Introduction to The Land of Froud

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From the book The Land of Froud:

Introduction by Brian Sanders, 1977

Brian Froud was born at Winchester and lived for his early years in a part of Hampshire, which although only thirty or so miles from London, is an area abounding in pockets of unspoiled natural countryside. His most cherished memories of this period of his life are of solitary explorations after school hours, and during vacations, in these natural areas, and of building his own private worlds and sanctuaries in the undergrowth. He still wonders at lack of permanent scars which he should have received from tunneling through gorse and hawthorne bushes. At his first attempt he failed to pass the eleven-plus examination, the passport to a grammar school. However, after his family moved from Hampshire to Kent and he had spent a year 'cramming', he re-took the exam and gained the coveted grammar school place. He still remembers the year waiting to go to grammar school spent in an urban secondary modern school and the realization that there were people in the world totally different to himself.
He attempted to leave school at the age of fifteen (the then legal age), but was persuaded to stay on to take Ordinary and Advanced Level examinations before gaining entrance to Maidstone College of Art.
At Maidstone, Brian began as a student in the painting school, but gravitated to the graphic design course and after a three week trial switched courses. He gives as his reason for doing do, that in the painting school he felt it was regarded as being of greater importance to discuss painting than to actually paint, whereas in 'graphics', so many areas were opened up to his imagination. He was allowed to explore many and varied aspects of the arts, so widening his personal vision and then to develop along his chosen path without too much hindrance from authority.

One of his friends, illustrator Liz Moyes, who was a year behind him on the same graphics course, remembers that his peer group regarded Brian's work very highly, respected his need to live in his own world and recognized his originality. Brian, however, readily admits, because of his strong sense of tradition and the continuity of knowledge passed on from generation to generation, to being strongly influenced by other artists: the painter Richard Dadd, many sources in history ranging through Greek, Druid, Celtic, German 15th Century to the Pre-Raphaelites, the great illustrators Arthur Rackham,

Edmund Dulac, and the Robinson brothers. Both the figures and the crane on the tower in plate 32 owe much to the latter, but all have left a strong mark on much of his work.

Maidstone is not far from the village of Pluckey in Kent, the home of Brian's parents, so while at college, he commuted daily by motorcycle. Pluckey is reputed to be one of the most haunted villages in England and is supposedly haunted by an assorted ghostly population as well as its human one. From white ladies to dishonored monks and various other lost souls, Pluckey has them all. On a road into the village is a dip before a fairly steep hill, the site of a 'hanging tree'.
One night, returning home late after visiting friends, his motorbike engine mysteriously cut out at the top of the hill. His imagination began to run riot. It was some minutes before he realized that he was simply out of gas, but he affirms that he was so terrified by the experience that he never made the trip again without checking his gas tank.

On leaving college Brian joined Artist Partners in London, where I first saw his work. My agent had invited me into his office and asked my opinion of a portfolio which had been left with him by a student. I use the term portfolio in the loosest sense of the work, for there were very few drawings enclosed between the covers of a stiff folder. Instead I was shown what appeared to be a number of pieces of miniaturized hand luggage, apparently designed for a midget to use in a science-fiction film.Each piece had extraneous attaching bulges, dials, pockets, flaps and extrusions.I fumbled with the thongs and catches of a black leather box, about ten inches high. The front of the box fell down and I was confronted with a grotesquely modeled, laughing head, which I swear, WINKED AT ME. Each box brought forth further surreal glimpses of a world of fantasy.

As he had no base to work from in town he was invited into the building. A number of illustrators who are represented by Artist Partners, although very much independent freelances in their own right, choose to work for convenience in central London, and a loosely knot group use studio space rented from A.P. Brian was 'thrown in at the deep end' and has never been out of work since. It says a great deal for his integrity and confidence in his own abilities, that from the early stages of working amongst a group of highly professional artists he did not succumb to following in their wakes. Especially as they included such major talents as Michael Leonard and Roger Coleman. He learned from them, but his own personality loomed large.

The studio area which he had been allotted had a partition around it. Gradually a transformation began to take place. Crenelations appeared at the top of the partition, making it look like a castle wall. Dead plants began to 'grow' up it. Within his area lumps of gnarled and weathered tree stumps turned into castles. Frogs, toads and various animal derivatives vied for space on ledges with beautifully made samurai on horseback. Gnomes, goblins and faries appeared everywhere. Princesses sat sexily on cans of rubber cement. In short, a Froud world grew in a space eight by twelve feet. It was always Christmas with snow on the window panes.

My own children sought excuses to visit me in the studio that I shared with Roger Coleman, but really because it was only a flight of stairs away from Brian's room. They were fascinated, for each time they came in there would be something new to see; towers added to the castles, artificial cobwebs, a drawbridge dropped from the plan chest to the back of a chair--operated by a 'Heath Robinson--Rube Goldberg' device that defied gravity, but seemed to work.

It was difficult to understand how Brian managed to work in the small amount of remaining space, but work he did. How to explain the media that he used at that time: airbrush, plaster, modeling clay, plasticine, plastic, grit, gum, paint, paper, canvas, cloth, cardboard, hardboard, leather, metal, stone, cement, ink, wood, even earth and sand, not forgetting needle, thread, and button, sometimes all together on the same creation.

From time to time I would put my head through his doorway to say that I did not believe in faries in the vain hope of keeping their population explosion from getting out of hand (for according to J. M. Barrie, a fairy dies every time someone says that they do not believe in them). Roger and I even redesigned the label of an aerosol can of shaving cream to read--FAIRYCIDE, Kills all Gnomes, Goblins, Trolls and Woodland Folk with one squirt. It featured an elf lying on its back with feet and arms in the air. We left it as a Christmas present in his room. Retaliation was swift. Brian co-opted Liz Moyes into helping him make a Christmas Manger to be unveiled at out Christmas Party. Roger appeared as an unmentionable animal in the stable and I featured as a bald Joseph. For New Year I made a caricature drawing of Brian sitting on a toad-stool. He said nothing, just took the idea and did a much better version (plate 45) and used it as a piece of self promotion advertising.

After about three years his space having become infilled to such an extent, in order to gain more room in which to work, he moved from the Artist Partners building to work at home. We missed him, but he still visited us frequently as A.P. continue to act as agent for him.

He was also at this time beginning to re-evaluate what he wished to do, feeling that he needed most of and time to explore several projects that he had been mulling over for some time. Two years ago, a mutual friend, Alan Lee, whom Brian had met and worked alongside at A.P. and moved with his family to Chagford in Devon and offered Brian the opportunity of sharing his house there. Brian did so and this has brought about excellent developments in his work.

The village of Chagford is set on the edge of Dartmoor. An area of wild moorland encrusted with moss covered ancient stone walls, high tors, tumbling rocky streams, and wooded dells. In short, an ideal setting for Brian's world of 'Faery'. From the outside the house is a modest Victorian cottage set back from the street in a garden. From the moment that one crosses the threshold, guarded by a moss and lichen jeweled hand pointing skywards, from amid a welter of muddy wellington boots, a different land begins.

Two families, the Lees and the Frouds live here. Real children side by side with Brian's family, the Troll king, his brother and their mother. The mother has a hand hole in her back and when Brian holds her they become one. The puppet fits snuggly to him and there is a deep affection between them. Brian the wizard surrounded by his animate creations, discussing them with a child who believes in them as much as he does.

Walls, shelves and floors are crowded with books, toys, found objects and constructions. Ghosts, fairies and pictures of goblins abound. Through the window the back garden is dominated by a dead tree, stunted but beautiful, dragged for miles from the moor to this resting place. Even in high summer it lends the feel of winter to its surroundings. This house has cosseted the creation of the illustrations for 'Master Snickup's Cloak' (plates 8, 9, 10, 11) and many other illustrations in this edition.

Brian begins work almost as soon as he gets up in the morning, pausing only to have a cup of coffee. he goes to the drawing board for a couple of hours before taking a break. He tries to work from nine until six for five days a week, but often breaks into Saturday mornings. He says that he hates the actual painting part of the process, doesn't like working in color, but prefers monochrome. This accounts for the close tonal quality of much of his output and the subdued affect imbued in much of it.

His ideas are only sketched loosely on the board and the illustration begins to grow. He feels that if he draws a conception too tightly from the start, he quickly becomes bored with the idea, and therefore prefers to let the drawing develop as he works.

When he gets 'stuck' he walks to the moors, not stopping to sketch, but occasionally taking a photograph. The knowledge gained this way shows through in his paintings, as for example in plate 25. That stream so beautifully observed and painted has its source on Dartmoor. Even in this picture, however, it can be clearly seen that everything that he extracts from nature is sifted by the Froud mind and inlaid with his imagination. Humor dominates subject matter that could easily be too grotesque. The menace of the stand of trees in plate 29 is tempered with fun. The expression of the chicken in plate 31 tells us that there is no chance of it ending in the pot -- and oh! the evolutionary logic of the Troll in plate 15 who has developed ears to hold a pot on its head.

Although Brian now lives and works in Devon, I still see the progression of his work as it passes though Artistic Partners. It improves constantly, yet subtly. All of the original exuberance remains, but the finish has matured. Texture is no longer used for its own sake, but to describe rock, wood, water, metal or organic growth, etc. His use of watercolor as a medium has refined, possibly through working in such close proximity to the excellent watercolorist and draftsman, Alan Lee. The airbrush is now used to greater effect, not as an overall technique, but to create luminosity in a fairy's wing, a fleshtone as in plate 34 or mist over water in plate 33. There is a sexuality in much of his work, often disguised with childlike naughtiness, but very sophisticated none the less. All of these examples show an artist constantly developing, and leaving us with the sure knowledge that there is much to come.

The philosophy of his life and work can be summed up by his own words. 'Each book or story is like a journey, there is a beginning, a middle and an end. My paintings are the same...I am always thinking, what is over the hill? What will happen next? There is invariably a character in my pictures who is the viewer, sometimes its me, and no situation is too monumental for that character to overcome'. At the same time Brian realizes that his 'FAERY' imagination is often used as a retreat from facing up to responsibilities and feels sure that he will have to pay for it some day. We can be sure though, that like that little character with the outside sword and survival kit, (plate 17) who looks very much like Brian, no bogeyman of the woods, or real life for that matter will succeed in overcoming him.

Brian is not yet thirty years old. May he continue to enchant us in his lifetime yet to come and in doing so never become a ‘grown-up’.


Thanks to Greg Weir and Martin Schuler for emailing me the scanned pages.

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Significantly beyond since May 20, 1996
Updated 7/11/99 by Monica J. Roxburgh