Review by James Bacon
A wonderful exhibition of phenomenal art awaits fans of Ian Kennedy at the Mercer Art Gallery in Harrogate.
Ian Kennedy, who devoted a lifetime to his art, who loved it as much as his fans did and was dedicated in his details and depictions of stories, is celebrated here in a deftly displayed and thoughtfully hung exhibition, showcasing a beautiful selection of his original art.
The opportunity here to see the original art in all its accuracy and up close, in all cases considerably larger than the printed version is to be welcomed, Commando editor Gordon Tait and comics archivist and educator Phillip Vaughan have excelled in presenting a wonderful mix of work in a gentle yet thoughtful fashion I’m a discrete and pleasant section at the Mercer Gallery.
The variety is insightful and reflects on a vast career and consistently good output, as one walks into the dedicated gallery for Ian, one meets a black and white page, Dredd -land it captures so much about the skill of comic story telling, a floating Dredd head, the mix of perspectives and the Lawmaster. Action, story progression and the sense of movement, all on one page.
Next to this is a 2000AD and Starlord cover, with an eye catching shot, this is Prog 96 and the action is apparent.
A fully painted Dan Dare for a Rebellion reprint shows how years impacted little on Ian Kennedy and his prowess with the painted media never waned or weakened, his ability to portray characters that he had worked on decades previously was stunning.
The detail of New Eagle issue 67 from 1983, the Space Shuttles, the overall scene, the cover of a comic while also the start of a story, dynamic in its execution, the details of the control consoles all quite clear while still presenting a cover that excites and captured the imagination.
Gordon Tait from Commando and Phillip Vaughan had worked on this exhibition and incredibly hung it in one day, but the effort and thought that went into the selection can be seen and appreciated.
DC Thomson were hugely supportive and of course vital to this exhibition. Here in strength were the Commando team, along with Gordon, were editor Kate McAuliffe, editor and writer Georgia Battle and amongst others, writer Colin Maxwell.
With twenty two pieces on the walls, there were also a selection of photos, comics, drafts and other work on show in display cabinets. Paintings were grouped cleverly, four Starblazers, next to a screen where people could see Ian talk about his craft.
Then four Commando covers of considerate significance, four of the five that Ian also drew the interior artwork for, on display.
Commando 3024: Fury Strike demonstrated how subtle colour washes, the skillful meeting of colours with a strikingly accurate centre piece can all be brought together, allowing one to see the adept craft of controlling the media and a scene of action, that’s accurate and of course historically fascinating, MIG-15s against a propeller fighter in Korea.
The profusion of colour in the Commando 5255 Codename Warlord cover – blue and purple and then the red and yellow – is incredible stuff, while His Bombs on Target cover for Commando 3072 from 1997 contains just so much, Heinkels, a train and Lancaster and the front cover plane and menacing nature.
Ian Kennedy’s son, Neil and grandson David Gray were on hand on the exhibition’s opening night, while among the list of comic professionals who attended were Glyn Dillon, Maura McHugh, Ryan Hughes, Anna Morozova, Paul Cornell, and many others.
It was delightful to meet writers, editors, family and friends and enjoy war comic art and science fiction comic art of the highest calibre and there was a really enjoyable atmosphere and welcome at the launch event
The Art of Ian Kennedy is a phenomenal job by Gordon Tait, Phillip Vaughan, The Mercer Gallery and Thought Bubble. A fabulous start to the weekend and an exhibition to see.
I look forward with great hope Thought Bubble expanding this aspect of the Festival, the celebration of the art begs to be cultivated and exhibited.
• The Art of Ian Kennedy runs at the Mercer Art Gallery, 31 Swan Road, Harrogate HG1 2SA until 8th January 2023. Admission is free | Official Web Site
Copies of Commando and DC Thomson’s The Art of Ian Kennedy book are available to purchase in the gallery shop