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Why sale is close to illustrator’s art

Some 272 examples of Michael Foreman’s artwork are available to buy. But he’s had second thoughts about parting with them

12 April, 2017 — By Gerald Isaaman

272 illustrations by Michael Foreman are going on sale in an exhibition titled Telling Tales. Photo: Ron Sutherland

A COMBINATION of sadness and salvation has engulfed the award-winning illustrator Michael Foreman who, at 79, has finally accepted he must divest himself of the art he has produced for some 300 books that has filled his attic undisturbed for decades.

He kept the copyright of his lifetime’s work since he produced his first book, The General, in 1961 while living in a basement flat in Parliament Hill, and has now allowed 272 illustrations to go on sale at an exhibition, appropriately called Telling Tales, in Chris Beetles’ Mayfair gallery.

But it has been a decision that has brought some regrets for the artist who has lived a peripatetic life since growing up in Pakefield, a fishing village near Lowestoft, in Suffolk.

That is where his mother kept the village shop – his father died a month before Michael was born – and surprisingly it was in a home without any books at all that later gave him his own dynamic artistic perspective on the presentation of classic fairy tales depicted by others.

He left school without any O-levels but, aged 11, his art teacher Tom Hudson recognised Michael’s talents and invited him to join the children’s class at Lowestoft Art School. From there he subsequently won scholarships to London’s prestigious art establishments and also to America.

Indeed, his desire to travel and a passion for walking resulted in him following Marco Polo’s route from Venice to Peking along the length of the legendary Trans-Siberian railway and subsequent visits to Nigeria, Indonesia, Japan, New Mexico and even Fiji.

Foreman’s Wandering Minstrel

Hence his multitude of inspired illustrations influenced in dramatic colours, he believes, by living near the sea and also by being a Second World War child – The General reflecting his fear of nuclear war devastating the world.

“Some of my pictures now for sale are, in a way, close to my heart,” Michael says. “That’s because I have quite often featured members of my own family in my work. When you’ve drawn your own son when he was two years old – and he’s 30something now – it is so sad that he’s going to end up on somebody else’s wall.

“I was pleased Chris Beetles wanted to do the show and so I let him loose in my attic. But I now see a few pictures he has chosen are being displayed for sale in his gallery – and I wish I had kept them back.”
Nevertheless, he adds: “I suppose that’s a bit outweighed by knowing the pleasure my pictures are going to give others in the years to come rather than being stuck in my attic.”

Michael has fond memories of those early days when he was at St Martin’s School of Art in Covent Garden and, together with fellow pupils from Lowestoft, shared a flat in Chalcot Square, Primrose Hill, then not quite the upmarket area it is today.

And he looks back with nostalgia to the Swinging Sixties, going on ban the bomb and other protest marches and equally enjoying post-war life as economic conditions improved.

Alongside that, he became more and more successful with a remarkable array of books, from traditional fairy tales to more contemporary subjects with dark overtones.

Portents of a third world war have shattered that. “Now it seems we are fracturing and the world is going backwards at a terrifying pace,” Michael says. “And you worry about your children and your grand­children’s future.”

Still, work remains his daily routine to the extent that he has a new book, Travels with my Sketchbook, to coincide with the Chris Beetles exhibition, and he is working on another all about a camel, set in Middle Eastern desert.

• Telling Tales is at Chris Beetles Gallery, 8 and 10 Ryder Street, SW1, extended until Saturday May 13. Call 020 7839 7551 or visit www.chrisbeetles.com


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