Sunday, 30 April 2017


Since moving into my new studio in Kendal  (Cumbria, UK) I have been very busy.
My work is currently on view in two local galleries, with a third Green Door exhibition opening next month

I will publish new work here early next week

Please come back soon and see what I have been up to!


Monday, 24 April 2017

Mervyn Peake


There is something of a bookish theme to this month's posts. This time I want to have a look at a great British writer and illustrator.

Mervyn Peake

Many of you will know him as the author of the Gormenghast Trilogy but long before he became the remarkable creator of three cult novels he was known as an illustrator of books - other people's books

He was commissioned to illustrate Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel Treasure island in 1949 by Eyre and Spottiswoode
The results are some of the finest examples of his work

The Old Buccaneer (Billy Bones)

Treasure Island was first published in serial form between 1881 and 1882. It was originally written for Stevenson's stepson but when published in full in 1883 quickly became a bestseller

It is still selling and has been adapted many times for television and the cinema. A new film version starring Donald Sutherland is being filmed even now in Puerto Rico. Eddie Izzard is to play Long John Silver

Blind Pew with Jim

Peake drew on his childhood knowledge of the novel (it is said that he had memorized every word of it as a little boy) and the finished illustrations are both dramatic and acutely observed.

His primary influence was Stanley L.Wood, a Victorian illustrator whose work schoolboy Peake first found in his monthly editions of Boys Own - a popular magazine that had begun in 1879 then revamped by the Lutterworth Press in 1939

"There all hands were already congregated"

The illustrations for Treasure Island are drawn using pen and ink but the technique is remarkably subtle - as in the drawing above in which the mariners' bodies are outlined by the setting sun. This is a very simple device but extremely difficult to pull of successfully

Jim on the jib-boom

Again, pure technique creates the vertiginous effect of Jim clinging to the boom for dear life.

I have enlarged this illustration (above) deliberately so that you can see the remarkable way in which Peake has created cloud and sea with simple lines or detailed hatching

What really makes this picture so effective, however, is the boy's terrified facial expression and staring eyes!

Long John Silver

Long John Silver is of course the tale's real villain but in this, our first introduction to him in person, Peake has made him almost likable - which he was, at least at the start of the novel!

Here (above) he depicts him leaning on his crutch at a jaunty angle. His knowing smile, however, should tells us to watch out for this singular character!

Israel Hands falling

Figures in space are always difficult but Peake pulls off this picture of Hands falling from the rigging by a very clever use of vertical lines, curving in space with the limp body while the face is itself a death mask

"I plucked furiously at the line which held me to him" - Jim

Later, when Long John Silver has revealed his true character, Peake shows him pulling a captive Jim by a rope's end, clutched dramatically in Silver's clenched mouth

For me this is the best of the Treasure Island illustrations and worthy of Goya - whom, incidentally, Peake revered. In Peake's book The Craft of the Lead Pencil there is a section called 'How to stare' in which he stresses the importance for an artist to closely observe his subject

To see exactly what Peake means, look closely at Silver's rumpled clothing, the whiteness of his gnarled knuckles or the texture of his hair and skin in the illustration above. Fantastic!

"The boarders swarmed over the fence like monkeys"

As someone who tries to both paint and write I can only sit in dumb admiration at Mervyn Peak's skills as both writer and illustrator.

The few illustrations from Treasure Island shown above barely touch on the full range of his work but I hope this brief introduction has given you a taste for this particular artist

If you would like to read more about Mervyn Peake, then I recommend Malcolm Yorke's splendid biography, published by John Murray (2000)

The illustrations for this article were taken from the Drawings of Mervyn Peake, published by Davis-Poynter (1974) with an introduction by Hilary Spurling

Friday, 21 April 2017

What's New?

Work in Progress

This week I have started work on a series of colored paintings, using some of the techniques explained elsewhere in this blog for my monochrome graphics work

Golden Plant by Mike Healey

I am happy to share with you some of these techniques so please revisit this blog soon

 Greetings to you all!


Monday, 17 April 2017


The Bewitching of Anne Gunter

A stage play in three acts by Mike Healey

I am in the process of writing a new stage play. It is about a young woman called Anne Gunter who, it was claimed, was possessed by the devil

This is a true story

 When possessed, Anne became hysterical and vomited pins. Her case came to the attention of the new King of England - James I, himself an expert on witchcraft

As both writer and painter, I try to visualise events on stage. 

Sometimes I seek inspiration from other sources and in this case I am drawn to Peter Greenaway's 2012 film 'Goltzius and the Pelican Company'

This controversial films tells the story of a 17th century Dutch printer who publishes a book of erotica, based on Biblical stories

Greenaway, as a painter himself, brings to his work a highly refined sensibility and mastery of many digital technologies - which give his films their unique aesthetic

I like the sharp use of monochrome, in both the way it is shot and the black and white costumes

Much of Greenaway's work has the appearance of being performed on stage, with the camera placed centrally and the orthogonals studiously observed

This is something that I can use in my stage play.

I am aiming for a Brechtian austerity but want my Jacobean costumes to provide a rich contrast. This Greenaway achieves in this film - and elsewhere in his work.

It is something from which we can all learn and apply to our own theatrical efforts.

Watch this space!


Saturday, 15 April 2017

Max Klinger

Max Klinger
Graphic Artist

A Glove: Abduction

My featured artist this month is Max Klinger (1857-1920), a German illustrator admired chiefly today for his bizarre etchings, now seen to prefigure Surrealism and other 20th century trends

Intermezzos: Cupid, death and Beyond 
Klinger's world is one of brooding melancholy and full of deep fantasies about love and death, sexual psychoses, fetish obsessions and bizarre nightmares

No wonder Andre Breton and the Surrealist were drawn to this brilliant illustrator!

Klinger first leapt to critical prominence at the age of 21 - at an exhibition in Berlin in 1878 featuring a suite of ten ink drawings called A Glove

A Glove:Repose

The Glove series predates the work of Freud and Krafft-Ebing on sexual psychoses and fetish obsessions by several years yet Klinger's treatment of a purloined feminine accessory anticipates our understanding of the part the repressed libido plays in our psyche

A Glove: Cupid

Since the glove is both phallic (the fingers) and simultaneously vaginal (sheath configuration and accentuated open slits of the glove's back and palm) these etchings appear remarkably Freudian

A Glove: Anxieties

These works are highly charged emotionally and appear to express deep human anxiety, thereby providing a link between earlier 19th Century German Romanticism and the later, modern Expressionist movement culminating in the work of Edvard Munch

Dramas: March Days II

Although sexual fantasy is central to much of Klinger's work, there is also a strong social awareness and realistic element. He studied the novels of Flaubert and Zola and deeply admired the paintings of Adolf von Menzel, the father-figure of German Realism

The above etching is one of a series depicting social and political revolution, inspired partly by both Marx and Darwin whom Klinger had read

However, the aspect of Klinger's work that endures is not his social realism, important as that was to him, but his hugely imaginative and often disturbing images of anxiety and death

On Death, Part II: Plague

His technical virtuosity - as in the above etching - adds to the nightmareish quality of his work in this genre: a melodramatic naturalism that anticipates the film noir of early German Expressionists

On Death, Part II: Philosopher

Like Edvard Munch who followed him, Klinger is always concerned with the human condition - an uneasy mix of Existential solitude and sexual anxiety

A Life: Caught

These dream-like images surely touch a deep chord in all of us, thereby giving these19th century etchings a modern currency still

My favourites are those that encapsulate the strange, enchanted world of the imagination - as in this picture below, called Brahms Fantasies: Evocation

It is now accepted that Klinger influenced the work of Dali, Giorgio de Chirico and Edvard Munch

Indeed, Giorgio de Chirico studied both Klinger and Arnold Bocklin when he was a student in Munich and, after Klinger'sdeath in 1920, wrote a perceptive analysis of his work

The illustrations for this brief article are taken from The Graphic Works of Max Klinger, published in 1977 by Dover Publications and with a foreword by Dorothea Carus


Monday, 3 April 2017

Green Door Art Trail


I am a member of the Green Door artist's co-operative and would like to tell you of our art trail coming to Cumbria and parts of Lancashire (UK) soon

For more details, click on the link below:

Friday, 31 March 2017

Mike Healey - Retrospective

The early work of Mike Healey

I would like - with your indulgence - to look back at some paintings, drawings and collages from early in my professional career as a painter

The works I am about to show you have all been sold so my recollections of them are based on a handful of photographs that I have retained - more by chance than design

What is curious is that, until I found these photographs recently, I had little -  if any - recollection of this work!

This is partly a measure of my failing memory but also evidence of the wide range and productivity of my work at the start of my career

Indeed, in the early 1980's - when I began to exhibit my work (usually two one-man shows a year) - I would regularly produce something like sixty pictures  for each exhibition - that's 120 pictures a year. I'm not sure I can produce that many today!

Also, when I think that at that time I was fully employed as a television director/producer and only able to paint in my spare time, my actual productivity is really quite remarkable

What also emerges is the homogeneity of my work - something at this remove that I find somewhat surprising

At the time I felt that each new picture was distinctly different from its predecessor but the works when viewed retrospectively show a continuity that is curiously reassuring - I think!

This is partly due, I suspect,  to a uniformity of technique - wide use of collage embedded in more abstract, largely gouache 'backdrops' - but also the ineluctable emergence of a unique, personal aesthetic

To look back at this is rather satisfying although at the time I was always conscious of my lack of any specific style or direction. This may have been just my normal anxiety but the photographic evidence is that there clearly was a direction to my work - even if I was myself largely unaware of it

I think it probably true that artists are often the last people to understand their work in any real historical sense. That kind of reflection is, I suspect, contrary to the artist's natural way of thinking
What is crucially important, however, is that each artist actively reflects deeply on the work in hand

Picasso is a perfect example of this ability to delve deeply into what is actually on the canvas before him.The originality of his work - like all great artists - is therefore the result of deep and constant reflection, much trial-and-error and experimentation and the courage to scrap something that his instinct tells him is 'not working'

This is a creative process that is continuous and taking place in 'real time' - not something reflected upon at leisure much later

Lesser artist like me do share this quality, albeit in a less exalted way

Our ability to reflect on what we have produced is the key to how, even at our level, we progress as artists

Mike Healey

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Edouard Manet's Olympia

Manet's Olympia

I have been reading Emile Zola's novel Nana, first published in 1880

Manet - Nana (1877)

It tells the story of a young prostitute in Paris who becomes a fashionable courtesan, infamous for the cruel way she treats her many lovers

We first come across her in an earlier novel - L'Assommoir - but now she is an actress who, at the start of the new novel, appears in an operetta as a scantily clad 'Venus' 

Which brings me to Edouard Manet's equally infamous painting - Olympia 

 Manet - Olympia (1863)

This painting was done in 1863 but when it was first shown in public at the Salon de Paris in 1865 it caused a sensation

The pose is derived from Titian's Venus of Urbino (1538), itself copied from a reclining nude by Giorgione of 1510

Titian - Venus of Urbino

While the pose is very similar, what shocked contemporaries in Manet's painting was the frank depiction - not of a 'Classical' nude - but of a naked courtesan 

Manet's treatment of  the reclining woman ran counter to contemporary idealisations of the nude female, as espoused by a moribund French Academy
Take Alexander Cabarel's Birth of Venus for example:

 Cabarel - Birth of Venus (1863)

This saccharine confection was painted the same year as Olympia and yet it is light years behind Manet's innovative work, with its bold brush strokes and provocative subject matter 

Cabarel's painting was bought by Napoleon III - which probablyy speaks volumes for fashionable 'taste' in the Second Empire

It is exactly the kind of painting - with its polished, glossy surface and coy pose - that The Royal Academy actively endorsed

 Olympia (detail)

Interestingly, one of the men to support Manet at the time was Emile Zola himself
In 1877 Manet had made a painting of a young courtesan standing before her mirror, with her 'client' seated (adoringly) on the sofa right of frame

This was originally a portrait of Henriette Hauser but after the publication of Zola's novel in 1880 was was widely known as Nana

Manet (albeit quite unintentionally) has caught the cheap character of the novel's Nana exceptionally well

This mixture of coquetishness and undeniable sex appeal is that a young woman who is clearly comfortable with  her sexuality and 'commercial' station in society

Manet's Nana is not as effective as Olympia whose hard, unyielding stare out of frame (at her client as well as us, the viewer!) is quite provocative


Moreover, Olympia's hand - covering her genitals - has none of the innocent languor of the Titian or, for example, the elegance of Goya's Maja desnuda


In short, Manet created a portrait of an odalisque (reclining woman) very much for his age - a painting that shocked his contemporaries but broke the stranglehold French academicians held over contemporary 'taste'

It also lead the way for the great, Modernist odalisques of Matisse and Picasso

Mike Healey

You can see Olympia at the Musee D'Orsay in Paris 


 Jack Vettriano

If you would like to see some of the paintings Olympia inspired, then click on the link below: