We couldn’t be happier to have David Mckean as one of our Artists for our Art on a Ukulele project. David is an illustrator born in Berkshire and attended Berkshire College of Art and Design where, before even graduating, he was working as an illustrator. Mckean’s work can be found across a magnitude of mediums; he has illustrated for the New Yorker and Playboy, collaborated with the Rolling Stones, illustrated promo work for films such as Blade and Sleepy Hollow, and various advertising campaigns including Sony PlayStation, Smirnoff and Nike. It is no wonder his distinct style, dark, humorous and intricate, has been sought after in such a variety of fields. But where we see McKean in his element is when he has free artistic reign, his comic books, films and co-collaborations are brimming with fantasy and a dark imagination and are what he is best known for, winning international acclaim and numerous awards for his unique and thought-provoking work.
As with most of the best double acts McKean met Neill Gaiman in University in the 1980’s, and it remained a union in which McKean would develop some of his most poignant work. Their first graphic novel Violent Cases was released in 1986. The story centred around a small child in Portsmouth who is said to resemble Gaiman. He is taken by his father to be treated by an osteopath who was once employed by Al Capone, and the relationship that builds between them and his relationship with his father is at the centre of the story. McKean’s drawings reflect the disjointed relationship between memory and reality, using a scrapbook style and hazy hues of white, blue, brown and black. The relationship between memory and the retelling of a story is reflected in McKean’s fragmented style that is reminiscent of Robert Rauschenberg’s multimedia collages that often also reflect on the self in the context of history. Violent Cases became a much loved graphic novel and was subsequently turned into a stage play, not least due to McKean’s ability to transport us through time with his illustrations.
McKean’s own graphic novel, written and illustrated entirely by him is as beautiful and profound as they get. It is about a painter, a writer and a musician all living in the same apartment block. The story is centred around their lives intersecting, and creates profound journeys that point to the mystery of life and how the cages we build for ourselves affect us. Many conversations with cats occur, ‘God is in the details’ one character says, ‘That’s a nice thought’ thinks the cat.
This direction toward the philosophy, fantasy and the absurd is inherent in all of David’s work, right across his exploration of other mediums. His photographs are fragmented, sinister and eerie, he renders his subjects with a mechanical quality. Some of his photographs such as the one featured on this blog look like close-ups of a detail on a Hieronymus Bosch painting, a nightmarish figure where the natural world meets the man made world, a collision of earthy browns and greens with blues and blacks, ordered and yet disrupted, it’s nightmarish fantasy.
Mckean also illustrates film, such as his 2005 hit MirrorMask, a Columbia and Tristar feature film based on a young girl who finds a portal between reality and her imagination, again McKean gravitates towards the world of fantasy, so enthralled by the intersection between reality and imagination. One critic said ‘if the Wizard of Oz were reborn in the 21st century it might look a lot like MirrorMask’. Perhaps the medium of illustration facilitates this? One good illustration can tell the same story as an entire page of words. The viewer accepts that not everything can be told so our imaginations are integral, deducing from what has been left in and what has been left out of the frame, in order to get lost in a whole new world in a way that words fail to facilitate.
We’re extremely excited to see in what fantastical manner Mckean approaches our Art on a Ukulele project so please join us to find out more by signing up to our mailing list (at the bottom of the page) to receive updates about this project and to find out about our crowdfunding campaign, the rewards we are offering and be part of the process over the next few months.
About the writer
Rosa Torr is a final year BA Politics and Philosophy student from London currently at University College Dublin. Her place of interest is political theory and in particular Gender Studies. Rosa has written for numerous online publications and the University Observer. She is also a theatre maker and is currently co-artistic director of BUMP&GRIND Theatre Company. The show she co-wrote BUMP will be on at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer.