Richard Wagner: 2011 Cover Artist
Reflective Thoughts: Richard Wagner interviewed by James Worrad
It's becoming something of a tradition at Interzone for one artist to illustrate a year's worth of covers. Adam Tredowski wowed us in 2009, whilst 2010 saw the slow reveal of Warwick Fraser-Coombe's six-part dystopia.
Richard Wagner has stepped up to the plate for 2011. Relatively new to Interzone, his debut came in issue #229. I recall opening that issue last June and seeing the illustration for Antony Mann's 'Candy Moments' in all its psychotropic glory. I immediately searched for the artist's name. When the illustrator of Jim Hawkins' 'Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark Matter' proved to be the same artist, I was very impressed. Though not surprised.
Richard's work for Interzone evokes the spirit of our nascent decade. Whether the touchscreen-soaked reality of 'Noam Chomsky and the Time Box' (Douglas Lain, issue #232), or the shock-and-awesome of 'Orchestral Manoeuvres', modern themes blend seamlessly with future possibilities. It's impossible to guess where his vision will take us, but entirely human to be excited by the prospect.
Richard took a break from his hectic schedule to answer some questions. I thought I'd begin with his current residency…
As the cover artist for all of this year's issues of Interzone, did you envision any overarching theme?
No. Each of the illustrations has its own particular character and subject. I had been making images that I thought might have potential as cover illustrations for Interzone. When I would finish a few here and there I would email them to Andy saying that if he found them suitable he was welcome to use them as cover art whenever he might have a need. I really wasn't intending to illustrate all of the covers for a given year – I just thought I might be able to help fill a gap when one might occur.
How did the opportunity to work with Interzone come about?
I had been researching a variety of print magazines and small presses as possible markets for which I might work as an illustrator. During that period of research I came across Interzone and found it to be a quality magazine with impressive reviews. So I put together a sample package of my current illustrations and mailed it off to the editor, Andy Cox.
A little while later Andy emailed me to say he liked my work and filled me in on the particulars of illustrating for Interzone. After exchanging a couple of emails he asked if I would like to illustrate a story and sent me 'Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark Matter' by Jim Hawkins. And with that first story I became a member of the "Interzone family" and have enjoyed illustrating for the magazine ever since.
In your portfolio you say your artwork is "meant not only to be pleasing to one's eye but also encourage the viewer to reflective thought and further discovery". With a picture like, say, '55 Bel Air' on the cover of issue #232, do you set out with a particular thought or message you want to convey?
In a cover illustration like that one my goal is to develop a composition of images that first visually engages the viewer and then encourages them to seek and discover the story within it. The story that they create in their mind may not be the same one that I experience or think about. What's important is that a connection has been made between the viewer and this seemingly disparate group of images interacting in a somewhat surreal environment. The story may be readily apparent or a bit obscure and require some mental gymnastics to connect the images together to form a coherent whole.
When illustrating a story the approach is somewhat different. There is a definite goal to build imagery that is both attractive and complementary to the spirit of the story – to illumine and lend it visual meaning. I like to read a story that I am to illustrate at least twice. The first time through I read it for personal enjoyment just like any reader would. The second time I become more analytical as I seek to visualize the story.
I like to keep the story beside me as I work so I can refer to it from time to time – perhaps to catch a little detail here or there as well as make sure that I've remembered certain sections of the story correctly.
Do some things only become apparent as you work?
As I work on an illustration there is a definite dialogue or interaction that occurs between me and the imagery. Sometimes it is like a well-planned journey complete with a road map and a definite destination. While at other times it is like strolling down a meandering path unable to see the end but thoroughly enjoying the sites along the way. Both methods are for me a valid and creatively engaging process by which a visual problem is solved.
When I find myself stuck with an illustration that just isn't going anywhere, I generally take a break from the work to get away from it for a little while. It's in those quiet moments when I'm not doing much of anything that the impasse is usually broken with ideas that seem to come from nowhere.
Like many Interzone artists you use a lot of computer graphics. What is it that attracts you to that approach?
Time and the fluid ability to manipulate the imagery contained within an illustration. As an artist using traditional techniques I was very reference dependent. In order to create an image I would collect a number of reference photos from which to work. When software came along that could manipulate the photographic references it simply made sense to directly use the source photos rather than try and render them using traditional tools.
And in terms of time, I can accomplish an illustration much more quickly using digital techniques. For me an application like Photoshop is a tremendous blessing.
Do you do your own photography?
On occasion my own photographs find their ways into the illustrations that I create, but the bulk of the images that I make use of come from stock photography. I am an avid collector of stock photos and images that are in the public domain. Stock photography provides a wealth of photographs from around the world that one can only dream of having the opportunity to shoot.
What is it about SF, Fantasy and Horror that compels you to work within the field?
Compels is a pretty strong word. I enjoy illustrating science fiction for the sheer breadth of the imaginative imagery that it can evoke. Each story has the ability to explore any number of issues that are relevant to humanity and do so in a variety of locales from the familiar to the exotic. It can also be flat out entertaining.
Any visual artist who loves the challenge of expressing imaginative subject matter would enjoy illustrating science fiction and fantasy. I don't feel, though, that the kind of imagery I create is limited to just that. I think it's also applicable to literature in general, be it fiction, non-fiction or poetry.
I am generally not drawn to the genre of horror. When Andy first approached me about the possibility of illustrating for Black Static I was fairly hesitant to do so. Andy understood. He did, however, send me Ray Cluley's 'Beachcombing' to read and possibly illustrate. I didn't really see that story embodying what one would think of as horror; the grieving man and the innocence and empathy of the young boy was quite affecting. So I was comfortable with illustrating that story.
What illustration in Interzone are you most proud of?
Tough question. Each illustration went through its own particular process of creation and embodies something of value and accomplishment for me. With that said I tend to like the illustration for Tim Lees' story 'Love and War' (issue #230). The content of that illustration and simplified colour range just seems to communicate the overall essence of the story. For very similar reasons I also tend to favour the illustration I developed for 'Beachcombing' by Ray Cluley in Black Static issue #19.
Besides art, what else do you enjoy?
I think of myself as being just an average guy who lives a quiet life. I tend to enjoy simple things like a walk in the woods rather than the bustling streets of a crowded city.
Music is one thing that I enjoy. I like to listen to jazz, folk, and classical music as well as some rock, pop, bluegrass and contemporary gospel thrown into the mix for variety. I have a Gibson L6 guitar that I play through a small amplifier. The sound I produce is more like improvisational noise than music. I call it “noodling” but I find it to be a nice way to reduce the stress that can build up in one’s life.
Since I was a young boy I have always liked to read. I like to read well-written fiction, non-fiction, poetry and books covering historical subjects. I am currently reading Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. I enjoy the subtle blending of reality and fantasy that he has developed in this complex, interwoven story.
When the weather is agreeable, I enjoy taking walks with my wife as well as just spending time with her in general. And, although it has been challenging at times, I’ve enjoyed seeing our daughter grow up from a small, helpless baby to an intelligent, self-sufficient, young lady.
Richard doesn't have a website but please contact us if you'd like to speak to him.
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