THOSE VERY ASTUTE publishers at Jonathan Cape are Keeping their fingers crossed, but they think they've got their hands on a cult figure which could sweep the world as surely as Professor Tolkein's Hobbit. Musrum is the name and the story of the creation of Musrum's kingdom is the unlikely invention of a Leeds art teacher and a Methodist minister from a town outside Rotherham. They put the whole thing together in letters to each other.
The clergyman, the Revf Eric Thacker, did most of the writing, an amalgam of myth, folklore, Lear nonsense and religionese. Tony Earnshaw, who teaches at Bradford College of Art, did the drawings, innocent-looking picture-book outlines of rather violent subjects, gnawing wolves, sawing saws, poised guillotine blades and a recurring skull-and-crossbone motif.
"It's a surrealist story," Eric Thacker told Michael Bateman. "It wasn't entirely deliberate. We set out to write a humorous fantasy and these other things emerged. Musrum is a demi-God who is King of Intersol. He has a Garden of Eden and a Tree of Life and there is an Adversary called the Weedking, who naturally coverts it. There's a Creation, a Death and a Resurrection, a Holy War, a Messianic Banquet. Tony thinks it's highly Biblical, but it just shows he's never read the Bible.
The narrative, lile the Bible, is sprinkled with observations and sayings. They have coined a word to cover this, a tenset, because they were conceived in sets of ten. "Animal-loving Musrum stroked a dog until it bled."
"After reading the works of de Sade he went out and whipped a tree to death." "Sudden prayers make God jump." They were a little surprised to find a publisher so quickly. "I felt it might be too personal, too private to be published," says Thacker..
Thacker is forty-four, with a greying goatee tuft of beard, the minister of a church which seated four hundred in its palmier days. He usually preaches to about forty and says pointedly that you can easily find the church because it is opposite the Bingo Hall. The main point of historic interest about the sooty manse is the out-house where his eldest daughter, Andrea first wrote the word Musrum. "We were trying to grow mushrooms, and this was her attempt to write the word. Immediately it struck me as significant, and I wrote to Tony about it. It is the greatest thing that has happened to us."
Earnshaw is forty-three, and with the hair thinning over his egg-shaped head looks like a Toytown condeuctor. He first met Thacker at Leeds Thythm Club, but their friendship didn't really happen till Thacker went to the Far East in the army and they started swapping letters.
The fact that Earnshaw is an atheist doesn't trouble Thacker, who has a pretty bracing attitude towards religion himself. "People take the Bible a bit too seriously, I sometimes think. The Bible contains a big element of myth, Christ walking on the water , stilling the storms. There's a funny element, too, that bit in the Old Testament - "The Lord arose as a giant refreshed and smote the enemy in the hinder parts.' Well, that means the Lord kicked him in the backside."
They both see Musrum as an escape from reality, but are half frightened by the symbolic world they have created. "If we really knew what we were writing," says Earnshaw thoughtfully, ‘we probably wouldn't do it at all."
Profile: Ahead of the wolves
ANTHONY EARNSHAW, a Leeds surrealist painter whose only published work is a volume giving names to all 450 leaves of a sycamore tree, has written and illustrated a fantastical book, helped by Eric Thacker, a jazz-loving Methodist minister. Jonathan Cape, who are publishing it in the autumn have forbidden the authors to give the story away. Mr Earnshaw will vouchsafe only that it is about about a hundred pages long, there are a lot of wolves ‘ heads in it and that it's not as good as anything by J.R.R. Tolkein.
He lives in a downhill cobbled street, a hours papered with his daughters' and Mr Thacker's drawings; in the front room there's a bowl of terrapins. Thacker's manse, near Rotherham, is fifty miles away and their book has somehow been assembled by letter. One of the minister's envelopes hangs on Earnshaw's attic wall, solid with signs and little drawings and "Earnshaw" written backwards.
The two met after the war in Leeds Rhythmn Club and for years used to go on elaborate foolish outings; they would rendezvous in the dark of a cinema , then go straight out for a walk. Later, when Thacker left Leeds, a correspondence began that ended in their book.
As a painter, Earnshaw says he's been influenced by, among other things, rubbish. He started painting through an adolescent interest in horror stories; later, as a crane driver, he used to do ‘necessarily small" water-colours in the cab.
There were, too, ideas from solitary tram rides. "On two separate occasions, I did make singular finds Sitting on the third floor window of 194 North Street I noticed a small three-inch bore pedestal bearing for line shafting. Within a matter of weeks I found a second bearing, virtually identical, on the third floor window sill of 3 Dewsbury Road. These bearings are still there and can be viewed from the top of a No 2 bus."
Earnshaw teaches art four days a week and says he spends the rest of the time ‘getting boozed." In 1965, when exhibiting at the Leeds Institute Gallery, he said that art should be "scandalous - an affront to hardened modes of thought. Paintings in an exhibition are subversive documents that have fallen into the wrong hands - the exhibition organisers- they are mirrors on the wall that do not reflect the vampire face of commercialism." He has a highly developed sense of fun: once he pastede the Gillette man from a razor blade packet on a letter and the GPO let it through. So the book must be fun, scandal, surrealism? We shall have to wait and see.
John Lyle's intermittent journal Surrealist Transformaction (Transformaction, Sidmouth, Devon) ran for ten issues from October 1967 to October 1979, the first coinciding with The Enchanted Domain exhibition at Exeter City Art Gallery. From early on, Tony Earnshaw was a regular contributor, providing short stories, drawings and discursive polemics, while his first aphorisms appeared under the title Earnshaw's Brainspells. In issue No. 4, 1971, a drawing of Tony's was reproduced, which I fell in love with on sight. The idea still makes me smile. Simply, the drawing is a modified version of the title page taken from a very widely-known, recognised and respected series known as Teach Yourself books, but instead of saying something like Teach Yourself Esperanto, it said Teach Yourself Ignorance by A. Earnshaw.
The books' subjects ranged from algebra to Zulu and every imaginable field of study in between. On one occasion, I discovered and bought for Tony a copy of Teach Yourself Jazz, knowing his interest in jazz. What a wonderful contradiction, given that most jazz depends on improvisation and spontaneity of response. Alas, the book never did inspire Tony to pick up the saxophone.
In 1978, I decided to publish a set of black and white postcards of drawings and writings made by friends of mine. Glen Baxter, Tony Blundell, Ivor Cutler, Patrick Hughes, Marcel Mariën were all to be included, and of course Tony Earnshaw. I wrote to Tony outlining my plan to publish his Teach Yourself Ignorance as a postcard and to ask him if he was in agreement. No money was involved, apart from me picking up the printers' bill. Contributing artists were to be paid in postcards, the story of art for most of us at the time. Tony agreed and in due course the first DisCards, my imprint, were printed. Tony was delighted to receive his cards, as his enthusiastic response shows:
The cards were printed in the spring of 1979. At the time, Tony and his wife, Gail, were living in Chapel Allerton, near Chapeltown, the red-light district of Leeds and the heart of Yorkshire-Ripper country. Tony was lecturing in the Art Department at Leeds Polytechnic and working on drawings and aphorisms for Flick Knives & Forks (Transformaction, 1982; Zillah Bell Contemporary Art, Thirsk, 2000). "The rich sardine lives in his own tin" was how he inscribed my copy of his book. Earlier in life, Tony had worked as a lathe operator and crane driver. When he was not having to lift things, he would use the cabin as a studio and work on his "daft watercolours".
Over the following months I began distributing the cards in a small way through my own personal efforts. Angela Flowers Gallery, Compendium Bookshop, Coracle Press, Forbidden Planet, I.C.A., Paperchase, The Postcard Gallery, Bernard Stone Bookshop, all took them. Then one day in October 1979 a letter addressed to DisCards arrived through my letterbox. On opening it, I discovered it was from Park Nelson and Doyle Devonshire Solicitors, acting on behalf of Hodder & Stoughton Holdings Ltd. On reading the letter it quickly became apparent that, in their clients' opinion, Tony's postcard had deliberately transgressed the boundaries of acceptable publishing and, furthermore, represented a breach of copyright:
Our clients have had drawn to their attention, and are very disturbed by, a postcard which is produced by you and is currently on public sale. The postcard is a replica of the old style Teach Yourself series title page; it contains a replica of the E.U.P. in print [sic], the old Teach Yourself logo, and even the old Teach Yourself title page border. Use of these without permission, which has not been given, constitutes a clear breach of our clients' copyright in them.
Quite apart from that infringement, it is to be noted that the card contains the title Teach Yourself Ignorance and our clients take the very greatest exception to this, constituting as it does a defamatory assertion and innuendo that the Teach Yourself series does not improve on ignorance, and is therefore worthless, and constitutes a fraud practised on the public. The totality of the postcard quite clearly holds up our clients' very respected series to public ridicule, odium and contempt.
Further on, the letter requested that DisCards make a full and unqualified apology, to be in a form agreed by them, undertake to discontinue publication and surrender all existing stocks of the postcard for destruction. All this was to be implemented within seven days. I was told at the time by the art director of The Women's Press that Hodder & Stoughton (she had previously been employed by them) was a den of born-again Christians and Festival of Light devotees. In contrast, Tony and I had independently set up camp under the atheist flag. His drawing Wallpaper for a Nunnery (1970) is a repeat pattern of Christs on the cross. In my own The Devil's Work (1993), a Bible uses the Devil's tail to act as a bookmark.
Despite the solicitors' threatening letter, I did nothing. I toyed with the idea of contacting Artlaw, an organisation set up to help artists fight for their legal rights. But again I did nothing. And then several weeks later, someone suggested I contact a lawyer friend, Nick Morris, and seek his advice. Nick felt the whole issue was "absurd", but was amused enough by it to write a letter on my behalf. To quote:
Whilst we note that your clients take great exception to the title Teach Yourself Ignorance, we do not agree that the words contained defamatory material or raise a defamatory innuendo. Indeed, the very words state in unequivocal terms entirely the opposite to the title in your clients' own series. The totality of the postcard quite frankly is clearly intended for purposes of mild amusement and we cannot accept that the words indicate your clients' products to be worthless or that their whole business constitutes a fraud practised on the public.
Later, the letter states that the few stocks that still existed would not be distributed publicly, i.e. that point within the law when something is deemed to be published. This meant that the stocks survived and, although I should not have, I continued to distribute them. A second and final letter was received from their solicitors, stating that their clients accepted the assurances contained in Nick's letter and the matter was closed.
In the early 1990's I was invited to make a contribution to Brought To Book (Penguin Books, London, 1994). I decided that the correspondence regarding Tony's post-card along with a repro-duction would make a perfect submission, being an anecdote born of books. I sent copies to the editors, Messrs Breakwell and Hammond, card-carrying members of the Royal Society of English Surrealism and supposed supporters of Earnshaw, who promptly turned it down on the grounds that it was "too contentious". What a pair of faint-hearted academics. More recently, I encouraged the editors at Redstone Press to include the Teach Yourself Ignorance postcard in The Redstone Diary of the Absurd (Redstone Press, London, 1997). It passed the absurdity test and got in. "Up the rebels!", I hear Tony mutter from his anarchist's armchair.
To muddle things up in an organised way was a long-established Earnshaw strategy. In the mid-1960's, Tony delighted in successfully sending a series of letters to friends using the man from the Gillette razorblade packet to make stamps. His collection of combs, Lost Property (1979), retrieved from the streets of Leeds, was conceived as an elaborate joke about Conceptual Art with its propensity for documentation. He endlessly 're-discovered' bought and found objects in his many boxed assemblages. A small carved elephant, painted black with a white trunk and viewed through smoked glass, became The Blind Elephant (1978). A thermometer measures the temperature to the ticking of a concealed clock as The Faithful Servant (1997). Even Earnshaw was not exempt from his own mischievous games in his restless desire to show us that nothing is sacred and that everything is potential material.
The poetics of Tony's imagination help to liberate us from the routines of daily life. But at the same time, his daydreaming remained rooted on terra firma, at times engaging in a scathing commentary about the social injustices he perceived within the English class system. Towards the end of his life, he often included angels in his drawings. To what degree these represented portents of approaching death, or were just ghoulish winged figures, I found difficult to disentangle. Whatever, they appeared more monstrous than angelic. But then everything about Tony was imbued with impish perversity and abrasive black humour. It was these qualities that made him into the unconventional person and remarkable artist he was. I count myself among the lucky ones to have known Tony Earnshaw. Goodbye, dear friend.
LES COLEMAN, March 2002
Published in Manticor
SALTBURN artist Tony Earnshaw, quietly working away in a tall terraced house near the sea, keeps a low profile in his adopted town. But this modest unassuming man is
a giant in his own field.
Tony is one of the country's foremost surreal artist.
His career spans more than half a century and in addition to painting, drawing and model-making he's written poems, collaborated on two successful novels, and had a spell as a cartoonist.
His work has been recognised on television and radio and he's exhibited, both in one man shows and with other artists at a string of venues in this country and abroad.
Tony has lived in Saltburn for eight years since his wife Gail, also an artist came to the area to work at the Cleveland Gallery in Middlesbrough.
Tony was born in Ilkley in 1924, after the death of his father. He had to leave school at 14 and became an apprentice fitter and turner and then worked in engineering factories for the following 20 years.
His wife Gail explained: "He's an entirely self-taught artist. But he was always painting and drawing.
"When he was in the factory they used to say 'that daft Earnshaw's painting pictures again'.'"
"But it was through his interest in poetry and literature he discovered surrealism. He says simply: "It changed my life".
Surrealism was far from fashionable but it would seem the perfect vehicle for his wide-ranging imagination and quirky, off-beat humour.
His continuing interest in art, finally led to escape from the factory floor - he was invited to work part time at Harrogate Collage of Art, teaching mature students.
During the 1960's his work became increasingly well-known in exhibitions in London and throughout the country. Jazz musician and entertainer George Melly became one of his fans and a close friend. He exhibited with Man Ray and Glen Baxter - another friend.
Paintings 1945-1965 by Anthony Earnshaw. Leeds Institute Gallery. Until January 28.
FOR SOME YEARS now, alert viewers at representative art exhibitions in the West Riding have shown a slightly startled interest in the intricately textured rather enigmatic water-colours of Anthony Earnshaw.
"Who is this Anthony Earnshaw," they have asked, "and why does he paint these fascinating works that look like some ancient, worn painting or the ground plan of a Roman villa?"
Now all (or at least enough) is revealed. Eighty paintings and drawings by Mr. Earnshaw are on view at the Leeds Institute Gallery, where monthly exhibitions are being organised under the auspices of Leeds College of Art.
The artist himself has contributed an entertaining autobiographical introduction to the catalogue.
No formal training
Mr. Earnshaw, it seems has had no formal training and has worked all his adult life in engineering factories; yet he has produced this impressive body of work. He was born in 1924 and has lived in Leeds since 1933.
Those water-colours that have arrested our attention in mixed exhibitions are the subject of an explanatory note in the catalogue in which he says that "they seem to live a secret life of their own."
Making his meaning clearer, he adds that , if one is in the purposeful world of say, a railway station, "one needs to take only a few paces to the side to find one has entered another facet of the same reality, the world of dark corners and neglect. Sounds are subdued and one assumes the role of a sinister watcher."
Go and look at his picture "Two Wheels - the sole Possessions of an old Ragamuffin," and you will understand what he is trying to say.
His paintings seem to be based upon the litter of a derelict railway - yard or of an engineering workshop; decrepit turntables, rails that suddenly end in an empty space, relics of machinery that could be a head or a Chinese dragon.
His imagination has been stimulated by Paul Klee (see the witty "Looking for Four"), by Graham Sutherland, and latterly by Magritte. But his vision, and his odd wry humour, are his own; and his subject matter is very close to us all.
His catalogue notes are most rewarding; I shall keep them. - W.T.O.
TAKING HIS TITLE FROM LOUIS ARMSTRONG'S 'Back o' Town Blues', Tony Earnshaw has produced a collection of political cartoons, what he calls 'my social realist period', that reflect his Surrealist allegiances and anarchic temperament. The title acts as a metaphor for that place where 'society's misfits set up camp and liberty triumphs over necessity'. The drawings revel in deriding ignorant and exhausted values, their seditious humour originating from Earnshaw's frustration with an entrenched class system. Be it Alfred Jary's play Ubu Roi, Jean Vigo's film Zero de Conuite, or the comedy routines of Lenny Bruce, wit has often been sharpened to ridicule hypocritical authority. Marcel Marien said 'We laugh, but not at the same time as you.'
Some opinion has it that to use such imagination as flat-caps and top hats, factories and the Houses of Parliament rats and heraldic devices, is outdated. Despite Earnshaw's detractors, we still live in the world of 'haves and have nots', so their value as symbols still works. In an enterprise culture that encourages the marketplace to be virtually sole arbiter of worth, these drawings acts a 'V' sign to 'hard-core greed'. The invidious nature of monetarist bullying and and acquisitiveness has become the harbinger of a new philistine.
Patriotism wanes when Earnshaw asks, 'Is there a market for limp flags?' The fact that these drawings date from 1984-86 leads one inevitably to feel that their anti-establishment sentiments have been fed by increasingly divisory government policies. If these drawings are bleak, so is yuppie consumerism, with its simplistic nation of Self-Self-Self.
Whilst most widely known in the past for his graphic work and writing – the book Musrum or the series of prints Seven Secret Alphabets – this show reveals Earnshaw to have always been at his strongest with assemblages. They are far from sensationalist works.
Modest sized and quiet on the face of it, they make little, effective prods at all forms of complacency and hypocrisy, thus having the power to get a hell of a lot of people’s backs up. Earnshaw takes the most banal objects, puts them together with daft titles, adds a bit of paint here and there, packs a lot in a meticulously crafted display box and that’s that – a network of visual and verbal puns and associations are set off’.
Robert Clark the Guardian 1989, Works Ancient & Modern, Graves
Art Gallery Sheffield
‘Anthony Earnshaw follows Duchamp in the catalogue but deserves that place not merely by alphabetical chance. With characteristic Surreralist verve, he offers a hostage to fortune with ‘the Bride with her Bachelors Again; after Marcel Ducham. He is one of a very select band of surrealists in this country who has quite consistently pursued his research without succembing to either camp modishness or superficial whimsy and who is not overshadowed by Joseph Cornell or Maurice Henry.
Tony del Renzio World in a Box1995
‘In Earnshaw’s case, Surrealism was the key to his imagination. Earnshaw does draw of course. When he draws the sort of people he dislikes they are nineteenth century figures. He is almost a nostalgic socialist, but there is a cutting edge there. He applies himself with equal ferocity to defining what he believes is filthy about society, a similar ferocity he uses to attack the surface of reality in the Surrealist sense. Nevertheless, I think these boxed objects are perhaps the essence of Earnshaw, the oxo cubes of his spirit, if you like. His drawings tell us about that which is horrible in our society’.
‘There is this work by Anthony Earnshaw called 'April Fool’, April the first is a time when the winter is becoming summer and there is sometimes still snow around. In the box there is a traditional snowman, very much reduced in size, he is tied to a stake and standing in the middle of a bonfire. Tony gave the snowman a large match so he could light the fire. One thinks that’s a funny idea, burning a snowman, but when one looks again and thinks if you burn a snowman it melts and puts out the fire, douses the flames and puts out the fire. So the whole thing is self-defeating, a dreadful circle that cannot reach any conclusion a paradox of a high order. In Earnshaw’s case, Surrealism was the key to his imagination’.
ANTHONY EARNSHAW: AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
I first saw the light of day, or for that matter the shades of night, in 1924, the year Lenin died and Breton published his First Manifesto. I was born, doubtless bawling and kicking, above the shop at 42 Brook Street, Ilkley. A posthumous child I was, my father having had the unforgivable ineptitude to go ahead and die a month before the event. More was to come. 1930 brought a further nosedive in the family fortunes, for the shop went bankrupt and we, my mother, brother and I, moved to a council house in Redcar on Teeside – 6 Cedar Grove. There summer visitors in the season, and lodgers in the snowy winters, were put up.
We lived there four years, happy ones for me. My most vivid childhood memories stem from there. I recall playing alone on the beach in mid-winter, building sand cities, labyrinthine constructions with many streets, each with a name known only to me, indifferent to the flurries of snow whirling in the wind from the sea. I always lost my way in play before going home to Cedar Grove.
Another memory is of myself on the beach when a gull, which must have died on the wing, plummeted to the sand at my feet, its feathers brushing my head as it did so. At the age of seven it was my first encounter with death. After all, poor old dad’s sad demise was before my time.
Ever present were the metallic clatter and dull booms from the works of steelmasters Dorman Long, three miles away across the dunes, and acrid smells from the plumes of coloured smoke and at night a glare in the sky as molten metal poured from retorts and furnace doors opened: images and impressions which, for me, prefigured the paintings of Bosch I was to discover some twelve years later in books in Leeds Central Library. (His paintings make more noise than the rest put together.)
The year 1934, and a bright and breezy one it was too, brought the removal men’s van to the door again. We left Redcar and moved to 33 Spencer Place, Leeds; a town I now think of with affection as home, for I have lived at various addresses in Harehills and Chapel Allerton ever since.
Jazz, the music of New Orleans, the Hot Fives and Sevens, Bessie-Smith, Boogie Woogie and Duke Ellington, has played a lasting role in my life. It was through a mutual enthusiasm for the music that I met my oldest and most cherished pal, Eric Thacker. That would be in 1941, or there about. Later toward the mid ’40s through another shared enthusiasm, one for literature, we read the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud in the translations made by Norman Cameron, which quickly led to the discovery of Surrealism. This for me proved to be a milestone for it made me want to paint pictures which around ’44 or ’45, I began to try my hand at it.
A little later, in greedy quest for more Surrealism I made rare trips to London to visit the London Gallery on Brooke Street, which was run by the poet E L Y Mesens, he was ever away in Paris or Brussels – or more likely upstairs with Sybil. But I do recall seeing George Melly, then the Gallery ‘dogsbody’. Some fifteen years on, in the early ’60s, he and I became firm friends.
Surrealism foe me was home. I was among friends at last, having been away in a foreign land all my life. The spell it then cast remains a frisky imp haunting my life to this day.
Toward the end of the ’60s, twenty and more years after those days, Eric Thacker and I together wrote and illustrated two off-beat novels, Musrum and Wintersol. We also collaborated to produce WOKKER, a strip cartoon featuring a mercurial hero who embodies the seemingly contradictory characteristics of mischief maker and an innocent abroad, dismayed by the prospect of existence.
Anthony Sydney Earnshaw (1924-2001) was a self-taught painter and graphic artist/illustrator, who delighted in producing surreal and often anarchic works. He described his work as a, ‘spirit of rebellion which can express itself as humour, cocking the snook, upsetting the applecart to criticise Western culture with all its pretensions and its arrogance.’ (Flick Knives and Forks… 1981).
He was born in Ilkley, but his father, a watchmaker and jeweller, had died before he was born. After the father’s death the business floundered, so the family moved from Ilkley, first to Redcar and then to Leeds. In Leeds, Anthony attended Harehills School, but to help his mother financially he left school at 14 and became an apprentice fitter in a local engineering firm.
Until the late 1960s Anthony Earnshaw worked as a lathe turner, and later a crane driver, but pursued a parallel path in the arts that eventually became a career. Whilst at school he had developed an interest in literature, and later by his early 20s, through an interest in Rimbaud’s poetry and a love of jazz, had gained an interest in Surrealism. He later said:
It changed my life. Since then I have drawn drawings and a cartoon strip, painted pictures, written books of sorts, printed prints, made assemblages, and all in all made a general nuisance of myself (The Times, 25/08/2001)
Earnshaw read avidly in his own time at Leeds Central Library and after WW2 began to meet with fellow Surrealists in Leeds and elsewhere. One of these, Eric Thacker, who he had met at the Leeds Rhythm Club, became a good friend and together they would engage in surrealist activity, for example going on unplanned train journeys and boarding and leaving trains at random.
He spent time in London, where he met the surrealist artists, E.S.L. Mesens and Patrick Hughes. Patrick Hughes introduced Earnshaw to the art critic and singer, George Melly, who became an enthusiastic collector and promoter of Anthony’s work, as well as one of his obituary writers – he described the artist as a ‘gentle, loveable and loyal, but intransigent, man.’
It was Patrick Hughes too, who persuaded Anthony Earnshaw to stage a solo exhibition of work at the Leeds Institute in 1966. This brought Anthony’s work to wider notice and in 1967, the bookseller and surrealist, John Lyle, invited him to show his artworks in ‘The Enchanted Domain’ Surrealism exhibition at Exeter. The Leeds show also led to offers of work teaching art part-time at Harrogate School of Art, as well as at Bradford School of Art. In 1972 he finally left engineering when Leeds Polytechnic offered him a Fellowship in their art school. In 1985, by now firmly established as an artist, Earnshaw left the Polytechnic to pursue a freelance career.
From 1972 onward, Earnshaw had also written and illustrated, either alone or in co-authorship with Eric Thacker, a range of non-fiction and fiction books with surrealism themes and ideas (see bibliography below). He became well-known for his alphabet series of drawings, where individual letters are presented in picture forms (see images above and below) and were showcased in the book, Seven Secret Alphabets(1972). Anthony was also the co-author, with Eric Thacker, of the surrealistic novels Musrum(1968) and its sequel Wintersol(1971).
Front cover of ‘Wintersol’ (1971)
Illustrations from the artist’s book, ‘Seven Secret Alphabets’.
In 1971-72 Anthony and Eric Thacker also produced a comic strip: ‘Wokker’, for the Times Educational Supplement. ‘Wokker’ , a bird of sorts, had wheels for feet and was presented as a miscommunicating, naïve and mercurial hero: ‘pompous and pontificatory, his speech verbose and finger wagging’ as Earnshaw saw him.
‘Wokker’ cartoon strip.
Earnshaw was also famed for his black-humour aphorisms that he later collated and published in a book. These included: ‘Gold-plated barbed wire for deluxe wars’, and ‘It is apt that obituaries end with a full stop.’
In the latter stage of his life, Anthony Earnshaw made surrealist box assemblages. Behind a wooden frame and glass, he placed objects he had found or bought from the roadside, flea markets or toyshops. George Melly described these as:
Beautifully self-crafted, they contained, behind glass, little theatres of extreme, if sinister, elegance made up from toys, objets trouvés and any other means to hand.
These combined the seemingly innocent with the absurdly sinister. One of these, for example, displayed a miniature snowman tied to the stake. A large match was supplied to set the kindling alight, but the flames would, of course, cause his snow to melt and, in consequence, douse the pyre!
In 1991 the Leeds art collector, Dr. Jeffrey Sherwin, commissioned two surrealist boxes to mark his own recent heart attack. Earnshaw titled these The Glamorous Heart Attack; the other Make Mine a Quadruple. Dr Sherwin’s exceptional collection of over 200 British Surrealism art works and related items, including Earnshaw’s work, was displayed in 2009 at Leeds Art Gallery in the exhibition ‘British Surrealism in Context: The Collector’s Eye.’
‘The Chinese Dragon’. Image: Dean Clough Art Collection.
Earnshaw’s work was widely exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in Britain and overseas, including the USA, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Portugal and France. A retrospective exhibition was held in 1987 at the Leeds Art Gallery.
In 2001 Anthony Earnshaw died in Saltburn, where he had lived with his wife, Gail.
After the artist’s death, in 2002 at Dean Clough staged an exhibition of Earnshaw’s work. In 2011 the Flowers Gallery in London – who had always championed his work and given him his first solo show in 1972 – held a retrospective exhibition: ‘The Imp of Surrealism’, that moved the following year to the Cartwright Hall, Bradford. Also in 2012, one of Earnshaw’s early works was acquired and included in the Tate Collection.
The Anthony Earnshaw Bursary was founded by Patrick Hughes (see above) in 2016 in honour of his friend. The bursary now provides assistance towards costs for students studying Access to HE Diploma (Art & Design) at Leeds Arts University.
There is a dedicated website about Anthony Earnshaw’s life and work at Anthony Earnshaw
See also a profile of the artist at Wikipedia – Anthony Earnshaw
Musrum (1968) by Eric Thacker and Anthony Earnshaw. Published by Jonathan Cape Ltd, London.
Wintersol(1971) Eric Thacker and Anthony Earnshaw. Published by Jonathan Cape Ltd, London.
Seven Secret Alphabetsby Anthony Earnshaw (1972) published by Jonathan Cape, London.
Carping & Kicking or My Shadow Floodlit(1987) by Anthony Earnshaw. Published by Hourglass Press, Paris.
Flick Knives and Forks: Aphorisms, Jokes, Insults and Stories with Morals (1981) Published by Transformation, Devon.
- The Imp of Surrealism, edited by Les Coleman and published by RGAP (The Research Group for Artist Publications) in 2011 to connect with the London retrospective exhibition of Earnshaw’s work, includes essays by Dawn Ades, Michel Rémy, Paul Hammond, Patrick Hughes, Gail Earnshaw and Michael Richardson among others.
- A View from Back O’ Town: Anthony Earnshaw: Work 1945–1987, exhibition catalogue, Leeds City Art Gallery, Leeds 1987.