Take a stroll in Kew or Kensington Gardens, Richmond or Hyde Park, Hampstead Heath… in fact wander through any of London’s wonderful green spaces, and you’ll no doubt catch flashes of exotic green and hear the raucous squawks of the wild parakeets which have made our capital city their home.
There’s a fair few wondrous stories behind the arrival of the tropical ring-necked parakeet here in London. Some will say they escaped from Isleworth Studios after the filming of The African Queen in 1951, others tell how The Great Storm of 1987 wrecked private aviaries in the leafy suburbs of Surrey. But my personal favourite – as legend has it, my guitar hero Jimi Hendrix released a breeding pair into the skies of Carnaby Street in the psychedelic 60s, and from there they spread their wings across Greater London, causing an undeniable parakeet explosion.
This tall tale is the basis behind my submission for the Association of Illustrators and Transport for London Prize for Illustration competition, the subject this year being “London Stories”.
Across the ages, London has produced and inspired countless stories. Fictitious or real characters and events in this amazing city have always held a fascination, from the anecdotal urban myth to grand tales of historic legend – from the everyday to the curious, and from the past to the present. The aim of the Poster Prize for Illustration competition 2019 is to attract artwork for display that is colourful, inspiring and celebrates the vibrant, multi-layered city that is London.
As part of my research, I visited the Handel & Hendrix in London museum which includes Jimi’s home from the period at the end of the 60s when he lived in London. His flat looking out onto Brook Street in the west end has been recreated with the help of his girlfriend of the time, Kathy Etchingham, and the Handel House Trust.
Once Jimi learned that the neighbouring house was the home of George Frideric Handel 245 years prior and charmed by the thought, he added some of Handel’s music to his record collection, including Messiah and Water Music. These days, two blue plaques clearly identify the historical occupants of 23 & 25 Brook Street. I’ve taken inspiration from my trip, allowing me artistic license to move the release place of Jimi’s Adam & Eve birds (and family, again – artistic license at play!) to this, his London home.
Quite different to my usual mono illustrations of late, I’ve opted for a Purple Haze colour scheme for this competition piece, embellishing the illustration with mind-bending patterns of the time. Considering this is a Transport for London competition, I also wanted make sure that an iconic London Routemaster of the time was included in the image, driving by the long-since gone Mr Love restaurant on the ground floor that often supplied Jimi with room service – a regular order of Mateus Rose wine, steak & chips & 20 cigarettes.