giovedì 19 settembre 2013

"Life should be an adventure and art should, too": Jan Parker, an artist of the set of '2001'

Some time ago, reading this great blog (sadly, no longer updated), I found out that one of the artists hired by Kubrick in order to document the production of '2001' was indeed the very same author of the drawing in the last page of Piers Bizony's 2001: Filming the Future (a picture I gazed at so many times without knowing who had made it).

 Stanley Kubrick, By Jan Parker (from the book 2001: Filming the Future; source)

I immediatly set out to contact him, in order to learn more about his experience on the set. Thanks to the web, here it is: Jan Parker, born in England in 1941 of a Danish mother and English father.
Raised in Southport, he began to draw caricatures of his family at age 4; he later graduated from Willesden School of art in London. He had a successful career as a cartoonist, book illustrator and painter, and later moved to New York and then Hawaii.

 Jan Parker (from his Facebook page)

Mr. Parker was kind enough to answer my questions and here's his great story.

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In 1966, aged 25, you were already an established artist, selling drawings and cartoons to several European newspapers and producing illustrations for children’s books. How did your involvement with '2001' come to be?

In 1963 my family and I returned from Denmark to London. I was introduced by my friend the artist Wilson McLean to Artist Partners, an artist agency in London. They began to show my portfolio around and started getting me work - book covers, record covers, illustration in magazines and advertising. Mr. Kubrick representatives must have contacted AP and asked to see sample work from different artists, Brian Sanders and I were two of those artists.

One day I got a call from Pinewood Studios, a guy with an American accent said he was Roger Caras, a co-producer working for Mr. Kubrick. Would I come and see him at the studio?

 Roger Caras, vice-president of Polaris productions inc., Kubrick's production company for 2001 (Source: youtube)

Caras was a really nice person, a larger than life, cigar-smoking, Hollywood producer type! But a nice human being.... He told me they had invited various artists, writers and photographers to record the production of what they thought would be a historic movie! Lord Snowdon (Princess Margaret's husband) was one of the photographers.

What were you asked to do on the set? Did you have particular expectations about the job?

Caras offered me a fixed fee (can't remember how much) to visit the set a couple of times and produce drawings and paintings, they would use this material for advertising or Mr. Kubrick's private collection. That was fine with me.

Did you already know Stanley Kubrick or Arthur Clarke?

I was interested in Science Fiction (I had done several Sci-fi book covers for Signet) but I had never met Mr. Kubrick or Mr. Clarke before (I never saw Mr. Clarke on the set) but I admired Kubrick's movie 'Spartacus'. I loved art movies: Bergman - Kurosawa, Pasolini - ('The Gospel according to Matthew')! - and many other French & Italian movies. 

I've read on Saatchionline that Kubrick became a collector of your works. Have you been in touch in later years? What is your recollection of the famous director?

I was told that Mr. Kubrick had collected my work; I only met him once. Several people and I were introduced to him, and he was sitting with his two young daughters on his lap (only time I saw him smile). I took photos and made a quick sketch of the three of them in my sketch book. I have never met Mr. Kubrick since. He seemed to me a very nice person. Mild mannered, soft spoken, very pale, dark beard, large (a bit sad) dark eyes. If he had had side curls and a black hat he would look like a Jewish rabbi!

Stanley Kubrick (Source: youtube)

Very serious, focused and concentrated on the set. Taking film shots with his 'Panavision' camera over and over again. You know, the process of filming is quite boring to watch, because the same scene is shot over and over again and can take a whole morning - but I noticed Mr. Kubrick had extraordinary patience, he had to deal with mechanical break downs, and even a labor dispute during the production.

Did you make acquaintance with the rest of the crew or the actors?

There were lots of people on the set; I made friends with some of the leading actors - Keir Dullea and his co-star Gary Lockwood. Keir came to dinner at our apartment in London the first night in England. He drove up from Portsmouth (he came over on the Queen Elizabeth II) in his sports car. He kept losing his way so he arrived quite late, 10 p.m. We had some friends over and Roger Caras had arranged it. But we gave him a good welcome and had a nice dinner that ended around 2 AM. He enjoyed himself, he told many stories and jokes, but took his acting very seriously.

I showed Keir my studio and he became interested in a small decorative painting of a young girl with blue eyes, he wanted to buy it and I sold it to him, next time I visited the studios at Boreham wood, on the set, Gary Lockwood had seen Keir's painting and asked me to paint a similar one for his collection. Basically I made many drawings in my sketch book of the sets and took a lot of black & white photos with my small camera. I also asked some of the character actors to pose for quick portraits (10 minutes or so).

Dullea & Lockwood strike a pose on the set (source: Time/Life)

Were you and the other artists mentioned before on the set at the same time? Did you know them back in 1966? Are you still in contact?

I knew Brian Sanders; I thought his work was very suited for the project (I think they used one of his paintings for the main posters of the movie). I lost touch with Brian when I left Artist Partners in the late sixties.

What were your impressions about the sets?

Impressive, ultra modern looking and the computer 'HAL' with the large red eye. I didn't see any of the models of space craft or the set on the surface of the moon with the buried plinth. Nor did I really know much about the storyline itself. All I could do was focus on Kubrick, the various actors that were on a set at that particular moment, and the sets themselves. I made a drawing of the big wheel set; Lockwood ran around for exercise. In the movie it looked fantastic; in reality it was a rickety machine that kept breaking down when it turned around.

How long were you allowed to stay on the set? Do you remember how many drawings and sketches you made, approximately?

I think over a period of several months I visited Pinewood studios at Boreham wood, just outside of London, twice. Each visit a full day. I got on very well with Roger Caras. He and his wife came to dinner at our apartment in London several times.

There were 3 subjects to draw and paint and photograph - 'Mr. Kubrick' - the actors - the sets. It was really quite straightforward, I would take my sketches and photos from the sets - home to my studio and from that information gathered, produce finished drawings and paintings.

One of my larger paintings was based on the pink chairs in the white lounge of one of the space craft...

... I liked their shape.

I did many sketches and took hundreds of photos on the various sets. The end result was 18 complete drawings and 3 large paintings (40" x 50") as a result of 2 days on the sets of '2001'.

As far as I know, your only published job made on the set came out in the magazine Sight and Sound and in Piers Bizony's book (both are featured
here). Are you aware of any other published drawings? Were you disappointed about this relatively scanty outcoming in the press?

I wasn't aware of any published work of mine until you mentioned it. I wasn't disappointed, I think my small contribution was probably more suited for a private collection; whereas Brian's work, which seemed a bit more 'commercial', was good for publicity. I am not aware of any other published work by me. The contract allowed that production to use my drawings as they wanted. I gave everything I produced (finished drawings and paintings) to Roger Caras. I kept photos and my sketchbook - but lost them over the years (Ed.note: sigh! at least the finished drawings are still in the Kubrick Archive in London.)

Do you remember the first time you saw '2001'? What was your reaction?

My wife and I were invited to the premiere opening of the movie in Leicester Square, London. It was very well received with huge applause at the end. To me the movie was very impressive on the big wide screen. Beautifully photographed. Stunning opening scene with planets and music (Strauss). I liked it, it was mysterious. Many people wondered about the meaning of the end of the movie (the coming to Mars section) that was the section I liked best; it was like abstract art, the fourth dimension! I had a bit of difficulty with the first scenes of the apes - they did not look real to me. But from when the bone was tossed into the air and changed into the space station to the Blue Danube music that was fantastic. When I saw the movie again years later I noticed the 'slow' pace of the movie - and when the computer HAL died I almost fell asleep. But someone told me the 'slow pace' was the real beauty of the movie. It became an icon, and I think certainly in America just about everybody has seen that movie! 

 Stanley Kubrick, by Jan Parker (from Sight & Sound, 1966; source)

Was the job on '2001' significant for your career? I've read you were commissioned by The International Cultural Foundation to paint the Silver Jubilee Portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1975.

No, it wasn't really significant as such. It was just a very interesting experience. The ICF commissioned me to paint a life size portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on occasion of her silver jubilee (I painted from many photographs); it was presented to her office at Buckingham palace. Later apparently Her Majesty suggested the portrait be hung at the headquarters of the ICF in London; it’s probably still there today! Actually many artists paint the Queen's portraits on special occasions, both famous and not so famous artists, like me, ha. 

Judging by the drawings mentioned earlier, your style, in those days, was very different not only from your present style, but also from earlier works I found on the web.

I did feel I moved through the history of art - when I was 13 years old I painted cave paintings of large bisons on my bedroom wall - ha! - (the beginning of Art in the western world). I was always experimenting in my art work - trying new styles and techniques. Many artists find a style and stick to it - and that's ok! Other artists like Matisse and Picasso were always developing and going through different styles and periods in their art. I belong to the latter, life should be an adventure and art should too, don't you think?

Your move from New York to Hawaii must have been an important part of your artistic evolution.

Hawaii is a very colorful and beautiful place to live, and here one lives very close to nature. I spent years painting Hawaiian landscapes and seascapes, but gradually through my shows in Japan I sort of came into the 21 st. century regarding my abstract spiritual paintings - I am now trying to express the limitlessness of the mind and the heart and the beauty of the invisible world.

Cosmic (2013), Jan Parker (source:

What is your relationship with the movie today, was it significant in your life, in retrospect?

I am proud of having even a small connection with Mr. Kubrick's masterpiece (and Mr. Clarke's famous story). To me it is interesting that there is a strong desire in many people to reach out into the universe and touch upon something eternal, mysterious, as if searching for answers to the immortal question put by Gauguin's famous painting - "Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?"

* * *

Jan very kindly accepted to create the logo for 2001Italia - it's on top of every page of this blog. Learn more about him and his art on his Facebook page and his new web site

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