Out of This World: the Art of Josh Kirby

Walker Art Gallery
15th June - 30th September 2007

Reviewed by Mark Langshaw

The Walker invites you on an epic journey across fantastic landscapes, magical kingdoms and even galaxies far, far away.

Out of This World: the Art of Josh Kirby is the first career retrospective of the late Liverpool-born artist, who made a name for himself with his famous cover illustrations for Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. Also included in his impressive back-catalogue are poster designs for such classic films as Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

All of these celebrated works are on display alongside less familiar pieces, such as his sharp sketches for Corgi in the 1950s and 60s.

The Discworld illustrations are as striking as ever, rich in colour and ribald humour. Unlike most fantasy artwork, Kirby resisted using airbrushing and dexterously hand-painted each one using oils or gouaches. The same technique was applied to many of his other, more personal works, including portraits of Alfred Hitchcock and Edgar Allan Poe with their faces comprised of skulls, snakes and ghouls upon closer inspection.

Seeing Kirby’s skilful and inventive paintings un-cropped, in their original format, is a unique experience. It is plain to see there is much more to Kirby than cartoon elves and wizards. Along with the hundreds of book covers he produced, Kirby also created many deeply personal paintings. The influence of artists Bosch, Bruegel and Brangwyn is evident, but in time Kirby developed his own unique vision.

As further interest and research round Kirby’s work continues, we can only hope a comprehensive compilation of his paintings will be published in the future.

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