As many of my friends and followers will know, I’m a sucker for this kind of thing.
Dennis Leigh – aka creative multi-media artist and musician John Foxx – has illustrated more than 40 book covers in a parallel career as a graphic illustrator. Over the past ten years (yes really…) I have taken it upon myself to catalogue them all and, where possible, acquire copies of the First Editions. Restraints of budget have limited this so far to only ten, but they are things of such incredible beauty that getting one or two every year or so just adds to the delight of a new purchase.
As far as I know, no-one has considered such an undertaking before and it remains a frustrating and time-consuming labour of love. There are a number of factors that make the job more difficult than it might first appear:
Firstly, the cover illustrator is often not credited on the jacket. At all. I guess that because Dennis Leigh is “well-known” (ha!) he is luckier than most and does get the occasional mention.
Secondly, organisations, libraries, publishers and other institutions do not routinely store data identifying the Cover Illustrator so searching by a name is impossible. To that end, I am indebted to staff at Random House who went to a lot of trouble providing vital information and helped my quest enormously.
Third, the artist himself has no archive or record of the books he worked on, and not necessarily even a copy of the artwork so this research is breaking new and important ground there too…
Fourthly, I have no idea how many publishers are involved. At least ten or twelve known so far
It has become possible in many cases to identify Leigh’s work by simply developing an eye for it over time and becoming familiar with the techniques, typefaces and themes he tends to use. My wife would argue in that case that “they all look the same”… Of course, there are common elements that link the illustrations, just as there are similar identifying themes in the music he creates as “John Foxx”.
The image created for Juan Perucho’s “Natural History” is a typical example. Layered compositions – a classic piece of artwork (often by da Vinci), overlaid with translucent coloured resin upon which a surface coating of gold leaf is applied and then distressed, damaged or otherwise scratched away, revealing the figures and faces underneath.
Perucho’s novel was first published in November 1989, and therefore represents the earliest example of Dennis Leigh’s art from this period, when he was working quietly away from the spotlight of stardom and any kind of celebrity. Foxx was in the refrigerator, quietly recharging. A distant hum… The style is in its infancy. Distinct and evocative, but perhaps lacking the complexity of later pieces.
A unusual feature of this particular jacket, at least in my collection and others I have seen online so far, is that it is one image that spreads across both the front, spine and reverse of the wrap. This is what makes purchasing the books so special – the back cover, flaps and spine often contain hidden surprises.
So please, if after reading this, you fancy helping out in the search for Dennis Leigh jacket illustrations, do let me know.
We are currently considering the best way of including the catalogue of references and illustrations into the metamatic website, but it’s one of many jobs in progress…