Richard A. Kirk is a modern maestro of the fantastic. Between the morphing forms and extraordinary creatures sprawling onto paper from his vivid imagination, blooms a magical world like no other, and it is truly something breathtaking to behold. Kirk’s natural ability to give way to the fluid connections of his subconscious, provides him with great scope to creatively realise his philosophical ruminations within the context of the meticulous visual aesthetic he has nurtured since youth, when he first became enraptured with science fiction and fantasy literature. Within the fine details of his monochromatic imagery, lush landscapes spawn a legion of visionary beings of anomalous hybridity, who often, through their curious associations, form the foundations of mysterious narratives which have us contemplating a whole host of philosophical questions all of our own.
Richard A. Kirk was born in Hull, Yorkshire in 1962 and moved to Canada with his family in 1968, settling in Southwestern Ontario. He is a highly respected visual artist, illustrator and author and regularly exhibits his work internationally. Richard has illustrated works by Clive Barker, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Christopher Golden and China Miéville, among others, and he also created the cover art for Korn’s ‘Untitled’ album in 2007.
WOW x WOW is absolutely thrilled that Richard is contributing a fantastic new work entitled, ‘Foundling’ (see full image below, along with several detail shots), to our inaugural online exhibition, ‘Lightning Bolts & Little Sparks’, opening on 2nd June. To mark this wonderful occasion, we felt it would be great to catch up with Richard and find out some more about the man behind the incredible art. We hope you enjoy the following interview! (P.S. For any purchase inquiries please email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to receive the collector’s preview when the time comes, simply sign up to our mailing list. Thank you.)
Hi Richard! First of all, thanks for agreeing to free up some of your valuable time in order to have this wee chat, we really appreciate it. If you could please start us off by introducing yourself and talking a little about your background, touching on anything you feel has been relevant to shaping Richard A. Kirk the artist?
I am a Canadian visual artist, illustrator and author. Like many people involved in the arts, my interest started when I was young and developed to a point in the 1980’s where I knew I wanted to pursue it professionally. The rise of the internet in the 1990’s was instrumental in making connections to help establish the basis for a career. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the ripples made by that early impact are still playing a role today. I was fortunate to connect with publishers that shared the same aesthetic as I did, and subsequently I had the opportunity to work on some great projects. It’s not a path you could reverse engineer, but it allowed me to work creatively without compromising my vision. My first exciting gig was to provide art, along with a number of other amazing artists, for a collectible card game based on Clive Barker’s novel Imajica. That led to other work, and the mastermind behind the project, Hans Rueffert is a close friend to this day. It’s not an accident that I found my creative foothold in illustration. Literature has been the foundation of my interest from day one. I can remember being very young and drawing scenes from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, simply for the sheer pleasure of spending more time in that world. It was fan art before fan art was a thing. My interest in writing, was inspired by a very strong impulse to create worlds of my own, and still is.
We’re interested to hear about where you’re currently living and what you like about the area? What is the art scene like there and do you feel a part of that community? Are these aspects of your life that are important to your creativity?
I live in Southwestern Ontario, about 2.5 hours away from Toronto. It’s an interesting area in the midst of the Great Lakes. There is a lot of natural diversity in the region and it is interesting geologically. There are some great places to look for fossils. These elements inform my art in myriad ways.
I wouldn’t say I am tightly connected to the broader art scene here, but over the years I’ve connected with a number of like-minded artists, animators, painter, sculptors, film makers and illustrators through the Shadowood Collective, a group overseen by artists Sarah Legault, an award winning animator, and Vincent Marcone, the mind behind My Pet Skeleton. We connected in Toronto at a convention years ago and found that we were fans of each other’s work. The Shadwood shows are fantastic multimedia events, each one a little more ambitious than the last. The openings are always packed and the shows are now attracting outside interest. The last show in February 2017 had several pieces by Clive Barker, which was wonderful to see.
In what ways did your childhood and upbringing affect your relationship with the arts?
I was quite introverted as a kid and reading was my refuge. I loved getting lost in the worlds I found in Science Fiction and Fantasy novels, and to a point, comics. I visited second hand bookshops, reading everything I could get my hands on. Reading has an amazing way of connecting you to the other arts. I absolutely loved what is now regarded as Weird fiction. I started reading Verne and Burroughs and in no time I was well into Lovecraft. Reading Lovecraft was strange. I used to read a lot in the garden – my mother was an avid gardener. Lovecraft’s lush settings blended right into my lived reality. I think that was the wonderful appeal of reading to me, not only the ability it provided to escape to somewhere magical, but the ability it had to overlay the everyday and enrich how I looked at things. Finding magic in the everyday is a great gift. One of my favourite books, read when I was older, is Little, Big by John Crowley. That book literally changed how I looked at the world, and it was given to me on a whim one rainy night in Toronto, so that I would have something to occupy me on the subway. Another book, Out of the Silent Planet, was given to me during a snowstorm as another friend was hopping on board a Greyhound to head out of town. So I guess the response to your question is that my relationship with the arts is largely about the relationships that the arts create. It’s probably no accident that I met my wife in a high school art class.
It was the discovery of book illustrators of the 19th and early 20th century that transformed my interest in drawing into something more serious. I discovered the works of Beardsley, Mervyn Peake, Franklin Booth, Erté, Rackham, and later Wyeth, Frank Frazetta, Mœbius, Jeff Jones, so many others. They worked in a mode that I could replicate with simple materials. I learned more from studying their work and techniques than I did in school.
As both an illustrator and a fine artist, do you compartmentalise these as two separate aspects of your creative output, or do you feel that these terms are redundant and that the word ‘artist’ sufficiently encompasses what you do? What are your thoughts?
I don’t make a huge distinction between the two. For sure, illustration has particular needs that involve other people’s expectations, and draws on a specific skill set, but I have been very fortunate to have editors and art editors that have given me free reign. For me, one process very much informs the other. I can see where the distinction would be meaningful for some people, but all of my work is, at root, illustrative, in the sense that it chases a narrative. Sometimes the narrative is a text, and other times it is an idea in my head. My goal has always been to give the viewer a unique experience, I want the work to be arresting. I guess the biggest difference is that I would create my ‘fine art’ with or without an audience. I am not thinking about the audience when I create personal work, nothing could be more toxic to the development of new ideas. That is why it is so wonderful when I get a positive response when I do show the work, or when people respond to work in progress shots on social media.
The characters in your imagery often exhibit elements of unusual hybrid existence; as if they lie somewhere between the undiscovered and the natural wonders of our planet. Could you go into some detail about the inspirations and intentions behind your wonderful creations?
At a basic level they are just a lot of fun to draw. The challenge to me is to create forms that contain enough elements from the real world to be convincing. I study the forms of animals, particularly invertebrates, and plants, fungi, etc., and then start playing with interesting juxtapositions. More often than not, one form will suggest another in an interesting chain reaction.
I like to work intuitively, to go where my imagination takes me at any given point in time. I challenge myself to come up with unique ideas. I’m fascinated by the associative ability of the subconscious. My flow comes when I try not to impose too much will onto what I am doing. Constraints can be interesting, but only after the ideas have arrived. There is a space where you have to allow a certain chaotic process to take place. Once ideas begin to gel, then it’s time to apply whatever rational strategies you need to make the parts cohere, whether that is the application of naturalistic rendering or composition or simply the appropriate selection of technique. More philosophically, drawing creatures where things like fungi and plants blend with protean forms, is a way for me to explore, or interrogate, if you will, the interconnectedness of all life, our place within the world, anxieties about our relationships with other creatures and environments, in a creative and imaginative way.
Along with being a highly respected artist and illustrator, you are also a skilled author and you have a new fantasy novel entitled, ‘Necessary Monsters’ is due to be released later this year. We’d love to hear you talk about your book, and also when your love affair with the written word began and about the influence it has had on your visual art.
Thank you. NECESSARY MONSTERS comes out in June, from Arche, an imprint of Resurrection House. I started it several years ago, and has shed its skin several times. I’m very happy where it ended up. My short-novel THE LOST MACHINE, was actually part of NECESSARY MONSTERS in one early version, but it cried out to be a stand-alone story, so I published it as such. NECESSARY MONSTERS is the story of an escaped convict who is living under a false identity. When he is black mailed by a criminal organization to track down somebody he thought had drowned during his childhood, he begins to uncover some very weird things about his past. Everything is on the line for this character, his identity, all of his assumptions, and he has this very slender chance to make things right. There are demons, witches, forbidden islands. I really had fun with this one and I am super excited to share it with people. The book is a stand-alone story, but I see so much opportunity for future tales in the world that I have created. Actually, my agent is shopping another novel that takes place in the same world, called TAILOR OF ECHOES.
It is only rarely that you venture into the world of colour while creating. What is it about black and white imagery that you feel best suits your narratives and subject matter?
Black and white art has a special magic for me. I think you can create a mood with monochromatic work that you don’t get with colour. It has its own set of challenges compositionally, especially in a style like mine that tends toward density. It forces you to understand texture, line and value in different way than you do when working in colour. On the surface it seems simple, but the more time you spend with it, the greater the complexity. I just really like the way ink looks on paper. I like its nuances and character. In some ways drawing with ink can feel like writing – it’s that same connection with a point against paper that I find incredibly expressive. I also like the fact that there is very little room to mess up. Ink does not erase well.
If you could own one piece of art from any of the world’s collections what would it be and why?
The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke by Richard Dadd popped into my head when I first read the question, though I wouldn’t want the burden of actually owning it! I would settle for unfettered access, free of the usual constraints of time and space, so that I could look at it each day as I ate my cereal. My fascination with the painting, which I have only so far seen in reproduction, has been life-long. I’ve always been attracted to the intensely layered detail and the beauty of its lines. The dragonfly with the horn always captures my eye. I’m fascinated that it took nine years to paint and is still an unfinished work. The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke is a beautiful oddity that has inspired me since the day I first saw it.
What’s next for Richard A. Kirk?
In the immediate future I will be doing illustrations for my collection of short stories MAGPIE’S LADDER. I’ve also signed on to do a cover for a book by another author, so I am very excited about that. In terms of personal work, I am working on larger drawings this year – at least in the context of my own output – and I plan to continue that trend. Smaller works are almost becoming like studies or satellite images to larger works. I like the intellectual challenge of complexity. I am also continuing to write and have started working on a new novel, with the working title of THE TANGLED SLOPE. The first draft of my last novel TAILOR OF ECHOES was written over eight weeks in 2016. It was a lot of fun, but stressful. This time I am allowing myself a bit more time. I’m also working on a new collection of short fiction called THE DARK CLOTH. So far there are 4 stories in various stages.