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Brand X Special: An Urorthodox History
Not Dead Yet live
Richard Macphail Ma Book Of Genesis

Peter Cross Interview

5th October 1995

it: When and how did the collaboration with Ant start?

Peter: It started I believe in 1976 and I was introduced to Ant through a friend. This was the time with The Geese & The Ghost. You know I did the cover on that and I never look back really. I mean it was the start of our friendship. Ant is an amazing man. He is a very dear and sweet friend and he is the best. It's not just the collaboration artisticly it's also as a friend.

it: Were you also a schoolboy of Charterhouse?

Peter: No!

it: Did you ever met other guys from Genesis?

Peter: Yes, I played football with Phil Collins many years ago and I've met Mike Rutherford. The Banks we know a little better, because they live very close to us. Margaret Banks actually introduced me to Chris Beetles which was a very great favour, because my relationship with Chris is blossomed. As you can see many things are bearing fruit from that relationship. Occasionally we met Margaret and Tony in Godalming when we go shopping. Their children are going to the same school like our children.

it: Were you asked to do album-artwork for other artists?

Peter: No, I have never been asked.

it: What usually comes first? The music, so you have the music and then paint the cover or do you paint a picture and Ant wants to use this especially for this or that record?

Peter: Well, Ant use to give me a tape of the music, but recently that hasn't happen on the last album I seem to remember. I did not get a tape and I just worked we discussed. Ant was happy to go ahead on the themes that he talked to me about. I think it was at the stage when he didn't have much for me to listen to, because he was still working on it. But because of our close relationship I think Ant was happy for me just to go ahead on the artwork and it was no need for me to listen to the music. So it can happen both ways.

it: When you're working for Ant, is there something special you need from him like lyrics or some bits of the music?

Peter: Obviously I need from him some lyrics, some ideas and song titles mostly, because as you all noticed my work usally is very detailed so that a lot of the song titles are represented in the artwork. I have an over all idea which we discuss, perhaps it can be a landscape that we know like Leith Hill Tower for example or it's a walk that we've been on and Ant is happy that that has be right flavour of his music. So I press ahead and develope the idea.

it: Which kind of artwork is your painting usually? Is it oil painting or watercolour?

Peter: It's watercolour with pen and ink mixed in as well except you see on the three-dimensional work I am beginning to use perhaps other types of paint, because simply if I'm painting onto a three-dimensional object it has to be an oil-based paint. But mainly about 99% of my work is done in watercolours.

it: How long takes it to paint an artwork for a cover?

Peter: The covers usually took a long time. When I first started probably two or three weeks. It got a bit quicker over the years and I think the last cover I did for Ant took me maybe 10 days.

it: When you start to work on the album covers are there also ideas from Ant or are the ideas only your ideas? Did he had ideas in the past and did he ask you if you could use them for the artwork?

Peter: Yes, he will perhaps stress something that he feels. Before I start I will ask him what are his feelings about it and he will tell me if he has any particular strong ideas. But again on the last album he was really happy for me to go ahead on my own, but we worked closely together so obviously he approves everything as we go along together.

it: In the first album covers you did there were always in every following cover some pieces of the one before. Why did you do that?

Peter: Why not?

it: Was it just a joke?

Peter: Well, it's a joke and I suppose it's for the people who are buying the albums. It's for the people who have got the last album and they can recognize the last album in the cover of the new album and then guys like you are coming and asking me questions like this [laughter].

it: The first album covers you did are very detailed. The cover for New England is less detailed. For us it seems that you've changed your way of painting over the years. What exactly are the differents between 1977 and now and why did you change your style?

Peter: It's time, I just cannot spend so long on one project. In the past I spent three weeks on one piece of artwork. I cannot afford to do it now. I think artisticly I've moved on since then. I think that I have learned a lot of things. You can get maybe a better artistic effect by areas which are less cluttered and free of details. It's easier on the eye. Maybe there always will be some detail in there but you can focus more on that area of detail.

it: So less is a little bit more?

Peter: Less is more, yes. Less is a bore as well sometimes people say, but I know people like detail. When you realize the amount of work that´s coming through to me now I have to be quicker. I feel a lot happier finishing things quicker and getting things out of the way. It's nice to finish something. My first project I ever did was Trouble For Trumpets and it took me about seven years so it's just too long.

it: Which of Ant's cover do you like most?

Peter: Well, I think probably I'm very sentimental and I like The Geese & The Ghost, because it was a sort of golden age when I first met Ant. Also musically that's still my favourite album of his.

it: Do you like his library and TV music?

Peter: Yes, but also Tarka was another favourite of mine. I was involved in that project in the sense that I illustrated a book for Henry Williamson. It wasn't Tarka The Otter but A Clear Water Stream. That was around about the same time that Ant was working on Tarka. We both went down to Devon and we explored the "country of the two rivers" - that's described in Tarka The Otter and I enjoyed that period.

it: What kind of music do you like outside of Ant?

Peter: Well, I have to say that my tastes are very broad and I do have music on a lot of the time when I'm working and it's mainly classical music. I cannot have very loud music, so I can't work to a disco beat. It's not suited to my detailed work. So I like anything from Bach to a lot of composers that Ant likes as well which are for example Warren Williams or Ravel. But I also like a lot of modern music - Phillip Glass for example.

it: Can you tell us any special stories which are standing behind the cover artworks? Especially the first album covers you did are really fantastic in our opinion.

Peter: The model for Back To The Pavilion is the "Lord's Pavilion" it's the cricket ground in London. You all noticed Wise After The Event has got the gulf element and Back To The Pavilion is cricket. These elements figures strongly in Ant's work and mine as well, because we use to have an special event at Send Barns, that was Anthony's home for a long time and where he had his studio. We had a gulf tournament every year in the garden [laughter]. As you know Anthony runs the famous Send Occasionals Cricket Team and I seem to remember I painted a few of the characters from the cricket team in Back To The Pavilion so it is obscure to miss people but it all makes sense to a few of us.

it: With Antiques you painted a picture which remind us of these three-dimensional artwork you did. Are there any parallels between the boxes and the Antiques cover or was it just an idea at the time?

Peter: I think it was just an idea at the time but more and more I am appreciating abstract art and that is starting to come into my work. Probably that was an early example of it and indeed when you see what I'm doing now I didn't realize at the time but I suppose that was a precursor of the boxes I'm doing now.

it: So the boxes are the thing what you really want to do at the moment - apart from the cards?

Peter: I think when the cards are out of the way I sure go back to the three-dimensional work but I want to concentrate on landscapes so it's like going back to The Geese & The Ghost really. I think things will come full-circle eventually and I look forward to it because of the amount of expense that I've gained over the years and going back to landscapes which I think is my first love. I can give so much to this form of painting and I hope I can be seen as a landscape painter at the end of my career and not just someone who worked in commercial art. The cards you all noticed are cut-out shapes and of course they have come from the boxes because of my work in three-dimension. So with the cards I'm still doing objects but they are in two-dimension but that is what I find exciting.

it: What are the differences between the books you made for adults and the books you made for children? The Boys' Own Battle Of Britain for example is not especially a childrens book.

Peter: I think it's far more me The Battle Of Britain and it has not targeted any particular audience. Obviously it's not a childrens book but it has the appearance of a childrens book. That's just an outlet from my humour and I found it after years of working in childrens books it was a release to be able to express my-self freely. But of course it's avery narrow market and that particular book didn´t sell very well at all, but I´m glad I did it. I spent a lot of time doing it. I felt I need to express myself in words as well as pictures and the whole thing indeed is designed and it's all put together by me. The only thing I didn't do was to print the book. I look back at it and I know now that I am not a writer and it's best to express myself in pictures.

it: So what do you really want to do in the future?

Peter: I think it's these three-dimensional landscapes. The early boxes I did are very detailed just like my early covers I did for Anthony and I think the direction with the three-dimensional work is going to be a lot less cluttered. Probably there will be one compartment instead of all these different compartments within one box. That is a long way off and I look forward to it immensly and what I got to do at the moment is just to provide a base for me to do this work in terms of security.

Many, many thanks again to Peter Cross who kindly spared a lot time to talk with us and gave us a phantastic insight in his work and life although he is a busy working artist.

Interview: Bernd Zindler + Helmut Janisch
Transcription: Bernd Zindler
Photos of Peter Cross 1994: Helmut Janisch

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