Examining the Developed Imaginations of a British Illustrator: Les Edwards

Serendipity is a funny thing. It was when I was looking for some biographical details about the British filmmaker Clive Barker known for his bloody

Between 1866 and 1868, the sublime Meiji artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) created a set of very disturbed and disquieting designs. The most sadistic of these bloody pictures ( muzan-e ) are to be found in a..

horror classic Hellraiser, that I came across the impressive work of Les Edwards who, among other things, designed the UK film poster for Clive Barker’s Nightbreed (1990) and his graphic novel ‘Son of Celluloid” (1991 – Fig.17a).

Les Edwards Goblin

Fig.1. ‘Blood and Iron; The Goblin’s Grin‘ (1981)  © Les Edwards

Strange and the Bizarre

In his 40 year career span as a professional illustrator Edwards primarily worked in the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres, and has provided numerous illustrations for book jackets, film posters (among others John Carpenter’s The Thing), magazines, and record covers (like Metallica’s Jump in the Fire – Fig.3 and The Prodigy’s Music For the Jilted Generation – Fig.2)  and games (like Heroquest).

Les Edwards Music for the Jilted Generation

Fig.2. Inlay for the Prodigy album ‘Music for the Jilted Generation ‘ (1994) (Source: Twitter)

Fig.1. Inlay for the Prodigy album 'Music for the Jilted Generation


Cover Metallica Jump in the Fire

Fig.3.  Cover for Metallica’s album ‘Jump in the Fire‘ (1984) (thevisualartofmetal.tumblr.com)

Noddy and Other Influences

His fascination for the strange and the bizarre

Besides being unpredictable and turbulent, 2022 is also the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the Bizarre Sex magazine, launched by Denis Kitchen in 1972 and issued until 1982. Once you’ve stumbled across the..

has been present since early childhood when his mother read to him from the Noddy Toyland Stories, and the mischievous goblins (Fig.1) appealed to him most. Edwards grew up in East Ham, London where he was surrounded by the best art galleries in the world. This is were he developed among other things a great appreciation for Victorian art. In an interview with We Are the Mutants, he explains, ‘I think it was a tι̇ɱe when figurative painting was brought to a very high level and that’s the attraction for me. I can forgive the sometι̇ɱes mawkish sentι̇ɱentality; it just seems quaint from this distance, and there’s a good deal of pomposity and self-regard in art of that period. But if you want to paint realistically, the Victorians are the people to look at.’ In recent years Edwards has taken to painting under the pseudonym “Edward Miller” in order to do a different kind of work and use a more roɱantic style. Other influences are the Gerɱan Roɱantic landscape painter Caspar David Freidrich and the American portrait painter John Singer Sargent.

Lawrence of Arabι̇a

In the interview mentioned above, he points out that cinema is probably the biggest influence of all, ‘right back to the early movie serials and naïve SF films like Conquest of Space, which my dad took me to see when I was about five. My favorite films do tend to be epic: Lawrence of Arabι̇a2001, although I’d have to include Psycho, which is not epic but quite claustrophobic. It could be a very long list.’

les edwards Creature of Havoc

Fig.4. ‘Creature of Havoc‘ (2002) © Les Edwards

les edwards The Street Party

Fig.5. ‘The Street Party‘ (2022) © Les Edwards

les edwards The Street Party detail

Fig. 5a.

Formal Composition

Edwards’ paintings are known for their excellent formal composition. He starts with a central figure and decides where it’s going on the page. Then he builds the picture around it, adding elements or removing them until he gets the effect he wants.

Guilty Pleasure

Although most of the assignments the much-sought after illustrator receives are related to the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres, he considers his adult work as a guilty pleasure. In the interview with We Are the Mutants he indicates, ‘I often think that it’s an area I’d like to revisit but I think creating something which is genuinely erotic would be the aim and that’s very difficult. I’ve done erotic comics

Again, a great tip from Jeff Faerber who drew my attention to the well-drawn erotic comic strip I Roved Out in Search of Truth and Love (2018) by Alexis Flower, who is responsible for both text and artwork…

in the past and that was interesting but very hard work. I frequently think that I’d have fun with a purely erotic painting but I feel I need the permission of actually being commissioned.’

Below a selection of this risky

The risky pictures in shunga , also called abuna-e , were one of the specialties of the multi-talented Japanese artist Keisai Eisen (1790-1848).  These kind of images are characterized by a more evocative atmosphere..

work that was done mainly for Men Only Magazine….

Les Adwards the visitorFig.6. ‘The Visitor‘  (1990) © Les Edwards

One of three vampire paintings for a private client. This was the middle painting and is Edwards’ favorite of the three. (see also Fig.11 and 13). The unfortunate, reclining ɱan strongly resembles the actor Val Kilmer.

les edwards The VisitorFig.6a.

Les Adwards OutbackFig.7 ‘Outback’ (1977) © Les Edwards

An early oil painting, done for Men Only magazine in 1977. On his site Edwards mentions that at the tι̇ɱe he made it the illustrator John Holmes was very popular and probably influenced him..

Les Adwards Nuclear AttackFig.8. ‘Nuclear Attack‘ (1982) © Les Edwards

Like the previous one, this painting was done for the magazine Men Only although the artist can’t recall what the accompanying article was about.

nuclear attack les edwardsFig.8a.

les edwards Saints Sinners and SexFig.9. ‘Saints Sinners and Sex

Betty Dodson (born 1929) was trained as a fine artist in the 1950s, and in 1968 had her first show of erotic art at the Wickersham Gallery in New York City. In the 1970s, she quitted her art career and began studying..

‘ (1975) © Les Edwards

The illustration suggests something to do with the authoritarian suppression of sex and, in those days, the article would certainly have been complaining about censorship. It may seem like along tι̇ɱe ago but those repressive forces are still around.

Saints Sinners and Sex Les EdwardsFig.9a.

les edwards Dracula a sexual obsessionFig.10. ‘Dracula a Sexual Obsession‘ (1974) © Les Edwards

Painted for Men Only in 1974. It was for an article by Daniel Farson called “The Cult of Dracula“. Depicting Christopher Lee as Dracula in his famous look including dark brown irises with veined sclera that makes the eyes look red and angry.

Dracula a Sexual Obsession Les EdwardsFig.10a.

Les Edwards the vampire loverFig.11. ‘The Vampire Lover‘ (1990) © Les Edwards

Private commission from a set of three erotic vampire paintings (see also Fig.6 and 13). The paintings hung in the client’s bedroom and made an impressive display.

the vampire lover Les EdwardsFig.11a. Detail

les edwards The Hermit's RemedyFig.12. ‘The Hermit’s Remedy‘ (1978) © Les Edwards

les edwards The Vampire BallFig.13. ‘The Vampire Ball’(2000) © Les Edwards

This is the last of three erotic vampire pictures Edwards did as a private commission. This piece was the most ambitious of the three and includes characters from the first two. The artist likes the story being told here but prefers the intι̇ɱacy of the first two pictures. More is not always better.

The Vampire Ball les edwardsFig.13a. Detail left side

The Vampire Ball les edwards detailFig.13b. Detail right side

les edwards Isle of the TorturersFig.14. ‘Isle of the Torturers‘ (2020) © Les Edwards

les edwards close upFig.14a.

les edwrds the priestessFig.15. ‘The Priestess‘ (1987)

Personal piece done specifically for the 1987 World Science Fiction Convention. Used as the book cover for The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker published by Carroll & Graf in 1989. Also used by Heavy Metal magazine as part of their 1995 calendar.

the invocation les edwardsFig.16. ‘The Invocation‘ (2008) © Les Edwards

les edwards marilyn monroe clive barkerFig.17. Painting used for the cover of Clive Barkers graphic novel “Son of Celluloid” (1991)

Clive Barker Son of CelluloidFig.17a. Book cover ‘Son of Celluloid ‘

Les Edwards TarzanFig.18. ”Tarzan in the Lost City‘ (2013) © Les Edwards

This famous scene from Tarzan in the Lost City was a private commission for a fan of Edgar Rice

In the Edo period, one of the driving forces of the economy was the rice production. Rice planting happened (and still happens) in the spring, cultivation in the summer, and harvest in the fall. The Japanese style of..

Burroughs. The painting is very rich in contrast to Edward’s usual, rather subdued, palette.

les edwards Tarzan in the Lost EmpireFig.18a. Detail

Les Edwards Chastity is an Endless BeltFig.19. ‘Chastity is an Endless Belt‘ (1978) © Les Edwards

Assignment from Men Only. Fairly early oil painting and painted quite thinly. At that tι̇ɱe, Edwards had just switched from using Designer’s Gouache and was still experimenting with technique..

les edwards Change Partners And DanceFig.20. ‘Change Partners and Dance ‘ (1978) © Les Edwards

Change Partners and Dance Les EdwardsFig.20a. Detail

the power of the moon Les EdwardsFig.21. ‘The Power of the Moon‘ (1975) © Les Edwards

les edwards the power of the moonFig.21a. Detail

the house of e les edwardsFig.22. ‘The House of E ‘ (1970s) © Les Edwards

les edwards house of EFig.22a.

To Be or Not to Be.... Promiscuous les edwardsFig.23. ‘To Be or Not to Be…Promiscuous ‘ (1975) © Les Edwards

les edwards To Be or Not to Be.... Promiscuous les edwardsFig.23a.

les edwards Fetishism; the Fears of the ObsessedFig.24. ‘Fetishism, the Fears of the Obsessed ‘ (1974) © Les Edwards

This is most probably the first illustration Edwards ever produced for Men Only Magazine and he remembers getting the idea for the painting while he was riding on the London Underground.

Fetishism; the Fears of the Obsessed les edwardsFig.24a.

It's Been a Business Doing Pleasure with You Les EdwardsFig.25. ‘It’s Been a Business Doing Pleasure with You ‘ (1980) © Les Edwards

The painter himself considers this piece as one of the best he produced at that tι̇ɱe. Made for Men Only Magazine for an article on the growing sex toy industry.

Promiscuity Les EdwardsFig.26. ‘Promiscuity ‘ (1975)  © Les Edwards

Les Edwards promiscuityFig.26a.

Magdalena Les EdwardsFig.27. ‘Magdalena‘ (2022)  © Les Edwards

The model here took pride in holding the most challenging poses during Life Class. Edwards was impressed by her and never felt he’d done her justice.. In this painting she’s depicted quite relaxed.

palm up Les EdwardsFig.28. ‘Palm Up‘ (2022)  © Les Edwards

Normally the models

Helmut Newton (1920-2004) was a Gerɱan-Australian photographer whose works appeared in lots of fashion magazines, like  Vogue , French Vogue , Marie-Claire , Elle , and Playboy . Newton made numerous nude photographs..

at the life class Edwards attends are women so the occasions they had a male model made a nice change. On his site, he mentions, ‘In painting women I find I have to overcome my tendency to flatter them and sometι̇ɱes go too far in the opposite direction.’

les edwards pale drawingFig.29. Drawing ‘Pale‘ (2022)  © Les Edwards

A life drawing in pastels; a medium which the artist uses very rarely.

Sex and the Black Widow Les EdwardsFig.30. ‘Sex and the Black Widow ‘ (1976) © Les Edwards

Painted for Men Only Magazine in 1976. This was quite a popular illustration and generated a few letters of appreciation to the magazine.

Sex and the Black WidowFig.30a.les edwards Devil's Rock; Well HungFig.31. ‘Devil’s Rock: Well Hung‘ (1981)  © Les Edwards

One of two drawings contributed to Paul Campion’s film The Devil’s Rock.

Devil's Rock; Well HungFig.31a.


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