OD – Your career as an artist has spanned practically your entire lifetime, with many milestones achieved, such as opening your own gallery to creating some very iconic album cover artwork, the creation and co-founder of Bloodstock and most recently the release of your book “Beyond Time and Place”. When you were younger did you ever have a plan of achieving all of this, or has it been an unexpected journey to date?
Paul – I think that the thing with me is that if something appeals to me, then I just go for it! I always wanted to be an artist so a I just went for it. Like the festival, I was presented with the idea, and I went for it. Also with the gallery (Chapel Cottage Galleries), which was basically two old cottages that were dilapidated – and bought them before I got planning permission and just went for it. In relation to me as an artist, I feel I was just born with it, as is other artists, musicians and poets are so I just went for it and tried not to get phased with anything. I knew I wanted to be an artist, people can either decide to ignore things like this or follow their chosen path, which is what I did.
With the gallery, I have had people who are at the point in their lives where they are retired from normal everyday jobs and have an interest / hobby in painting and want to show their work in the gallery. They ask me if I only show pieces by professional artists, so I take a look at their work and it’s brilliant! It makes me think about the choices we all make in life. Should some of these people have followed their talent as artists they could have had a very different kind of life. It’s important to keep following your dream.
OD – There has been an intimate and rich relationship between Paul Gregory “The Artist” and Tolkien’s work, which is documented back to when you were much younger. What is it that encapsulates you about the overall subject matter of Tolkien’s work and when in your life did you realise that it had more purpose in your life?
Paul – I was a big fan of Tolkien’s work back when I was a child. We didn’t have the internet back then, so it was normal for me and all other children to read more and things like Tolkien was very spectacular to me back then. I didn’t really consider doing Tolkien until I had my gallery and at that point I wanted to show an exhibition that saw my work develop over a period of years. So I decided to pick a subject and for me fantasy art seemed to really connect with me and so I chose the work of Tolkien. I did my first Tolkien piece back in 1976 and have been on that journey amongst other things, ever since.
If fact, the Tolkien work was the reason that I was asked to do Saxon’s “Crusader” album cover back in 1984 (30 years ago). Some of my work landed on the desk of the bands manager at the time and I was lucky enough get the opportunity to their fist album. It was not something that I set out to do, but somebody passed on my work and it just appealed to me.
OD – There is such a deep and rich amount of subject matter that can be depicted from Tolkien’s work, that at times, kind of seems endless in terms of what you can do with it.
Paul – It’s beautiful. For me, it’s the way he wrote that inspired me to create the beautiful, weird and wonderful visuals of his world. It’s not difficult as it is written so vividly and I can really relate to that as an artists.
OD – It is noted that your 2007 exhibition in Stockholm was the first time that the public could see the entire Tolkien inspired body of work. Can you talk a little about this experience for you and how it all came about?
Paul – I did have an exhibition back in 2002 in France, but nothing as big as the show in Stockholm which was host to some rather large pieces that I have done. I think the smallest piece I had at that exhibition was 50″x 40″.
OD – Why did the exhibition take place in Stockholm and not in the UK?
Paul – Well, I don’t actually own the majority of my paintings anymore, as I sold them to Leicester Galleries in London and these are now owned by Peter Nahum and he was the one that put that exhibition on. My original idea was to try and keep the paintings together and show them all as one body of work and that was just not financially viable. In the end I managed to do that by collaborating with Peter who I had worked with before, as he put on one of my first exhibitions back in 1984 in the Barbarian in London and also went on to do the Edinburgh Festival and other events with him.
The Stockholm exhibition was all Peter’s work and I was blown away when I saw it. There is one thing painting a painting and then when you see that painting in a beautiful frame with the correct lighting, it’s impact is staggering for me. I was very proud to see and be part of that exhibition. But the framers that created the frames collaborated with Peter and are very much part of the overall visual experience.
Paul – Well, I have just had a frame delivered this morning for a piece of work that I have been working on. Although the painting will not be finished by the time Bloodstock kicks off, I will be displaying it. It’s a very large painting 6ft x 10ft, with a special hand carved frame as well as others with hand carved frames. For me, the idea of the gallery is to make people aware of the connection between Fantasy, Heavy Metal and Tolkien. I mean, look at bands like Amon Amarth, who’s name is taken directly from Tolkien and Led Zeppelin who have also taken inspiration from Tolkien. For me, this is the link and I also want to make a permanent venue for art and music.
OD – Well, there is definitely a link between Metal music and Tolkien’s work. You referred to Amon Amarth who recently spoke with Overdrive about the process and influences that help them create their album covers and Tolkien’s name popped up a few times!
Paul – All you have to do it type in Tolkien and Heavy Metal on the internet that the results speak for themselves. I really wasn’t aware of it initially but it just then seeped in over time. Fantasy, Heavy Metal and Art have been linked for decades, just look at the work of Rodger Dean and the examples of the “Yes” record covers. The cross over between these worlds goes back a long way and Metal is stepped with Fantasy and Art and vise versa.
OD – Was there an opportunity to show this exhibition in galleries across the U.K or anywhere else?
Paul – The reason for this was because most of my work has pretty much been displayed in museums and then there is the size issue also. I’m working on an exhibition with Peter Nahum for the UK, but that will be a little down the road. However, the RAM (Rock and Metal) exhibition that will be taking place over the weekend at this years Bloodstock is taster of what’s in store for the bigger exhibition.
OD – In relation to your recently published book, “Beyond Time and Place”, how long had the idea been circulating to publish your catalogue of work in this format and did you have a very “hands on” role in the design and overall presentation of the book??
Paul – Well, I wasn’t (laughs)! I had a conversation with Mark Wilkinson (Marillion & Judas Priest) and he had just completed his book “Shadowplay” and I thought it was great. It was never really something that I wanted to push and it just seemed like the right time as I had a good body of work. So I just took it from there. Regarding the layout, I just left that to Mark because visually, he did such a great job on his own book and I was very confident that he would do the same with mine. There was some input from me, as I brought in people for the Tolkien input and the album artwork segments and it was just a great experience and I was blown away when I saw the finished product.
OD – It was announced earlier this year that you will be displaying a selection of your paintings at this year’s Bloodstock Festival in the RAM Gallery. I can only imagine that this is yet another dream to come true for you, as it is on a much grander scale in relation to the exhibition during the fist indoor Bloodstock Festival. How many pieces will be on display over the weekend?
Paul – The reason that I produced the gallery idea for Bloodstock was to highlight the awareness between Metal and Art and to show people where I wanted to be next, which is creating my own venue and space. I came up with the idea for Metal 2 The Masses which gives young bands a chance to play the festival. They have their own stage and there will be thirty slots over the weekend and that took over a few years to come together all thanks to Simon Hall (Beholder) who has done an amazing job of bringing it to where it is today. With the gallery, I wanted to create something where people could go and see the history of the festival with all of the artwork from day one to present day which is very unique to see in one space. Most of these designs for festivals are created digitally, and there is nothing wrong with that, but it’s just something very special indeed.
The exhibition will be hung on bespoke walls with hard flooring and correct lighting so hopefully it will be the experience that I’m trying to achieve. I haven’t seen it yet (laughs) as they are building this week. It’s not a 2 minute job for this gallery. It will take a couple of days to build and get right so I will be up there checking things out to make sure that it’s all going to plan.
OD – How many pieces will be on display at the Bloodstock RAM Exhibition, or have you not decided as yet?
Paul – There is most likely going to be about forty pieces including the album covers and sixteen Bloodstock images. There will two big paintings there also that are nearly twelve feet long.
OD – “Beyond Time and Place” will be available to purchase throughout the weekend and I believe that you will be personally signing copies of the book. Are there any set times that this will be happening?
Paul – I will be doing signings for the book and the times for this will be made available over the weekend. I think the times will be on a day to day basis.
OD – Will there be an opportunity to purchase limited prints and if so will they be numbered and signed?
Paul – Yes, there will be a limited number of 500 prints available while stocks last! I have prints of Saxon‘s, “Heavy Metal Thunder” which will be co-signed by myself and Biff Byford (Saxon vocalist) and Molly Hatchet‘s “Devils Canyon” which will also be co-signed by Bobby Ingram and myself! There will also be an opportunity to get the book signed by Mark Wilkinson (Marillion & Judas Priest illustrator) who will be coming down to Bloodstock on the Saturday, as well as music journalist Greg Moffitt (Metal Hammer, Decibel & Classic Rock) and Alex Lewis (Tolkien society). Overall this will be a fantastic opportunity to get all of these unique people in one place to sign some rather nice limited prints.
OD – So it looks like Saturday is the day for all the guest’s at the RAM Exhibition?
Paul – Yea, at the moment anyway, Saturday is looking like the day for all the guys available for signing stuff.
OD – From memory, I believe that this will be the first time that such an elaborate Fine Art Exhibition will be on display at a weekend music festival. Do you have plans to make this a regular feature to the Bloodstock line up?
Paul – Yes, absolutely! The idea is to have a selection of new young and established artists to display their work in forthcoming Bloodstock’s. Actually, for this year we have Cynosure a UK artist /musician now living in America, who designs bespoke guitars. He will be displaying a one off custom designed guitar (see guitar here), that he made especially for Bloodstock and he will be playing that in the RAM Gallery over the weekend.
OD – Your connection with music and fine art is cross pollinated with album cover artwork for bands such as Saxon, Motorhead and DIO, to name a few. How do you approach working on an album cover project as opposed to one of your more gallery inspired pieces?
Paul – It’s a collaboration really. I try to get as much information from the band as possible. It could be something as simple as a song title or lyric. They don’t necessarily have an overall idea really. The work I did with Saxon on “Crusader” was just really obvious and came together really well. I have collaborated with Biff on occasions for inspiration at times. It’s not really anything that I would have really considered doing, but am just really glad that I went down that road. It’s great to have that connection with Fantasy, Art and Heavy Metal and you don’t really get that with any other genre. People have such a misconception about Heavy Metal and the fans. The fans are great! I mean, the music can be very aggressive but the fans are not. They tend to be more educated, and are totally misunderstood.
Music and Art go hand in hand for me and I have always had music blasting while I work and believe that it puts me in a specific mood and puts me where I want to be.
OD – As we referred to earlier, the Bloodstock RAM Gallery will have an extensive body of your Tolkien work but also a history in the evolving Bloodstock Festival imagery. How soon do you begin to think/create the artwork for the following year?
Paul – It begins pretty much at the end of August. It begins straight away. The 2015 artwork is already in the back of this years program. I have to add bits around the outside which I stated doing in 2009 and that can relate to a possible band playing and it gets people trying to figure out what it all means and if there is some kind of subliminal symbol or clue in there. It’s great! I try to make the image a little bit different as it is a little bit samey from year to year but the overall image is based on the Derbyshire Ram!
OD – With the recent and tragic death of H.R. Giger, you both shared a similar connection with your involvement in art and specifically heavy music. Were you a fan of his work and did you ever get the chance to meet with him?
Paul – I never had the privilege of meeting him and I think his work is stunning and totally unique. He approached his work in a very different way by painting by starting off dark and working up towards light and he influenced and inspired a lot of people.
OD – There has always been a very important relationship between Heavy Metal and specific imagery / branding / album covers etc. Can you talk a little about your thoughts on this and how important it is to maintain this tradition?
Paul – I think possibly the tradition of painting album covers is old in it’s own right and with the finished result of having an actual tangible painting that you can hang, is something that makes it very special. For me, it’s great to have that piece of artwork hanging on a canvas. Regarding the imagery, I don’t want to stereotype but each band has a different idea of where they want to be. When I’m producing artwork for a band, it’s really about where they are coming from as opposed to me creating imagery that I feel is more “Heavy Metal”.
Bloodstock Open Air Festival will be taking place from August 7th through 10th in Catton Park, Derbyshire. The weekend will feature performances from Megadeth, Emperor, Down, Carcass, Prong, Amon Amarth, Hatebreed, Hellyeah, Dimmu Borgir, and much, much more!
Get your tickets now on the graphic below!
Photo credits – Kelly Cobbing 2012