Thursday 15 January 2015

Pre-Performance: Book Illustrations by Donald Cammell

Donald Cammell is one of those endlessly fascinating cult figures, who's little-known by 'the man in the street', but has left enough intriguing fingermarks across a swathe of popular culture to ensure a few people at least will still be discovering him and writing about him decades from now. 

He's best known of course as the writer (and co-director, with Nic Roeg) of Performance, but he also directed a few other films, some videos for U2, and wrote a novel with Marlon Brando, before committing suicide at the age of 63 in 1996.

Originally though, he was an artist. As young man he became a sought-after portrait painter to the posh set in London and Paris, but even before that, while still in his teens, he illustrated a retelling of the King Arthur story. King Arthur and the Round Table, by Alice Hadfield, was first published with the illustrations by 'Donald Seton Cammell' in 1953 by J.M. Dent, an edition which went through several reprints over the years. 

Cammell's pictures are rather wonderful, and amazingly accomplished considering his youth. Looking at these, you can see an entire career of illustrating stretching out ahead of him... imagine what he could have done if he'd been let loose on Lord of the Rings, for example.

His life went off in a very different direction, as the biography A Life on the Wild Side and the excellent documentary The Ultimate Performance (which you can watch here) reveal.

Here though, for the first time I can find on the web, are the complete illustrations to King Arthur and the Round Table, by an 18 year old Donald Cammell...

These quick photos don't really do the art justice... the one that's third from last — 'Mordred hurled himself forward to smite the king' — is particularly striking.

1 comment:

  1. I owned this book as a young boy, and started recently to remember the strength of the images. Looking online for information, (my own copy is in the loft, somewhere...), I was fascinated to find that Donald Seton Cammel was the illustrator. The drawings and paintings have lost none of their impact, and to think that he drew them when only 18 is astonishing. Thank you for posting them.