Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Although in pin-ups Achilléos would often show a bared breast, his artwork rarely strays into 'cheesecake' territory. When it does cross that line, as it did with his lurid 1979 album sleeve artwork for Whitesnake's Lovehunter, featuring a naked girl straddling a huge snake, the results proved controversial; the American distributors had to sell the album in a brown paper bag. Even when his sirens are at their most undressed, there is a dignity to them that keeps the artwork aesthetically on the right side of good taste.
Achilléos's work has been widely influential, particularly his fantasy images. The costume worn by Kate Bush in her Babooshka video was based on a cover painting for the novel Raven, Swordsmistress of Chaos by Richard Kirk (Corgi, 1977) and he played an important role in turning the animated Heavy Metal movie into a hit, designing the white-haired warrior woman Taarna in the film's longest sequence. An image of Taarna sitting astride a huge bird was used as the movie's poster and a painting by Achilléos was shown around agencies when the producers were looking for a model to play the role (the animation being produced by rotoscoping from life footage). Achilléos was also the concept artist for George Lucas's Willow (1988), designing costumes and the look of the characters for director Ron Howard.
Cyprus in the 1950s was a place of turmoil. The island was strategically placed in the Eastern Mediterranean to protect British interests in the regions around the Suez Canal, the British having administered the island since 1878. The Cypriots sought independence from the British, preferring enosis - a union with Greece - and the nationalist EOKA began an armed struggle in 1955. The British had a heavy military presence and guerrilla attacks on patrols, sabotage and assassination led to curfews and violent political unrest.
Seeking a better life for her four children, Achilléos's mother took the family to a two-bedroom flat in London. At the age of 12, Achilléos had to make major adjustments to his life as he found himself without friends in a land of inclement weather where the natives spoke a completely foreign language.
From these humble beginnings, Achilleos went on to take A-level art and successfully applied to Hornsey College of Art in north London, graduating with honours in 1969 in his specialized subject of scientific and technical illustration. His first work as an illustrator also appeared that year as he assisted Colin Rattray, one of his tutors, on a book about the American moon landings. It was whilst at Hornsey College, browsing one day in a second hand bookshop, that he stumbled upon a copy of Conan the Barbarian with a cover by Frank Frazetta, which encapsulated the kind of epic fantasy hero that Achilléos aspired to draw. By day he completed his college assignments but by night he painted murals in oils of Conan.
On leaving college he found work illustrating weaponry and maps for a magazine about World War One. When this folded after six months, he began approaching publishers, suggesting to Tandem that he could improve on the covers for fantasy books they had been producing. They suggested that he contact Brian Boyle Associates, the agents from whom they obtained their covers, and Achilléos was promptly hired to produce covers for a trio of Brak the Barbarian novels by John Jakes which Tandem published in 1970. Working via Brian Boyle Associates, he produced covers for spaghetti westerns and the King Kung-Fu series amongst others and began his association with the Target series of Doctor Who novelisations.
Less fortunate was his association with Arts of Gold where a fire destroyed much of Achilléos's artwork and which shut down following the death of the studio's co-founder, Clive Burrell, in 1974. Achilléos returned to freelancing, retaining his long running connection with Doctor Who and Men Only and working on a wide variety of fantasy and science fiction covers, thankfully two fields were enjoying a boom period that would last for a few years.
Achilléos's first book, Beauty and the Beast, was published in 1977 after the artist was approached by Roger Dean of Dragon's World. The book sold over 100,000 copies. As well as continuing to produce book and magazine covers, Achilléos also became involved with the Taarna sequence of the movie Heavy Metal which led to him producing film posters for Clash of the Titans (1981), Supergirl (1984) and The Protector (1985). In 1984 he also began producing a series of covers for Star Trek novels.
In the 1990s, Achilléos had great success with a number of series of trading cards which reproduced his artwork. More recently, he was the visual consultant on the Antoine Fuqua-directed King Arthur and produced a further book, Amazona (2004).
Many of his best works have been reproduced as prints and in portfolios, which you can find for sale here.