A Super Band, which is a play on words from Mikes great
song When Youre 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 childrens 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 its 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
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
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 Haywards
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
Special thanks to Kevin Parrish @ www.KevinParrishArt.com
and to Mike Pinder @ www.MikePinder.com
for his thoughtful comments about Kevins paintings and art.