MELVYN GRANT INTERVIEW FOR THE IRON MAIDEN ITALIAN FRANZINE 'EDDIE'S'.
1- Hello Melvyn! First of all, give us what you consider a brief but exhausting description of you.
(we usually ask for a photo of the artist we interview)
I was born in London, England of Anglo Saxon, French and Celtic ancestry and I now live on the English South East coast. I’m male, dark haired (sometimes long, sometimes not so long), and quite a nice guy, so I’m occasionally told. My father said I was a cocky little sod and I guess he knew. I try to keep fit and trim, but it’s not easy when I’m chained to a drawing board most of the time. Of course, I could be a lot wealthier… in fact, I would like to be a whole lot wealthier, but that’s wishful thinking and I try not to do too much of that.
I’ve always been an artist right from the beginning, achieving top marks all through my school life. I attended the Brassey School of Fine Art from the age of twelve. I dropped out at the age of eighteen and travelled throughout Europe, although not Italy at that time. I then taught myself to paint properly. I returned to London, worked in animated films, tripped over something and fell into Fantasy illustration, and there I’ve stuck… sometimes at an odd angle. I guess I’ve been lucky, things could have been a lot worse. But I’m having a good time and I really enjoy painting… the exciting creative stuff. I hate the boring stuff… but I need to earn a living, sometimes.
To sum up me, I’ve always felt I’ve been riding the train to somewhere that could be special, but as of yet… I’ve not arrived, or maybe I past the station and I forgot to get off. So I’ll just ride on and see what’s at the end of the line.
2- When did you start working with Iron Maiden and what did you think of them before you started the collaboration?
The first artwork I did with Iron Maiden was the cover for Fear of the Dark and that was a long time ago. Before then I did not know too much about Iron Maiden music as I was not really into heavy rock. Everybody knows of Maiden, they’re the major heavy band and I liked them okay, but I was just not deep into them at the time.
3- How did working together change your mind about Iron Maiden?
At the briefing for Fear of the Dark I was given a whole bunch of Maiden CDs. The idea was for me to get a good feel for their music and what they were all about, so I could put it all in the painting. I really enjoyed the music and they now feature in my music collection.
4- What kind of work did you do in past projects for Iron Maiden, exactly?
Fear of the Dark pencil sketch
(we can place some of the artworks in this area of the layout, if you can provide any preliminary sketch it will be great)
I had done no artwork for Iron Maiden before Fear of the Dark, but I have since produced covers for Virtual Xl, Death on the Road and The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg. I was also asked if I could produce a cover based on The Wicker Man, but it was needed quickly and at that time I was tied up on another project.
5- Do you feel Eddie a key part of the iconographic side of Maiden? You have worked for some of the most important bands so far, what do you consider the Iron Maiden specificity from an iconographic point of view?
Yes, Eddie is a very important visual part of the whole Iron Maiden experience. Just show Eddie and people think of Maiden. He’s like the final member of the band. He’s the real crazy one waiting just out of sight, that scouts ahead and, of course, being Eddie and unaccountable, he can do anything he likes. I think Eddie has helped give Iron Maiden a top universal image.
6- Visiting your website (http://www.melgrant.com) I noticed many diverse approaches and subjects in your Art. Does this reflect an evolution as an artist or have you been this way from the beginning?
As an artist, I am evolving all the time… or at least I hope I am, but I have always been versatile. A universal artist, I suppose. While I choose Fantasy first, I enjoy all types of subjects from cute kids stuff through to the nasty gut-spilling horror stuff. The artwork on my website is a cut-down representation of my work. I have other subjects that are not included, as too much versatility can get a bit confusing.
Fear of the Dark
7- What kind of attitude did you use to approach the creation of a new Eddie incarnation?
Maybe I could have shown Eddie as a cute Romeo with a cheeky twinkle in his eye. But I don’t think so. Eddie would sooner axe you as look at you. And that’s always been his pleasure. Any twinkle in his eye happened just as the blade fell. So, my approach to Fear of the Dark was to see how sinister I could make Eddie. We’ve had all the physical violence with the blood and sharp things, now let’s instil something more psychological. So I created this Eddie as part of a tree set in a pleasant wood that you might like to wander through on a beautiful moonlit night, thinking all is wonderful. But unbeknown, the trail would lead a poor innocent soul straight to Eddie’s lair and even if you had no fear of the dark at the time, you defiantly would from then on.
Part of the spookiness of Eddie in the Fear of the Dark painting, is that the image is really double-edged, Eddy's shoulders, head and arms, at first glance, fit the body fused to the tree in the sitting position, but if you look further, they also belong the, less obvious, body coming down the trunk. The dark branch at the top edge of the moon is a kind of tail and the legs would carry on up the main trunk, or maybe his upward lower body is more snake like. This begs the question ‘which body is which? If Eddie is really coming down the tree and the other body is not Eddie’s, then who, or what, is sitting in the tree?’
8- Did you developed the dehumanized form of Eddie we enjoy in the Fear Of The Dark artwork, or did Sanctuary give you indications about it?
Sanctuary asked me to come up with ideas for an image to go with the title Fear of the Dark. They gave me no direction other than the title. It was a free run. So I went off and produced a few pencil drawings of which the Tree-Eddie was one. I had wanted to redesign the look of Eddie quite extensively, but Sanctuary said to keep it close to the original.
Here is a small eerie tale, that you may find of interest, which happened to me while I was finishing the painting of Fear of the Dark. I have never told this to anyone until now, and I had never experienced anything like it before and it has never happened to me since. And no, I do not take any substances.
Towards the end of painting Fear of the Dark, I was working alone in my studio. It was late at night and I was running on a high, completely absorbed in the painting. That feeling of mental overdrive, which often happens when I really get into my work. This is when I’m truly creative, all sorts of stuff jumps in and out of my head and I really enjoy this state. It’s like meditating at warp speed. But this time it was different. As the images flowed through my head some became increasingly persistent, like a strange and disturbing story. Every detail was so clear, like nothing I had ever experienced. And gradually it trapped all my senses; so vividly that, years later, I can still clearly see the imagery and hear the peculiar, wind-torn gurgle that drove it on.
At first it seemed as though my head had become liquid and hazy, like it was flowing across the room and leaking through the window. Then it stopped dead in mid flow and I was somewhere else. Everything was so bright It almost sparkled. It seemed as though I was standing some way off, being forced to witness something terrible I could not turn away from or look directly at. Yet in the distance and in a detached way, I was still aware of my hand with the brush, painting that grizzly Eddie-thing coming down the tree. But another scene was unfolding.
A little girl, lost in the night, comes to a large oak tree deep in the woods. She stands before it and looks straight up at the Thing concealed high in the shadows of the branches. She is tearful in her loneliness, but she is not afraid of this Thing… in fact she rather likes it.
It looks down at her with eyes that have never cried and lays its head to the side. She is so frail with such long hair… so silver in the moonlight. And such a sweet thing it has never seen before… such a lovely thing to cry for. The Creature is touched to its core and its heart aches. It feels its loneliness like a tight knot. There is something irresistible about this tiny child that draws it.
Silently it comes down from the tree and crouching before her, gently wipes away her tears. Then lifts its hand to the moon, watching the shiny droplets on its fingertips. And touching them to its own eyes, it blinks. Now it too, has tears. It smiles timidly. The child smiles too, ‘I know you’ she says, and tells the Creature her name is Angelcut DeepRed. The Creature lays its dreamy head on one side. What a beautiful name. And its eyes glisten in the moonlight. It points to a narrow path almost hidden in the darkness and the child holds out her hand and smiles again. Then taking her hand, the Creature brings her through the woods to safely return her to the village and her family.
As they emerge from the wood, the parent’s and some people are at the edge of the village calling the child’s name. They see them and are struck, not by the safety of the returning child, but by the ugliness of the creature and are horrified to see it holding their child’s hand. So dark is the fear of their own imaginings that they fail to realize the truth. The mother screams hysterically and roughly grabs the child away, hitting out at the Creature. It jumps back and crouches, watching sadly for a moment, as a single tear glistens on its cheek. It stays so still, it’s heart thumping against its ribs. Why must it always be the same? A second tear glistens. If only once it could be different… Then with a soft cry of despair, the Creature turns and runs like misshapen shadow back into the woods. Above the sky crashes with a distant sonic boom, and a small, ugly black aircraft streaks across the horizon and is gone. Strangely the child is smiling quietly to herself. She gives a barely visible wave to the fleeing creature.
But already more villagers have come to the mother’s cry and soon there are many. They hear only the words ugly, misshapen, Beast, and become righteous in their hate and agree they must kill this Beast. They act without reason, and killing is sport. A horn sounds and the hunt begins. The Creature runs not from fear, but because it does not want to kill. It was not looking for blood. But after its initial sadness it becomes no longer concerned. What will be will be, it has played this game so many times before and each time it ends the same. The Creature leads them on, its body shining red and black, with eyes now sharp and hard and amber like a fox with a malignant edge. Close to the night it runs, deep into the woods and back to its tree. It makes no attempt to hide its path. It leads them to the tree, the gateway. And too late they realize. As they pass through the tree and on to the other side, they try to turn back. But there is no way back from this world of the damned.
The Creature looks sadly at the horrified villagers as their understanding dawns. And another tear slides down his cheek. Why must it always end in the same way? Why do they never learn? He crouches for a while letting the tears run down his arms. Then slowly he twists his dissolving body and changes to what he really is. He stands. Now, so tall, the Eddie Thing watches them with such knowing eyes, hard and black as coal. He has no compassion. He sees only playthings and he smiles cruelly. The cub vixen has secretly run with the old dog-fox. And Angelcut now stands beside him. She looks up at him with large, beautiful psychotic eyes and smiles too. And so sweet she looks… so eager, and so deliciously dangerous. Eddie has a new pretty little friend, and she is keen as mustard.
The villagers are terrified. No one is righteous now. And Eddie’s breath is like frost. He stoops and puts his arm around the girl’s shoulders and gestures to the mob.
‘Now, with whom shall we take our pleasure first, my sweet little Angel of tears?’ He laughs and his voice is deep and resonant. He leans and kisses her forehead and the child laughs too. She has perfect little teeth with bright silver braces.
‘I stharpened it ‘sthpecially,’ she lisped and chuckles happily. And lifting her hands, opens with a ‘snap’ the blade of her big new, shiny gutting knife. ‘I’ve been pwacticthing on catths,’ she grins sweetly and slashes the air with the sharp blade. 'Meowww!!! Poor Pussthy. Sthicky blood all over.'
The Creature stands up and claps his hands together. ‘Oh this will be such a good night, little one.’ And his eyes glow with anticipation. He tilts back his head and roars laughter into the night, then slowly reaching up his rough-nailed fingers, he digs gently into the flesh of his throat and slowly twisting his head from side to side, pulls out the voice box. He holds the vibrating mess out to the mob. And, spraying blood across their horror-stricken faces, throws his arms wide.
The vocal-chords laugh and sing in the wind. The child giggles and twirls to her own little jig, as the dripping blood makes dark patterns on her crisp white dress. The villagers jibber and clamber behind each other, and the parents call out to the child, but she pays no heed. And Eddie watches them as tears stream down his face, mingling with the bloody hole in his neck. He cocks his dreamy head on one side and the twisting sinews stretch pale in the moonlight. Suddenly the tears stop. And his eyes, dry as dust, flash like polished white bone with the blackest pupils. Then, with an odd gurgling sound, he gently presses the voice box back into his throat.
And then he turned that ghastly head and looked directly at ME! And the world stopped dead. And in that still silence, whispered in that deep resonant voice.
‘Come play with Eddie my little darling… and let’s see what foxy stuff YOU'RE made of!’
A bolt went through me and I came back with a jerk, my heart beating like a hammer. The Bastard had looked me right in the eye!!! The painting was finished, and I have no idea what really happened there. Maybe this goes a lot deeper than I thought. Maybe Maiden’s music comes through them from somewhere else, as maybe I was only ‘instrumental’ in that painting. And in some dark place, the Eddie-Creature really does exist. But whatever the truth is, something scared the hell out of me that night.
9- What about Virtual XI?
Maiden asked for an Idea to do with Virtual Reality. The concept behind Virtual X1 (which I originally called Virtual Insanity) was of a boy sitting in a very tranquil setting seeing Eddie and chaos through the VR set. So which world is the boy actually in? I was then asked to include the football game. Which is how the title became Virtual X1.
Virtual XI before I added the football game on the distant grass in front of the boy.
10- Your artworks are someway key points on the pictorial history of Maiden. Do you feel so? Do you feel that other artworks you did mean the same to other bands?
It’s difficult for me to know whether or not my artworks are key points. I do the paintings, within the limitations of the brief, as best I can at the time and have as much fun as I can in doing them. The feedback that has filtered back to me has been good, so that pleases me. Other bands that have used my work have also been happy with what I’ve done and I hope I’ve helped their images. My aim in creating images is to give something unique that I see, hopefully something of benefit, a communication to the viewer.
11- Which is your source of inspiration… reading, movies, dreaming or primal creative force?
Well, I’m not too sure what the ‘primal creative force’ is exactly, but it sounds good and I hope I have it by the bucketful. But I do a lot of reading and I like to watch movies. I like to dream too, but not the types that wake you in a cold sweat, like nightmares that don’t wear pyjamas.
12- On the technical side, which are the tools of the job for Mel Grant? (software, devices, media, colours...)
At the time of painting Fear of the Dark and Virtual XI, I was using oil paints on board, as I’d been doing for many years. Death on the Road and The reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg were painted digitally. Mostly now for commercial work, I paint digitally. I use Photoshop and sometimes Painter on a G5 Desktop Pro Mac. But I don’t produce anything ‘computer generated’, everything I produce I have to work at. I apply it the same as I would with oil painting, stroke upon stroke. It’s just now, pixal on screen instead of paint on board. It’s a lot quicker and cleaner. No paint to dry, but I do miss playing around with oil paint.
13- Do you know Iron Maiden music? Are you a fan of the band? Which are your favourite bands?
I have enjoyed Iron Maiden music very much, but I would not say that I know it, or that I am a fan as such. I have never considered myself a fan of anything. That’s just my way. But I have an enormous amount of respect for Iron Maiden.
I don’t really have a favourite band. I like so many types of music, even some classical and country rock, but mostly anything that plays guitar.
14-Have you had the chance to listen to the last Iron Maiden album, Dance Of Death? If so what do you think of the music and what about the cover?
So far, I’ve not seen or heard ‘Dance of Death’. I have that pleasure yet to come.
15- Pick one of your favourite artworks and tell us why you love this one in particular?
The Nubian Princess
This is a really difficult question to answer as I’m always changing my mind. I wouldn’t say that I really ‘love’ any of my paintings. Or maybe I love them all… no that is certainly not true. Some of them I hate. By the time I’ve completed a painting, I know it too well… this should be the time I start and maybe I could do it better. But I’m saturated and I’ve mentally moved on, it’s got too familiar.
Sometimes a painting looks too much me, and I wanted it to look ‘someone else’ (don’t ask me who, just someone else). A lot of conflicting emotions go into a painting; sometimes I feel it’s like sitting a very difficult exam where I don’t know the subject at all. To answer your question, I guess at this time I like ‘The Nubian Princess’.
16- Among your works, I noticed one called "The Wicker Man". Any relation with the Iron Maiden song?
The Wicker Man painting on my site was not connected with the Maiden song, it was for a book cover.
17- What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I'm working on several Fantasy book covers, an illustrated adult-children’s book by the author Terry Pratchett. And I’m getting some stuff ready to exhibit at the Interaction Art Show Sci-Fi and Fantasy convention that takes place in August at Glasgow UK this year. I’m also preparing prints and desktop images for sale on my website.
18- What can we expect in the future? Any Iron Maiden commitment at the horizon?
Ahh, the future. Who knows what comes this way, what twists and turns along this path I take. I have no idea. I have plans and things in the air. I have exibitions coming up and new paintings to do and books to write. I have no definite commitments with Maiden at this time, but who knows.
19- Great, Mel, we'll let you go but please, the mike is to you for a final message to all the Italian Maiden maniacs.
Good luck and take care… And beware of Eddie… and a small child with moonlight hair. She is not what you think… and they could have dark plans for any one of you. Ask Maiden… they’ll know.