There’s nothing more inspirational than seeing a new piece of artwork by your favourite artist. One of the artists I admire is Richard A. Kirk. He’s simply a master of the fantastical; his illustrations so intricate, and so beautiful in their grotesqueness that it takes your breath away.
Richard kindly agreed to be interviewed by me and I took my time with my questions. I wanted to be just as detailed inn my questioning so I could delve into just what makes this incredible artist tick. If you are already familiar with Richard, then this will hopefully help you get to know the man even more, if you’ve never heard of him (though you should!), then I envy you, because there’s nothing more wonderful than being in awe of an artist’s work!
Many of your fans would already know you by your incredible artwork, but can you tell us a little bit about Richard A. Kirk the man and his journey. What influenced you to take up art and what art means to you?
I have enjoyed drawing from a young age. It filled a need to be creative, providing me with an outlet, a way to interact with those things that inspired me. It was a natural attraction. In the early years I would not have called myself an artist, drawing was just something I did. As I grew up it also became a way to interact with people. I’ve been doing it for so long it seems inextricably bound up with who I am. If I don’t do it, I don’t feel quite right. It’s how I think, how I observe, how I solve problems.
Which artists do you admire, or have influenced your creative process? Have you always been drawn to the fantastic and surreal?
Growing up I always spent a lot of time in libraries and my early introduction to art came through books. That is where I discovered Beardsley, Mervyn Peake, Odilon Redon and many of the other illustrators from the late 19th and early to mid 20th century. I’ve always been drawn to the fantastic in art and literature. Those early illustrators really enthralled me with their imaginations and their beautiful lines. Because of the deceptive simplicity, it looked like something I could do. Of course I came to realize that what they had done was anything but simple but by then I was hooked. I started by looking closely at their work and trying to emulate their effects. I am still constantly surprised by what can be achieved with a point on a piece of paper. It can open up worlds. Like a lot of artists of my generation, in high school I discovered many artists through Heavy Metal magazine and even Omni. Chief among these was Jean Giraud (Moebius). When I saw his work it was like my brain exploded. Here was a guy that could work with the simplest lines or the most complex compositions while bringing in humor, intelligence and vision. To this day he remains on of my favorite artists. I was very sad when he died, and sorry that I never got to meet him in person.
To me, your art seems to be an extension of nature; trees growing unnaturally – or supernaturally; creatures emerging into or from surreal landscapes. Is this what you see in the world around you?
The primary pleasure for me in creating art the ability to open up, and reveal imaginary worlds. Imaginary worlds are impulses of the human imagination, no matter how bizarre. It is the same impulse that leads us to create religions, dreams, music and all of the other projections of the human brain (it would be interesting to see what other intelligent creatures could imagine, like whales for example). Constructing these little dream tableaus is a way of conveying a narrative that I hope will resonate with viewers. Others might not know what the story behind a specific image is, but the human brain is associative and the images will trigger narratives in the mind of the viewer that I didn’t necessarily intend. This is an exciting exchange between artist and viewer.
You’ve mastered the long-forgotten technique of silverpoint illustration. Just how long does it take to create a silverpoint drawing and what does it entail?
Actually, I think it’s having a bit of a resurgence! Silverpoint is a technique that can be done very simply. Of course there are ways to make it complicated by making your own grounds from scratch, but I prefer to keep it simple. I use a basic technique of double coating an archival quality illustration board with W&N Permanent White Gouache. I draw into this ground with silver wire in a mechanical pencil. This works very well with my technique of detailed drawing. Due to the nature of my work, it’s a time consuming technique. Other artists will have different approaches to the medium depending on their style.
The 25th anniversary edition of Clive Barker’s Weaveworld was recently released and is filled with your lavish illustrations. It’s clear you were the only choice to do the illustrations for that book. Did translating Barker’s visions come easily for you?
Thank you. Interpreting Clive’s writing has always been a pleasure for me. He is detailed enough in his descriptions that as an artist you have something rich to work with, but at the same time he is atmospheric enough to allow leeway. His horror is visceral, which suits my highly detailed style very well. Part of this comes down to the fact that Clive is an artist himself and he writes like an artist. Sometimes you will read a passage and it will be seared into your imagination. It sits in your imagination as something highly wrought but when you go back and read it, the passage will often be impressionistic. It is like a painting that from across the room looks epic and then the closer you get it becomes a series of powerful but extremely well placed brush strokes. Working with Clive is certainly an extraordinary opportunity for any illustrator.
You’ve also provided illustrations for Thomas Ligotti’s Death Poems. Is there any sense of trepidation when you set out to bring another author’s words to life through art?
The Ligotti book was a series of poems and I immediately abandoned any thought of interpreting them literally. It would have been impossible. What I chose to do instead was create images which the writing made me feel; images that took root in his poems and grew into something else. It seemed an appropriate response. With fiction the process is a bit different. You are more beholden to the author’s prose. I always read the text and try to develop a number of images in my mind. I then edit those images down to the essence of what I think the author is trying to say. That is a different kind of response. I don’t feel trepidation. If I didn’t resonate with the text then I would feel trepidation, but fortunately I have loved all of the books I’ve been asked to illustrate. If I was asked to do a book I didn’t like, I would turn it down. I have to feel I can bring something to the project and that is only possible if you can connect with the author.
I understand you represent yourself commercially. Obviously, you’re never short of work, but how do you find a balance between the business and creative aspects of your career?
I’ve been fortunate that one thing has rolled into the next over the years. My commercial and personal work kind of blend together, so I haven’t really worried about one or the other taking over.
You’re also an author in your own right, with your first novella, The Lost Machine, being published in 2010. Has there always been a writer in you as well or is that a side of you which only came to light in the past few years?
Reading has always had a big influence on my art so writing felt like a natural extension of my creative process. I have always written stories for myself but technology and the web have now made it possible for anyone with the perseverance to make books. The Lost Machine’s beginning came from a drawing I did some time ago. I wanted to write a story to go with it. In the end, the finished story had nothing to do with the drawing, but that is the creative process at work. So writing is at least in part an effort to bring out many of the visual and narrative ideas I have and give them a life in words. I also have a great love of books as objects. I find them aesthetically appealing. There is so much going on in the physical form of the book – decisions that are made. Each of the elements in a book has a story, the placement of front matter, the typography, the paper. It’s endlessly fascinating really.
Artists are proud of all the works they’ve created, but are there any that are your particular favorites?
My large drawing Chimera stands out in my mind. It is the largest drawing I’ve done and it was a bit of a battle to create. When you stand in front of it, there is a whole world in there. It’s the one I most enjoy looking at. I like the scale. I’m thinking of doing another one of that size. I am also proud of my novella The Lost Machine. It was another difficult project for a number of reasons but in the end I was pleased with the way it came out. The story and the illustrations work well together.
What are you working on at the moment and what can we expect from you in the future?
I am working on art for TOME II, which will be published in 2014. The theme is Melancholia so it’s right up my alley. There will be at least 2 full page images. Clive Barker will be interviewing me about my art and I will be contributing work to a TOME show at the Last Rites Gallery in New York in the fall. Later in the fall, I will be in the beinART group show at the Copro Gallery in Santa Monica. In the meantime I am polishing my novel Necessary Monsters and working on the illustrations. Who knows what the new year will bring!
Thank you Richard for your time!
Discover more of Richard’s work at his website – http://richardakirk.weebly.com/index.html