Even if you are only remotely interested in the horror genre, chances are somewhere in your collection of belongings, in a book or on a DVD case will be a piece of artwork by Graham Humphreys. From his work with Palace, Arrow, Tartan and The Creative Partnership, he has amassed an incredible portfolio of work. For over 30 years he has created countless pieces of art adorning cinema awnings and home media packaging. Working in brushes and oils he has become one of the foremost artists creating illustrated film posters in the UK.
I was lucky enough to grab an interview with him, even though this was intended to be for 10 minutes, we ended up talking for half an hour, so we have decided to split the interview into two parts. This is part 2, part 1 can be found HERE.
When I spoke to you at Celluloid, you mentioned that you still do a lot of the classic illustrated posters with brushes and oils. Is it a technical standpoint you prefer the way the brushes work? Or a love of the nostalgia and traditional methods of painting,?
Probably its more a case of what I used and what I’m used to. What I developed while at and since leaving college. Its what I do, the digital stuff is not really me. Other people can do this (digital) very well, it doesn’t have any personal interest. The main thing I like is the tactile quality of paint, I like getting messy, paint all over your fingers, over the walls. It’s a very sort of raw process which goes on there. I brought this up before there is a sense of craftsmanship in there, it is a sort of craft I believe, I’m not saying there isn’t a craft within the digital work, clearly there is. It’s a different kind of craft for me, its like carving something out of wood or welding metal together, there is something very tactile about it.
The finish as well, the one thing I do remember at college, everybody was in awe of airbrush work and at the time a gentlemen called Phillip Castle was the king of airbrush work. One piece in particular was a portrait of Farrah Fawcett Majors with metallic, mechanical breasts. It was a kind of interesting melding of machinery and flesh, and was his best known work. People were fascinated by it, this kind of ultra real look, a metallic look with a very smooth finish, for me it just didn’t have any heart. Technically as fantastic as it was, it was lacking a soul and thats when I decided to turn my back on that technique and go all out for something that looked like skin. Skin isn’t smooth and shiny, its got loads of pitted holes in it. Its tactile and raw and fleshy and paintings more like that.
Can I ask about the development process? Obviously if you do something digitally – like a lot of photoshop posters you see these days, there is lots of room for amends or development on the artwork after the initial scamps are done. With painting very much less room for changes. You have been around over 30 years doing poster artwork, do you get a lot more free reign now from an idea or…
It depends on the job to be honest.
Working with Arrow for instance they might say “lets see what you come up with” and I might submit a series of sketches and they will pick one of those or maybe they will mix elements from two of them. On occasions they have said they need to focus on this particular image or character and remove other elements. That becomes quite a shaped art directed piece. Others I might get to do what I want to do.
There is an element of trust in it, the client has to trust me to deliver something they can use and will work for them. From my point of view there is a element of they need to be confident in what I am doing. I sometimes submit sketches that are exactly what I want it to be, and in my head I don’t want to see that change at all, this is the way it has to work. You need to have a sort of common ground, something everyone is happy with. For me, I often feel that when something starts to get art directed I begin to lose what its meant to be, occasionally I will find I’m not happy with something because its not mine anymore.
Its been amended beyond belief down the line?
Yeah, it doesn’t happen that often I have to say. But it does and there is nothing you can do about it. You move on to the next job and try and do better next time. Thats the thing, every job you do you feel slightly let down by your own lack of ability, because all I see are the parts that should of been better, Its a question of striving to be better each time, and you cant always do that because of deadlines, its what you must do.
Its almost a reverse Ed Wood, you focus on the small things instead of the bigger picture, you’ll spot the error when everyone else is gawping at the picture.
One of the things thats happened in the last few years is that artwork has come back from almost being a secondary thought. Its also become more of a collectable as well, do you feel thats sort of attributed to they way films are getting a rerelease on blu-ray?
Blu-Rays by their nature are priced higher than DVDs and because the films have already been marketed or seen already endlessly over the years the idea is to give it a new look and identity. When you get multiple releases you tend to find the same stills are used or the same artwork is used over and over again. People have seen it.
What you try and do is give something different, especially with the blu ray releases, aside from formatting (steel book in particular) they will load in all the extras, all the new documentaries and interviews which are all ancillary to the film, but at the same time people who are collecting, its an important part of how you archive a film. Its really become a book in many ways, almost a library piece. Thats where thats come from I think, with illustration you can move away from the more photographic stuff that people are familiar with and hopefully create something fresh and give a different perspective on the film and how its viewed.
Has there been any films or pieces artwork in recent years that you’ve seen that you’ve liked or enjoyed.
Its one of those things, everything you see is a stimulus in one way or another, I’m constantly looking at everything else, other peoples work, I also have to understand that my work will not be the same as other peoples work, even if I want it to be, I don’t have the tools in me to make it anything other than what I already do. Thats my approach and every has their own different approach, you get different types of artwork and they all have their merits. you cant say one is better than another, they have different a different approach. Its down to the people that buy the product to make the judgement themselves. As someone who collects DVDs, Blu-Rays, all sorts of other things, books. Also quite like to see the variety of stuff out there, If everything was homogenised it would be uninteresting.
Have there been any horror films?
I go to Frightfest in London every year, its great to see the variety of different films. Well I say variety, there have been festivals where there have been endless zombie films, or endless torture porn. The last 3 years in particular, its just getting better, the originality and variety. Its been great to see surprisingly fresh genres within the genre if you like. This last year has seen some of the best films I’ve seen in the genre. The one I keep quoting and the recent one I really really loved was What We Do In The Shadows, I thought it was a fantastic play on the whole vampire thing, do something fresh and interesting. Being funny very referential to its subject matter as well. All those things you love about vampires, they are all in there and its extremely funny.
Absolutely incredible film, definitely agree with you on that one.
The other film that i really really loved was Life After Beth…. have you seen this one?
Yes, Kat agrees with you as well, that was one of the highlights of last year for us, weirdly those two and Dead Snow 2 have been some of the best, at least within comedy horror.
You mentioned before there are pieces of artwork that your not happy are in circulation or used. Are there pieces that you’ve done your proud of where it wasn’t used?
Two pieces I can immediately quote.
One of pieces was the artwork I did for the Lesbian Vampire Killers director Phil Clayton which he commissioned as a piece for himself. I think he hoped it would get some usage somewhere along the line but it never did. It was never intended to be seen by anyone else. I think since then Ive had it on my website, its been seen a few times. Phil has just given me permission to include it in this book I have coming up at the end of the year.
The other piece, which annoyingly Ive been told I’m not allowed to reproduce, is the piece I did for a festival a couple of years ago, Hammer At The Vault which was a celebration of Hammer films in the vaults underneath Waterloo station. it s got all my favourite Hammer stuff in there, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Plague of the Zombies, all those great things. Annoyingly it had a very limited use and they wouldn’t allow me to use it elsewhere.
You just mentioned a book coming out at the end of the year?
This is a intended release and I have been going through the process of getting clearance for all of the pieces to appear in there, looking at about 130+ illustrations. Basically starting at Evil Dead and going through, not necessarily in chronological order. It will have all the Evil Dead films in there, Nightmare on Elm Street artwork and a lot of the stuff Ive been doing for Arrow recently, Imogen entertainment, Nucleus Films, an awful lot of stuff and most is from the last 10 years maybe?
I’m still doing stuff right now that I’m doing at this very moment that I want to include, but because they are confidential I cant possibly tell you (laughs).
The publisher wants to do it as a luxury book, 500 copies, fairly large format, hardback in a slipcase with a signed print. I’ve got some text contributions already, Sam Rami has very kindly written a little piece. Quotes from Reece Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss, Alan Jones of Fright Fest has written something for me, Richard Stanley, a growing list. I’m looking at a couple of people right now to write something, and I’m writing a whole piece to explain the artwork and why I wanted the book to be available, looking at the tradition of illustration in the world of horror. The plan is to publish at Halloween this year and the launch will be supported by an exhibition at the Proud Gallery in Camden.
Oh cool…. that sounds really…. might need to come down to London for that… Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me, apologies we overran.
My pleasure. hope to see you again.