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Kirby, Josh

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Artist.

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(1928-2001) Nickname and working name of UK illustrator Ronald William Kirby, trained at Liverpool School of Art. He was occasionally though rarely credited as Ron Kirby. Kirby's work in sf began in the mid-1950s with covers for Dan Morgan's Cee-Tee Man (1955), the 1956 Pan paperback of Ian Fleming's Moonraker (1955) and for Authentic Science Fiction (6 covers 1956-1957, plus interior art; some of this was signed "Adash" or "A-" in allusion to A E van Vogt's Null-A books). Most of his published art was for paperback covers, for publishers including Corgi, Pan, Panther and New English Library (including the NEL Four Square imprint) and, in the USA, Ace Books, Ballantine Books, DAW Books and Lancer Books. His covers for Corgi UK paperbacks of Ray Bradbury in particular – e.g. The Illustrated Man (coll 1951; rev 1952) and The Martian Chronicles (coll of linked stories 1950; rev vt The Silver Locusts 1951; rev 1953) – are regarded as classics of sf cover art. He also painted movie posters for Starflight One (1981), The Beastmaster (1982), Krull (1983), Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983) and Morons from Outer Space (1985).

Kirby's style is colourful and intricate, and often designed on a small scale: the painting is frequently no larger than the book cover itself. His trademark was the grotesquerie of his creations. He belonged to a tradition derived more obviously from grotesque fantasists like Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) than from sf illustrators; he himself claimed Hieronymus Bosch (1460-1516) as a major influence, and sometimes used techniques borrowed from Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526/1527-1593). He enjoyed painting Alfred Hitchcock in comic-horrific situations for covers of the director's ghost-edited suspense anthologies. Kirby's work was strongly identified, from the 1980s until his death, with both hardcover and paperback editions of the novels of Terry Pratchett, with whom he shares a cover credit for the richly illustrated Eric (1990). Even Pratchett's imitators often got Kirby covers.

A notable portfolio of his sf paintings is Voyage of the Ayeguy (portfolio 1981), whose titular human space traveller re-enacts a version of the ministry, death and resurrection of Christ on an Alien world; Kirby continued to rework and expand this favourite sequence until the end of his life. The Josh Kirby Poster Book (graph 1989), in large format and introduced by Pratchett, contains 13 posters. Kirby's most substantial books are In the Garden of Unearthly Delights: The Paintings of Josh Kirby (graph 1991), containing 159 of his paintings with introduction by Brian W Aldiss and text by Nigel Suckling, and A Cosmic Cornucopia (graph 1999), containing 131 paintings (a very few inadvertently recycled from the former collection) with an introduction by Tom Holt and text by David Langford. [JG/PN/DRL]

see also: Fantasy.

Ronald William Kirby

born Liverpool, England: 27 November 1928

died Diss, Norfolk: 23 October 2001



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