Gerrard King's Memento Mori
The image had to be strong, stark and striking and somehow representative of the book itself. I spent long hours playing with various ideas, eventually settling on skulls and pills, an occlusion of the 'deadly' nature of the story and the dependency of protagonist, dying diplomat Jason Hartmoor, on painkillers and enzymes. There's also quite a lot of heroin in the book. If you're gonna do drugs, I reckon you might as well go all out, see?
I found one stock shot that seemed to go down that road, a skull and crossbones made from pills that I shared with the nice people on my mailer (Look! To the right! You can sign up too and get occasional updates, freebies and answer silly questions about book covers!), asking them what they thought. The answer duly came back and it boiled down to 'get what you're doing there but meh.'
A few more frustrated hours of playing with ideas and Googling followed before I stumbled across an image that leapt out of the screen, stuck its fingers up my nostrils and smacked my head on the keyboard. It was one of a series created by Australian artist Gerrard King, called 'Memento Mori'. I hit Gerrard up on Facebook and we quickly agreed a license for me to use his image on the book and in promotional work for Shemlan. Oddly enough, it turned out he had some history with Dubai - for a time he had been a 'trolly dolly' on Emirates. Seven points of separation and all that, see?
Gerrard's art is startling, surreal and bold stuff - you can follow the links below to explore more of his wild forays into gibbering insanity. In the meantime, I took the opportunity to interview 'Mr Pill Skull'...
What started your fascination with skulls as canvases?
My thing for the skull has really incubated since youth. From the very first one adorning my school bag in '88 (I think it was Guns n Roses) to what you see now. The skull to me, is a perfect sculptural form with an ever-changing mood. It can be classical one minute and hair metal the next!
Why the pill/skull occlusion. What made you think of the image?
The Memento Mori series really is about juxtaposing elements of pop, fashion and western culture with the classic skull, echoing the deep-rooted tradition of skull ornamentation prevalent in other cultures. The pill design harks to a classic '70s fabric design by Marimekko, which takes on a sense of irony when combined with the skull. I kept thinking of the song 'Mother's Little Helper' by The Rolling Stones while doing this piece.
Your work splits into pop, surrealism, realism and skulls. Will there be a fifth category?
It's true that I do not like to be pigeon-holed with a particular style, preferring to float between whichever means serve the end. I couldn't say what I may do next, so yes, I will probably add another arrow to my quiver somewhere along the line.
Where do you sell most of your work - do you generally feel 'understood'?
I sell my artwork at events, self-organised exhibitions and markets, as well as online. Living in a tourist area, one can easily feel misunderstood by throngs of holiday-makers looking for beach scenes and cutesy mementos. I have developed a bit of a support crew where I live who continually support my endeavours and drink free wine at my exhibitions!
Is this your first book cover? Do you see Gerrard King placemats or biscuit tins looming over the horizon?
Ha ha! Yes this is my first cover image on an intelligent publication. I draw the line at prints and tee shirts for now, but if they were damn fine biscuits, well...!
Here's Gerrard's website with galleries and the like or you can see what he's getting up to here on Facebook.
And here, of course, is the handy link to buy Shemlan: A Deadly Tragedy complete with its scary cover in paperback, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Android tablet or iPad formats!