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Jim Burns

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From an "autobiography" from Jim's current book of sketches, Imago:

It's difficult to be precise about when in my life I became a science fiction artist. From a professional standpoint I suppose it would have to be October 7th, 1972 - the date I received my first payment for a commercially commissioned piece (the princely sum of 37.50). But apart from being paid to paint pictures - I was creating in essence the same kind of science fiction-obsessed imagery that had preoccupied me since the mid-1950s when as a small child armed with paper and pencil I just started letting my imagination wander where it would and the early progenitors of my exotic beings, weird machinery and faraway worlds first started primitively to take form on the page before me.

It was a common enough preoccupation with small boys at that time - probably fed by the scientific and technological marvels beamed out at us from the still-new miracle of TV - and of course, early productions on TV and radio with science fiction themes. Comics fed into the heady mix - the "Eagle" in my case and the character of "Dan Dare - Pilot of the Future" - who is to blame for a heck of a lot in my life! As the 50s wore on, real space stuff started happening . . . those first bleep-bleeps of Sputnik 1 and then Yuri himself orbiting the world above us, a real-life Dan Dare. Not an Englishman though - which was a bit of a let-down!

We're supposed to view the 1950s as a dreary, grey old time from the perspective of our glittering, gadget-obsessed Now. Certainly young Jim would have marvelled at the world of 2005 - even if it is different in detail from what we might have anticipated. (Most disappointingly . . . the aliens still haven't landed!) But in all truth I remember my South Wales childhood as a happy time, not at all grey. The typically (illusory?) golden, sun-always-shining days of childhood. I loved drawing and I had a weird, off-beat talent for it. My parents kept me generously supplied with the necessary materials and were always encouraging. "Where does he get it from? There's no-one on my side of the family" was the constant refrain. And from my father - if I was in one of my not-infrequent fever-dream phases following a cold or some such - "The trouble with you James is - you've got too much imagination".

But Dan Dare had fired up another ambition in me - one that was to deflect me from the obvious, common-sense direction I perhaps should have been taking (Art school). I decided that I wanted to become Dan Dare - and the route to that was the RAF. My service career was short to say the least. 18 months altogether - and it seems now to have been a life lived by another person. In that brief time I grew up. Not totally, as I had a few pretty immature episodes ahead of me at art college.

But generally speaking I changed from shy, callow youth to something resembling a young adult. I had 146 hours flying time under my belt, some of them jet solo hours - and that's something I'll never regret having done.
Jim BurnsBut I don't regret coming out of the service life either and going to art college - and in effect getting back on the pathway I'd been briefly distracted from. In the next four years at Newport College of Art in South Wales and St. Martin's School of Art in London, something seemed to move me one small step at a time from being a person who loved drawing as a pastime into someone who's career was increasingly gearing in that direction - and finally into the professional illustrator I remain to this day. I suppose it's a lucky man whose hobby turns almost imperceptibly into the means by which he makes his living. I don't really feel that I ever trained for anything! (Art college was a four-year long party!)

And so, here I am, three decades and a bit, three daughters and a son, later, doing the same old thing quite contentedly, married to the lovely girl I met back in 1969 at St. Martin's. Well - I say met - actually that was in 1971. I spent two years just admiring from afar, too timid to make any kind of approach. But all that's another story!

In that thirty-odd years I've painted (in paint and digitally . . . I succumbed in part to the seductive charms of the AppleMac back in 1997) hundreds and hundreds of covers. I've found myself happily engaged in film work on several occasions - including an eye-opening ten weeks in Hollywood working on Blade Runner. And my paintings seem to be collectible - which is very satisfying indeed. The notion that many of my paintings provide pleasure to people in ways beyond their original commissioned purpose is immensely gratifying.

And science fiction has been good to me. My brilliant agents, Alison Eldred and Alan Lynch have kept the work coming in my direction for nearly the whole of that time. I've met wonderful people from all over the world, artists and writers and of course the loyal fans of the genre. It's provided me with a good living - and even to win a few awards, including two Hugos. The nature of the business is definitely in a process of "evolution" - and it's a challenging time to be involved in it. Traditional illustration techniques have combined with the amazing digital tools now at our disposal and it's certainly a more exciting profession that it was in the past. I like to combine in my own work aspects of both the traditional and the bang up-to-date, and IMAGO represents a first collection of that synthesis of ideas and techniques.