Some time back, I spent a couple
of years studying the Constantin Stanislavski approach to acting at the Method
School in London – originally set up by Lee Strasberg’s wife, Anna – which is
sadly now closed. I became quite obsessed and extremely passionate about the
whole thing, mainly because I was going through a bit of a personal trauma at
the time and found it relatively easy to tap into raw emotions that bubbled
away under the surface. That is the stuff that makes a performance ‘real’; that
and the fact that it was fantastic therapy to help get
bottled-up emotions out of the system and shared. I would thoroughly recommend
It got me thinking about how Stanislavski’s teaching could manifest itself in other creative areas, and illustration seems a perfect candidate.
There are four illustrators that I would class as ‘method’ illustrators: the late John Gorham, Mick Brownfield, Andrew Davidson and Mark Thomas. Why? Well, because they all have the ability to ‘inhabit’ another era in their work to such an extent that they ‘become’, effectively living in the shoes of early illustrators.
John Gorham was a man who would have been more than happy living in the late 19th or early 20th century, when craft and attention to detail were the norm. If you looked at a cigarette card from the 1930s and compared it to a Gorham rendition, you couldn’t tell the difference.
The remakable thing about the above is that it was all hand drawn and lettered by Gorham. A real labour of love.
When working, he became that artist back in the 1930s. He lived, breathed and loved it and it showed in the results. I commissioned John a hell of a lot in the 1970s and he would often bring in a new ‘treasure’, as he referred to his latest pieces of ephemera unearthed from a junk shop or (more often than not) from David Drummond’s shop of curiosities just off St Martin’s Lane. John would positively salivate over an engraving or illustration from an old annual. One could see that he was far more excited about the quality of that bygone era of work than anything that was being done at the time.
A different personality but just as passionate is Mick Brownfield: a master of his craft and drenched in the glory days of ‘commercial’ illustration when cheeks were rosy, jaws were square and highlights glistened. He has been at it since the 1970s and can still be found at his very analogue drawing board with Radio 4 purring in the background. Or at least that’s how I imagine him.
Above shows Brownfield's astonishing versatility in styles from earlier periods executed with supreme craftsmanship.
Mark Thomas, another ‘method’ candidate, is just so spot on with his pulp fiction covers…
The last of this quartet is Andrew Davidson: a wonderful wood engraver but, when not doing that, he often slips into the shoes of Frank Newbold et al. He does this with great aplomb, as you can see here…
Above the marvelously evocative work of Andrew Davidson
It is heartening that the world of illustration is not only retaining its hands on craft but that there is a whole wealth of new illustrators flexing their young wings to show that craft is alive, kicking and developing. Hooray.