Peacock has been no stranger to ambitious projects and back in 1986 there was none more ambitious than the portfolio of prints for the newly founded publishing imprint The Paragon Press. The project was ‘The Scottish Bestiary’ and comprised of 20 prints depicting 19 animals – real and mythological and involved the cream of the Scottish art scene new and old: John Bellany, Steven Campbell, Peter Howson, Jack Knox, Bruce McLean, June Redfern and Adrian Wiszniewski accompanied by the stories and poems of George Mackay Brown.
This wasn’t to be the only time we produced a portfolio for the Paragon Press (that being Bellany’s ‘Images Inspired by The Old Man and the Sea’ which we’ll look at in more detail another day) but it was the first and surprisingly it was the first time there had been a Bestiary made in Scotland.
This was an important endeavour for Peacock not only because it united the whole printing team in one project, but also because it introduced a new and significant group of artists to the workshop. Jack Knox was the only one to have previously worked in Aberdeen while Bellany, Howson, McLean and Wiszniewski were to be involved in other projects in the future.
Charles Booth Clibborn tells the story of how this came about in the poster that accompanied the exhibition:
“A Bestiary is a medieval concept, a collection of illustrated stories each based on the particular characteristics of individual animals real or mythical. The fact that a bestiary was never made in Scotland during the medieval period – whereas in every other country they were – was, I suppose, one of the main reasons for embarking on The Scottish Bestiary.
I was struck by the emergence, in Scotland, of a remarkable generation of young figurative painters. I decided to involve them, along with three artists from a slightly older generation who had forged the way for this highly acclaimed and successful younger group. After considering a number of Scottish authors I approached George Mackay Brown as the obvious choice, and within two weeks he delivered the nineteen poems and stories that make up the bestiary text.
Arthur Watson and Peacock Printmakers agreed to take on the printing of the images while Simon King from Cumbria (he was the nearest letter press printer that could handle the size) was responsible for setting and printing the type.
The printers and technicians at Peacock Printmakers were courageous on working on so large a project involving so many artists, in such short a time. The whole project was achieved in six months and through their assistance and encouragement the artists were able to produce the quality of work that now makes up The Scottish Bestiary.”
The portfolio is in the collection of many notable arts institutions including MOMA, National Galleries Scotland and Yale University. It is also looked at in detail in the book ‘Contemporary British Art in Print’.