Adult Fantasies of the British Illustrator Les Edwards
Serendipity is a funny thing. It was when I was looking for some biographical details about the British filmmaker Clive Barker known for his bloody horror classic Hellraiser, that I came across the impressive work of Les Edwards who, among other things, designed the UK film poster for Clive Barker's Nightbreed (1990) and his graphic novel 'Son of Celluloid" (1991 - Fig.17a).
Strange and the Bizarre
In his 40 year career span as a professional illustrator Edwards primarily worked in the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres, and has provided numerous illustrations for book jackets, film posters (among others John Carpenter's The Thing), magazines, and record covers (like Metallica's Jump in the Fire - Fig.3 and The Prodigy's Music For the Jilted Generation - Fig.2) and games (like Heroquest).
Noddy and Other Influences
His fascination for the strange and the bizarre has been present since early childhood when his mother read to him from the Noddy Toyland Stories, and the mischievous goblins (Fig.1) appealed to him most. Edwards grew up in East Ham, London where he was surrounded by the best art galleries in the world. This is were he developed among other things a great appreciation for Victorian art. In an interview with We Are the Mutants, he explains, 'I think it was a time when figurative painting was brought to a very high level and that’s the attraction for me. I can forgive the sometimes mawkish sentimentality; it just seems quaint from this distance, and there’s a good deal of pomposity and self-regard in art of that period. But if you want to paint realistically, the Victorians are the people to look at.' In recent years Edwards has taken to painting under the pseudonym "Edward Miller" in order to do a different kind of work and use a more romantic style. Other influences are the German Romantic landscape painter Caspar David Freidrich and the American portrait painter John Singer Sargent.
Lawrence of Arabia
In the interview mentioned above, he points out that cinema is probably the biggest influence of all, 'right back to the early movie serials and naïve SF films like Conquest of Space, which my dad took me to see when I was about five. My favorite films do tend to be epic: Lawrence of Arabia, 2001, although I’d have to include Psycho, which is not epic but quite claustrophobic. It could be a very long list.'
Edwards' paintings are known for their excellent formal composition. He starts with a central figure and decides where it’s going on the page. Then he builds the picture around it, adding elements or removing them until he gets the effect he wants.
Although most of the assignments the much-sought after illustrator receives are related to the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres, he considers his adult work as a guilty pleasure. In the interview with We Are the Mutants he indicates, 'I often think that it’s an area I’d like to revisit but I think creating something which is genuinely erotic would be the aim and that’s very difficult. I’ve done erotic comics in the past and that was interesting but very hard work. I frequently think that I’d have fun with a purely erotic painting but I feel I need the permission of actually being commissioned.'
Below a selection of this risky work that was done mainly for Men Only Magazine....
One of three vampire paintings for a private client. This was the middle painting and is Edwards' favorite of the three. (see also Fig.11 and 13). The unfortunate, reclining man strongly resembles the actor Val Kilmer.
An early oil painting, done for Men Only magazine in 1977. On his site Edwards mentions that at the time he made it the illustrator John Holmes was very popular and probably influenced him..
Like the previous one, this painting was done for the magazine Men Only although the artist can't recall what the accompanying article was about.
The illustration suggests something to do with the authoritarian suppression of sex and, in those days, the article would certainly have been complaining about censorship. It may seem like along time ago but those repressive forces are still around.
Painted for Men Only in 1974. It was for an article by Daniel Farson called "The Cult of Dracula". Depicting Christopher Lee as Dracula in his famous look including dark brown irises with veined sclera that makes the eyes look red and angry.
Private commission from a set of three erotic vampire paintings (see also Fig.6 and 13). The paintings hung in the client's bedroom and made an impressive display.
This is the last of three erotic vampire pictures Edwards did as a private commission. This piece was the most ambitious of the three and includes characters from the first two. The artist likes the story being told here but prefers the intimacy of the first two pictures. More is not always better.
Personal piece done specifically for the 1987 World Science Fiction Convention. Used as the book cover for The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker published by Carroll & Graf in 1989. Also used by Heavy Metal magazine as part of their 1995 calendar.
This famous scene from Tarzan in the Lost City was a private commission for a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs. The painting is very rich in contrast to Edward's usual, rather subdued, palette.
Assignment from Men Only. Fairly early oil painting and painted quite thinly. At that time, Edwards had just switched from using Designer's Gouache and was still experimenting with technique..
This is most probably the first illustration Edwards ever produced for Men Only Magazine and he remembers getting the idea for the painting while he was riding on the London Underground.
The painter himself considers this piece as one of the best he produced at that time. Made for Men Only Magazine for an article on the growing sex toy industry.
The model here took pride in holding the most challenging poses during Life Class. Edwards was impressed by her and never felt he'd done her justice.. In this painting she's depicted quite relaxed.
Normally the models at the life class Edwards attends are women so the occasions they had a male model made a nice change. On his site, he mentions, 'In painting women I find I have to overcome my tendency to flatter them and sometimes go too far in the opposite direction.'
A life drawing in pastels; a medium which the artist uses very rarely.
Painted for Men Only Magazine in 1976. This was quite a popular illustration and generated a few letters of appreciation to the magazine.
One of two drawings contributed to Paul Campion's film The Devil's Rock.
More insights on the above works can be found on the artist's website. Surprisingly enough, some of his original paintings are still available at very affordable prices....!!
Source: LesEdwards.com, wearethemutants.com,
All of the images used in this article are © Les Edwards, with all rights reserved by Mr. Edwards.
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