<div style="display:inline;"> <img height="1" width="1" style="border-style:none;" alt="" src="//googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/viewthroughconversion/1028731116/?value=0&amp;guid=ON&amp;script=0">
13 ISSUES FOR £24 Subscribe to Cotswold Life today click here

INTERVIEW: The wild and wonderful art of Tony Meeuwissen

PUBLISHED: 10:50 29 November 2016 | UPDATED: 11:46 29 November 2016

Robin, by Tony Meeuwissen

Robin, by Tony Meeuwissen

Tony Meeuwissen

Illustrator and designer Tony Meeuwissen’s extraordinary career spans 50-odd years of the weird, the wonderful and the wildly humorous. Words by Candia McKormack

Chameleon, by Tony Meeuwissen Chameleon, by Tony Meeuwissen

“Like Quentin Blake, Aubrey Beardsley, Arthur Rackham or William Hogarth, Tony Meeuwissen’s work transcends illustration and has become part of our cultural heritage. Following the tradition of the finest British graphic artists, he has taken the medium to a new dimension through an extraordinary level of ingenuity, wit, and craft.” – RSA Royal Designers statement

When I interviewed Emma Kennaway last month, she said of fellow artists “we are a different breed; we don’t see the world the way that others do.”

I’ve thought about this several times since our meeting, and realise this must surely be the case. The greatest artists have a way of looking that is distinct to them, and Tony Meeuwissen’s incredible illustrations which have appeared in magazines such as The Sunday Times and Observer, adorned Royal Mail stamps, many books and playing cards… and even a Rolling Stones LP.

Praying Mantis, by Tony Meeuwissen Praying Mantis, by Tony Meeuwissen

Since we last met in 2012, Tony has been awarded the prestigious title of Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) – the highest accolade for designers in the UK – for “his distinctive and innovative contribution to British illustration over 50 years, and giving inspiration to generations of children learning to read or draw.”

It’s not surprise at all, of course – his work is astonishing – but how does one receive such an honour? “A couple of friends and colleagues who like my work put my name forward,” he explains, “and then you’re voted on by the current Royal Designers.”

A maximum of 200 British designers can hold the title at any given time, and so it’s an incredible award to be given. The scope of the work of designers who hold the title is wildly varied, too, from fashion designers such as Neville Brody for graphic design, Mary Quant and Vivienne Westwood for fashion, Lord Snowdon for photography, and James Dyson for engineering.

In 2013, when Tony was given his award, there was a colourful array of designers who joined him.

Gypsy Moth, by Tony Meeuwissen Gypsy Moth, by Tony Meeuwissen

“One of them was a chap who designed footwear for people who had had their leg blown off, to help them lead a full life [Saeed Zahedi], then there was the man who does the lighting design for the Rolling Stones’ shows [Patrick Woodroffe]. A friend of mine, Michael Wolff [graphic design, 2011] says it’s a society for old men,” he laughs. “There are people in their 40s, of course, and it is incredibly diverse.”

Tony’s work ethic is still as strong as ever. A typical day will see him seated at his desk early in the morning, with Radio 3 or Radio 4 Extra on in the background. His current project is one that he’s been dedicating himself to for the past few years and which is being steadily developed in typically meticulous fashion, The Purple Emperor. He shows me the work that’s currently on his drawing board and it’s his glorious vision of a spotted flycatcher bird, with trademark Tony Meeuwissen puns shown in the flies he’s caught… there’s a fruit fly with its body made from various pieces of fruit, a horsefly with a horse’s head, and a bluebottle and carrot fly with corresponding body parts.

There are to be around 30 drawings in his book, each with the same amount of detail that can be seen in all his work, and which is painstakingly created using gouache, watercolour, and pen and ink. Each has a corresponding verse which Tony has obviously enjoyed sourcing, and used as a spark for his wild imagination:

Nuthatch, by Tony Meeuwissen Nuthatch, by Tony Meeuwissen

“The female spider / Can’t abider / Husband / Till he’s tucked / Insider”

… he reads while showing me the gruesomely cheeky illustration to accompany. Genius!

Another is a praying mantis, imagined by the artist as a clergyman with dog-collar and cassock, saying grace before tucking into a meal of a Tortoiseshell butterfly.

Christmas stamp designs by Tony Meeuwissen Christmas stamp designs by Tony Meeuwissen

Inspiration comes from all manner of things; Tony is a great reader and his studio bookshelves are crammed with books on subjects from photography and design to Esoteric Christianity and Gnosticism. He also finds the creative muse when out walking in the Cotswold countryside, and one of his sketches – based on a tree stump he discovered – is reminiscent of one of Leonardo’s grotesques.

Ideas can come out of the most mundane of tasks. “No one knows where ideas come from,” he says. “I think it was Brahms who said ‘the best ideas come to me while I polish my shoes early in the morning’.”

He recalls reading The Beano as a child and being fascinated by ‘Keyhole Kate. “She was a nosey-parker schoolgirl who was allowed to design her own room, and everything was in the shape of a keyhole. That amused me at the time, and so I used that sort of device in my work – I thought ‘how many things can you think of around this particular subject or theme?’”

“When I began, my hero was the cartoonist Gerard Hoffnung,” he continues, “as well as Ronald Searle and Mervyn Peake. I used to send my drawings off to Punch magazine, and I developed my style where humour became a part of my work.”

Seven of Hearts by Tony Meeuwissen Seven of Hearts by Tony Meeuwissen

So, had he ever considered being a political cartoonist?

“A cartoonist, yes, but not a political one. I used to like cartoons without captions, and particularly the French ones. In the Swinging Sixties – the Pop Art era – there were people painting all sorts of strange things on furniture, and I once did the Batman symbol on my friend’s door. And then I started to get a little more interested in what Magritte and Escher were doing, and you could see a different way of working.”

Tony has been planning his forthcoming Christmas exhibition with the same attention to detail he shows in all his work – a pencil sketch of the gallery space indicates which bodies of work are going where – and I am reassured that there will be a diverse selection of pieces from across his 50-plus-year career, including large-scale designs from the brilliant Key to the Kingdom deck of cards and accompanying book, his stamp designs for the Royal Mail, Penguin book jackets and some illustrations from his first book, The Witch’s Hat, which came out in 1976.

Astonishingly, 40 years after the book was published he’s managed to recover three images from it which are being remounted and reworked.

Tony Meeuwissen at home in his studio in Gloucestershire Tony Meeuwissen at home in his studio in Gloucestershire

“I’m working on them again because, using aniline dyes as I did then, a lot of the colour’s faded. It’s funny working on something you did 40 or 50 years ago; you can remember your hand going on the work and it’s like you’re back there again, in that time. It’s a strange feeling, and there’s the thought ‘am I going to ruin it?’

“I think when I’ve finished working on this book, I might like to have a go at doing something looser,” he says, thoughtfully. “I would like to take a fresh look at the way I work.”

I admire his energy and creative spark – there really is no one out there in the field of design and illustration quite like him. Someone once said that when viewing Tony’s work “you see familiar things in unfamiliar situations” which I think is as close as we’ll get in an attempt to sum up his extraordinary style.

Tony Meeuwissen’s Christmas exhibition runs from December 1, 2016 until January 8, 2017 at Corinium Museum, Park Street, Cirencester, GL7 2BX, tel: 01285 655611, www.coriniummuseum.org

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Cotswold Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Cotswold Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Cotswold Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & about

Fri, 15:24

Thousands of visitors flocked to BBC Countryfile’s first live event last year, and following its monumental success it will return to Blenheim Palace this summer, promising to be bigger and better than ever. We pick ten reasons why Countryfile Live is the perfect day out for the whole family

Read more
Thu, 10:37

We never tire of pretty pictures of the Cotswolds. Here are ten of the best shared on Instagram this week…

Read more
Wed, 15:37

Jane Leigh visits the Warwickshire town of Royal Leamington Spa to find a thriving independent sector amongst the Regency architecture

Read more
Tuesday, July 11, 2017

There are plenty of fantastic events in the Cotswolds this summer, and many can be enjoyed with man’s best friend in tow. Mark Lewis, Managing Director of Cotswold RAW, the biologically appropriate raw food for dogs, talks us through what’s coming up for you and the family to attend

Read more
Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Honey-coloured cottages with perfectly manicured gardens, quaint tearooms and cosy pubs are part and parcel of the quintessential Cotswold villages. How many on our list can you name?

Read more
Tuesday, July 4, 2017

RHS Hampton Court Palace results

Words and pictures by Mandy Bradshaw

Read more
Tuesday, July 4, 2017

If captivating grade-listed buildings with landscaped gardens are your thing, you’ve come to the right place. We pick 10 of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring stately homes you simply need to visit this year

Read more
Tuesday, June 27, 2017

If only walls could talk! Featuring gorgeous Cotswold almshouses, stunning market squares and honey-coloured architecture, we pick 8 beautifully historic market towns to visit in the region

Read more
Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Cotswold Life’s gardening columnist designer Paul Hervey-Brookes’ garden for the Institute of Quarrying won not only gold but Best in Show and the Best Construction awards

Read more
Tuesday, June 6, 2017

One of the most beautiful landscapes in the UK with its vibrant towns and charming villages, bags of history and intrigue, vast countryside and impressive architecture, we choose 32 reasons why the Cotswolds is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Read more

Stephen Roberts enjoys a brief encounter with Great Malvern Station

Read more
Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Cotswold designers, growers and artists have picked up medals across this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Read more
Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Walk in the footsteps of Cider with Rosie author, Laurie Lee, as you explore the glorious Slad valley, ending up at his favourite local, The Woolpack

Read more
Monday, May 22, 2017

Guests can expect afternoon tea, Prosecco and live classical music in the beautiful grounds of Mallory Court, Leamington Spa on Monday May 29. The event will celebrate the 90 years National Gardens Scheme charities have dedicated to UK palliative care

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory
A+ Education

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad
Cotswold Life Application Link

Local Business Directory

Cotswold's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area



Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search