Trading Boundaries, Sheffield Green, East Sussex
Tuesday 23rd September to Sunday 19th October
“The Japanese have a saying – train the hand, relentlessly train the hand, and in its turn the hand trains the mind. You cannot train the mind without training the hand.”
Meeting and interviewing Roger Dean is not only a very interesting experience, but an education in itself. As well as being an internationally acclaimed artist he is also an intellectual, humanitarian, ecologist and entertaining visionary with an apparent infinite supply of optimism. Our conversations ranged from discussing his early influences, through his attempts at ecological, futuristic designs of buildings and even a garden city, the alleged influence of his work on the film Avatar and, via a lesson in art education, a brief history of conceptual art, of which he is not too fond. He feels the progression from Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 ‘Fountain’ to Tracey Emin’s ‘Unmade Bed’ shows no real progress, despite being nearly a hundred years apart.
We met with Roger at Trading Boundaries in East Sussex which, thanks to a meeting through mutual friends with owner Michael Clifford, became the official UK outlet for Roger’s work. Michael is a fan of ‘prog-rock’ and Roger is of course famous for producing iconic album covers for such bands as Yes, Asia and many others. Roger continues to add to his considerable body of work and among the original paintings to be exhibited for the first time at Trading Boundaries this autumn are ‘Silver Birch’ for the cover of the new Asia studio album ‘Gravitas’, ‘Frozen’ for the Yes studio album ‘Heaven and Earth’, released July 2014, ‘Journey’ for Rick Wakeman’s 2014 recording of ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth‘, and his painting ‘Condemned to Hope’. The exhibition will include many other important, rare and interesting pieces, such as the original hand-written lyrics for ‘Close to the Edge’ by Yes. As well as original works being exhibited throughout the showrooms, on Sunday 28th September there is a live painting session, with Roger hand-finishing a print while hosting a Q&A with the audience. For tickets visit www.tradingboundaries.com/events.
Also exhibiting is Roger’s daughter, Freyja, a talented artist in her own right, who is showing commissions she has done, some album covers and illustrations. She is also responsible for the wooden painted elephants standing in front of Trading Boundaries, representing the India/Sussex/Trading Boundaries connection. Her website is www.freyjadean.com.
Roger attended 16 schools in his youth, mostly army schools, coming to England aged 14. He was a great fan of Eagle comics and such characters as Dane Dare, the science fiction pilot of the future. He attended Canterbury College of Art and later the Royal College of Art. At Canterbury his first lesson was to draw a naked woman, quite an embarrassing experience for a fresh faced 17 year old, until it transpired he was in the wrong classes and was moved to industrial design lessons. In retrospect this was fortuitous.
“Art classes were beginning to be decimated by new thinking about art and education; the dropping of teaching and learning the skills – drawing, painting composition – and focusing entirely on creativity. But because I was in industrial design I continued drawing, learning perspective, shadow perspective, hand drawn lettering etc. I thrived on it and learned to be a draughtsman.”
At the Royal College of Art Roger again came up against ‘established’ ideas. He was thrilled at the concept of designing the future, his view of the future being spaceships, incredible aesthetic bridges and such. But what he found was architecture being created as boxes.
“I was told form follows function and was advised to read Le Corbusier; I did and decided it was a disaster for civilisation, it didn’t give us anything of real value. There was such a lack of humanity. He was a communist and was politically motivated, designing boxes for people. It was a conscious political decision to put people in identical boxes, make people socially the same, the banker, the butcher, the baker – it was political manipulation, social engineering. The head of the department was furious at being challenged, but I couldn’t see that living in a box was functional.”
After leaving college, Roger’s first commission was to design the interior of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, which developed from an organic landscape seating idea. This led to him being asked to design an album cover for the band Gun, which in turn led to him designing hundreds of album covers ranging from the famous Yes albums to the London Philharmonic et al. He is not enthusiastic about record companies.
“Record companies destroyed music as a serious gift. There was a brief period in history, a tiny window where occurred a combination of art and music lasting about 25 years. CDs became cheap and nasty; for example, a CD of Yes’s iconic album ‘Close to the Edge’ had no art on it, just a black and white track listing. It’s tacky. There is no respect for the music, the customer and no self-respect. They have shot themselves in the foot and are struggling to recover.”
We talked on with subjects ranging from him never going anywhere without a sketch book, his love of painting, his various attempts at futuristic architectural projects, and we were treated to a series of quite remarkable short, intelligent discourses on what he feels is the biggest problem for the future of our children, fear and inertia. He demonstrated quite eloquently the fact that most problems facing Mankind already have solutions, but our culture doesn’t naturally seek the optimum solution. He touched on such things as heart disease, war, nuclear energy, yeast turned into fuel and other workable ideas, all of which he discussed in some detail.
To end with I asked Roger what advice he had for beginning artists. He was his usual frank self.
“The worst starting places are English art schools. People need the physical skill, it’s critical. Everybody is creative, but the gap between the idea and realising it is where the tragedy lies. Creativity isn’t the issue, it’s the knowledge and skill to take that good idea and make something of it.”
After admiring what seems his eternal optimism, he tells me, “A friend once said of me that I was optimistic beyond common sense.” And after meeting Roger, I can vouch for that.
Visit www.rogerdean.com for further information about Roger and his art.
Trading Boundaries is situated in a Georgian manor house, with beautiful surroundings. It is a café, music venue, gallery and shop specialising in Asian furniture, artefacts and textiles. The boutique, candlelit venue hosts artists such as Steve Hackett, Rick Wakeman, Focus and The Brand New Heavies, with the gallery offering a permanent display of Roger Dean’s work. 01825 790200 www.tradingboundaries.com