"Portrait of an artist in her own words" - Kim Poor chats about her career and work with Steve Hackett. Interview by Alan Hewitt, conducted at Kim's studio, Monday 22nd July, 1998.
TWR: So, Kim how did you come to meet Steve and the band?
KP: Oh, ok, this is going right back. I'd better get myself sorted out! (laughter). We met in 1974 during "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" tour and it was through a friend of mine who knew the band and knew that I was a big fan of the band although I didn't know what they looked like because the album covers up 'til then hadn't shown any pictures of them and this chap introduced us after the concert which was in New York, and it was a very controversial concert, because half the audience loved it and half of the audience absolutely hated it, and so it was a real mixture of booing and applause, and it caused quite a stir in fact, and that is pretty much how we met. A couple of weeks later, Steve followed me to Brazil and met up with my family, which was a bit of a shock too! (Laughs) and they didn't know much about the musicians and if it had been their choice between a musician and a Martian, I am sure they would have chosen the Martian! (laughter).
TWR: And what were your first impressions of the band when you actually got to meet them?
KP: The first person I actually met was Peter Gabriel, and I found him extraordinarily shy - the shyest - and I suppose that was due to their background. They were very shy about coming forward and I wouldn't describe them as the most "open" people I had ever met, and I did a tour with them after that. I was still at university and I managed to get some time off school at which my parents despaired! (laughter) and spent whatever it was, a few weeks on tour with them and when I got back there were some hard decisions to be made with regard to these people, who you didnít know if they liked you or didn't like you and I suppose it was a bit of a culture shock both for them and for me, and I donít think they were suspicious but I think they found it difficult to relate and that was part of it.
I have seen it with other friends of mine, when you are brought up in a certain environment it creates segregation and some communication problems. You see, the chap that I was involved with before Steve was Anglo-Brazilian and so I was not totally unfamiliar with that sort of behaviour although his Latin side had balanced it a little bit but he was the one who turned me on to Genesis in the first place, and he had them when they were just starting out and he was a huge fan, and the irony of that was that when I went to college, he gave me a bunch of tapes of Genesis to remember him by! (laughter) and he actually did come over for our wedding but... so it was ironic to say the least.
TWR: So, then Steve came to do his first solo album, "Voyage Of The Acolyte", for which you did the cover. Did what he was writing influence you, or did your designs influence him?
Alan with Kim Poor, July 1998
KP: I think it was a bit of both. You see, when we met we really clicked and we couldn't stop talking all night, and it was one of those moments in your life and I am sure that Steve and I had met in a previous lifetime, and he had travelled across the world to be with somebody and was so at home with that person and it was such an instant thing. So, I have always had that feeling - not necessarily as husband and wife - but we had definitely known each other before.
The first instance with "...Acolyte" I had only listened to a couple of tracks and I was still at university in the States and so it wasn't like now where I hear it every day but we were both into Tarot cards at the time anyway and we could draw a lot of inspiration for the cover and the music from something that we were both into, and in a lot of ways we had so much in common. We were into the same type of art; the Tarot and it was silly what one person said, the other was into and it is kind of a development from that and Steve has always given me very much a free hand to do it, but I think it tied in with the music. We both work with atmospheres and with the sleeves you don't know if its light or air or water and all the elements are involved with the sleeves. And you get that with the music as well, although it is more with the instrumentals than the lyrics.
TWR: What were your main influences wen you were becoming an artist?
KP: The Belgian Symbolists, and there was a Swiss painter and I was never - although a lot of people think so of my early work - I was never influenced by William Blake and I actually came to know him quite later on, and because so many people have mentioned the parallels that I get ideas from dreams and visions and supernatural imagery, very personal imagery. I wouldn't say I was directly influenced by it although I can see parallels.
I think that Hieronmus Bosch was certainly an early influence and when I was sixteen I went to The Prado in Madrid, and his work just knocked me out, that nightmarish quality. I think that happens a lot in music too; you have influences and you are somewhat like a computer; and you record it and you are not even aware of them and I think that everything that you come into contact with is going to influence you, whether you are aware of it or not. I am sure that Steve feels like that at times as well, and that things are being channelled through him although I'm not sure that I feel quite the same way. I do derive a lot of influence from dreams and nightmares, although I wouldn't suggest that these were the influences if any deceased painter, or anything like that. I find that I was very drawn to the English influence: things like winter, which, being from Brazil we don't experience as much, and I found refuge in those landscapes which were very much imaginary because that wasn't something I had down there, and I felt a very strong affinity to that because everything I liked was English anyway; the "Englishness" which was what attracted me to Genesis anyway. The slightly eccentric, quirky, off the wall things which a lot of art here possesses, so I think I was influenced by English things really.
TWR: When did you put on your first exhibition?
KP: When I was twelve in Brazil, at the Institute, and before I went to university I used to have one or two exhibitions a year and then I went to university in America, and I was seventeen and I was studying there when I met Steve. I did exhibitions at the Institute in New York while I was studying there and here. I managed to get a transfer from the university in the States so that I could spend time with Steve and I enjoyed the contrast. People let your imagination run freer here than they do in the States, and at times hype realism was very much the fashion, you know; paint your old trash can or tennis shoes as realistically as you could, and I wasn't interested in that at all; and I felt at university in the States, they couldnít deal with the fact that I was using the imagination and I wasn't going to do things that were very straight, whereas in England it was a case of "no problem" and it was respected, so I enjoyed that.
TWR: I also believe that you did some work with Jim Henson as well?
KP: Yeah, with Jim Henson's company in New York which was fascinating, because as an artist, you see you do get used to working alone and I really didn't know if I could still work as part of a group, so that was a challenge for me, because, obviously there were a lot of talented people involved, and we put together a big touring show for museums in America on the history of The Muppets which involved everything from the making of the puppets which was great fun, and it was great to work with a lot of interesting people and it was a very positive experience for me. I had come to a crossroads: I'd left school and I'd asked Steve for a break and he'd left Genesis and we both needed to think things through and so it came at the right time and it was good.
TWR: People have talked about the technique you use for creating your paintings; can you explain it a little bit more in layman's terms...?
KP: No, I don't normally take the easy way to make a picture, that's for sure! (laughter). The only problem is that a lot of the time, it isn't very good for my health, the technique "Diapahnism" which is what Salvador Dali called it in the mid-seventies after seeing a show I was doing in New York. Basically it is layers and layers of pulverised glass powder which is distributed on steel plates and it is really the control of that distribution and the dropping of the powders on to the plate which makes the design and over the years I have gotten very good at this; and it is like you are looking through different coloured glasses at the picture, and the dreamlike quality which it gets is what I like about it.
What fixes the glass to the plate is the firing which can be three or four times in a kiln at over 1000 degrees but the effect is fabulous, and the effects you can get with glass are wonderful, and for me it is very exciting and I think I have only scratched the surface, because I still think there is an awful lot I can do with it, and since there aren't any books on this it is only really through my mistakes that I learn what you can and can't do with it, but I work very much on instinct - there is no scientific approach to it.
TWR: Do you have any future plans for a further exhibition?
KP: I would like to do one next year like the one I did in Brazil with more paintings. I don't think that will happen this year; but certainly next year and even in Brazil most of the legends (Kim's current exhibition at this time was based around her work "Legends Of The Amazon") aren't known and they are very popular.
TWR: Are the legends still very much translated in the oral tradition rather than the written tradition?
KP: Very much in the oral tradition, which is still the form that tribes use to educate their children about nature, and it is interesting that there is a similar legend repeated in two or three different tribes with the essence being the same but depending on what values etc interest that tribe, the story is slanted in that way and so you get quite a lot of variations, and it is fascinating to see the connection between these and, if you like, the likes of Aesop's Fables and Nordic legends. They all seem to have their Sirens and their Mermaids, and the pity is that these things are already being lost and they feel that they should become "Westernised" and I feel that the younger generation are trying to create a consciousness and preserve what they have while they still have it, which is something that they certainly don't have in America, and I hope that they haven't actually woken up too late.
TWR: How do you actually go about gaining the stories?
KP: It is a mixture. I collected a lot of them myself and a lot of them came from research in very archaic books from the Pilgrims and the Conquistadores I suppose, and from sociologists who have collected the stories orally.
TWR: Are you working on - I think it was mentioned a while ago by Steve - that you were working on a book of these stories?
KP: Yes, I am but there are so many things going on. It could be published by Christmas but it looks like being next year.
Thanks to Kim a fascinating insight into her work. We wish her every success with her future projects and if you wish to find out more about her work, have a look at the Kim Poor web site.
My thanks once again to Kim, Steve and Billy for making this possible and for their inestimable kindness.