Artists you Should Know – Derek Riggs
“Artists you Should Know – Derek Riggs” is a series that originally appeared on my Tumblr blog. I am reposting and continuing them here partly because I am transitioning away from Tumblr, and want to do more with this kind of content in the future. #artistsyoushouldknow
Any discussion about Derek Riggs and album art must involve the virtual destruction of the art form. There is a bigger discussion now about the relevance of “album art” in the age of digital downloads. Steve Jobs in his original presentation of the iPod touch delighted in showing that one could see the “gorgeous art of the album” on the home screen. Now the art is relegated to a small 50×50 pixel square in the corner. We are no longer browsing large records on a shelf but scrolling through a list on a “tiny” mobile screen. The need for really creative music album covers are dwindling fast and I dare say so has the quality of music, but that’s a topic for another discussion.
Derek Riggs “Eddie” has to be one of the most easily recognisable icon of the 80’s. If you followed the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) scene you would know the shrivelled tortured visage of Iron Maiden’s Eddie on the album covers, posters and tshirts, inspiring many artists for years to come.
Derek Riggs’ work for the band was extremely layered and highly symbolic. For want of a better word they could be described as being very deep, for a 12 year old boy, of course! Seeing his work for the first time was akin to watching an interactive movie in a static format. The record jackets brought Maiden’s music to life. I have not seen anything comparable to Maiden’s earlier record jackets since.
Derek Riggs’ run with Iron Maiden lasted for a decade and according to the artist wasn’t always “agreeable”.
Derek Riggs: The Iron Maiden years
In an interview in 2010 with metal sucks.com, Justin Foley, Riggs explained how he got into the biz and why he chose to leave. A falling out isn’t the word, Iron Maiden’s management pretty much got bored and Riggs was secretly happy it did come to an end, he became frustrated.
Really, I’ve done zombies. At this point, it’s like, “How do you want your zombie? Would you like him with a burning city behind him or with lightning? Do you want him boiled or fried?” -Derek Riggs
Riggs made one important point in that interview. “Any band that tells you it’s all about the music is bullshit.” the band makes little or nothing from the actual album sales. The money’s in the merchandise! The t-shirts, flags, leather jackets and assorted paraphernalia. Eddie is Riggs’ creation, and was almost accidental, but he’s now Iron Maiden’s mascot, even though, legally, no one really owns the character (at least according to Riggs). But no one can deny that Eddie, is and always will be, a symbol of that time when Metal ruled the airwaves.
The three albums above show Derek Riggs at his height. Speaking about the “Powerslave” cover he had this to say.
“[They told me] ‘We’ve got this Egyptian thing and we want Eddie as part of a pyramid,’ or something, and Steve Harris had this 18th century engraving of some guy dragging the head of Rameses,” Riggs said. “And he thought he wanted Eddie’s head on there. That was his idea. So copyrights are not even in this [laughs]. So I sort of took the Egyptian idea and I started drawing. . .” – metalsucks.com interview
This is considered, along with Somewhere in Time, to be one of his most layered compositions. Taking it at face value you see Eddie as an Egyptian pharaoh, the subject, loosely, of the title track, but going deeper there is the world building of the pyramids, putting the idea into more believable context. The sense of scale becomes apparent when you look at the juxtaposition of the pyramid and the servants below carrying the body. You can tell a million stories from this one image.
There are a myriad of little inside jokes and references strewn about the image. You can see more of those here. But what stands out is the story within the story. Looking at the hieroglyphics you realise there is another layer of storytelling in the scene. Even the statues flanking the causeway tell their own story. However if you think Powerslave is layered, then there’s Somewhere in Time.
Get Lost. . . in Somewhere in Time
The album Somewhere in Time is the second of my favourite examples of Rigg’s work. Rigg’s claimed the band was trying to go for a Blade Runner style and he fought every step of the way to be more original. Fortunately the compromises found led to an extremely well designed cover. On Derek Rigg’s website there is some behind the scenes imagery of when he painted that image and the actual size of it was shocking. One has to realise in those days Riggs was still finding his workflow and his true style. The image contains more in joke and cultural references of London life. The score board ticker tape, for example, shows West Ham (Maiden’s Football team) winning a game. Hilarious stuff that.
“[For the album] “Somewhere In Time”: ‘We want a science fiction city. A bit like Blade Runner.’ Cause they just steal things out of films, that’s all they do,” . . . stealing ideas instead of trying something original. I just had enough of it. . . But I did the best I could to try to make them original and to inject some life into them.” – metalsucks.com interview
As a young artist I always remember seeing the members of the band painted into the scene and thought that was mind-blowing. Here is the band living their own music (however unoriginal it may be). But then you look back into the background and the story telling goes on and on and on, “Phantom Opera House” is there, the Powerslave pyramid, then the whole sci-fi theme is something that always inspired me. Did you see Led Zeppelin’s reference? Riggs is just taking the piss now.
Neither shall there be any more brain
Finally the cover that got me interested in Iron Maiden in the first place was Piece of Mind.
Steve Harris [leader of the band] had the original idea for this picture. . . he wanted Eddie “Sitting in the corner of a padded cell and looking really mad.” So that is what I painted. But it’s his idea and so it’s a bad composition. Because non-artists cannot compose pictures properly. This composition is not the way it should be done. But he was so emphatic about it that I did it anyway.
When it got to this stage they saw it and realized that is wasn’t really looking great. So then they asked me to stop and do it my way. which is the cover you now have on the CD. – metalsucks.com interview
The visual set up the kind of music that Maiden would become famous for, before this, they were not really known outside of the UK. Piece of Mind got into the top 50 charts in the US and Eddie, now sporting his trademarked skull screws, demanded people take a look. You can see Derek’s now famous signature with the floating hand and the pendant. For many, many years I wondered about that pendant and the internet finally gave up its secret with a Google search.
I used to paint book covers and my signature was a bit big and it was a bit distracting on the cover so they agents that I used at that time asked me if I could make it smaller so it didn’t show up so much, so I made the first version (the one on the early albums) and to make sure that it got onto the cover and didn’t get cropped off at the printers I hid it in the picture instead of putting it at the edge where it shows up more and is likely to be cropped. Most of these little things that people think are deliberate attempts to do this or that thing is actually me being pragmatic and finding solutions to the strange habits of art editors and requests of clients. – metalassault.com interview with Derek Riggs
Derek Riggs post Maiden
Riggs wasn’t outright fired from Iron Maiden but his role was greatly reduced. In the ensuing years he did do some work for them but he also started to do more book covers and other band covers. None of them in my opinion come close to the detailed level he had with his early years with Maiden. I believe that’s partly attributable to this:
“I had to give up painting because of the fact that paint is toxic. I am very sensitive to heavy metal poisoning and it was starting to upset me a bit so I stopped using it. Hey, I got Heavy metal poisoning.” cyrusaman.com
He slowly transitioned to doing more digital work. I admire his gung-ho attitude in jumping into a very nascent technology. You have to remember in the early 90’s Digital art was very niche. His work does show that unfinished quality of the limitations of the medium at the time.
Whereas the work is still very much Riggs, it shows a definite flatness and lacks depth. I just don’t get inspiration from some of these later works and they almost incomplete. There are a few gems which I will show below.
DR is Always an inspiration
No one can deny Riggs’ contribution to album art and is up there with the greats. His later work may be less stellar but still shows an attempt to influence culture. Every artist needs to be challenged but sometimes you need to listen to the artist’s recommendations. What’s also inspiring is Riggs is completely self-taught and shows an innate ability to think fast and work fast and still be highly detailed.
You can see more of Derek’s work on his official website.
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Ian is an avid fan of art, but has no money to buy nice art. He’s hoping this website will give him capital to buy good art. You, also, should buy good art. You should also contact him to build websites and graphics. Let him help you with your online presence and business. Get in contact here