The first John Richardson print I saw was the cover of John Andrews’ moving fishing memoir For All Those Left Behind, an image of a lone angler on a jetty gazing out at a still lake bathed in light that might have been cast by a setting or a rising sun: an ambiguity that so perfectly accompanied Andrews’ moving search for resolution with his dead father. The image, I thought, made a nod to Munch and Friederich. But there was an Englishness – or Britishness – to it as well, in the muted light and uncertain boundaries, and that soulfulness punctured by brassy swathes of primary colour. And there was an unmistakable Britishness too in the prints that I admired years later – not realising at first they were by the same artist – that illustrated the anthology Caught by the River, surreal maps of British rivers that were part Chagal, part northern grit: the flounder of the Forth, its lateral line the river, its scales the words Portobello, Leith, Newhaven and a nocturnal Icarus falling headlong through the block of night above, stars cascading from his upturned pockets.
Later still I got to meet John Richardson when we went pike fishing together with John Andrews on the Fens. I got to see his printing press and his inks and the work-in-progress prints of a book he was planning in praise of the Jack Russell Terrier, and which became in the end a memorial to two beloved dogs of John’s – Pike and Rufus (Rufus almost moved from the fire to say hello that first day, but passed away last year). And there’s a Britishness in that now finished book too, the hours and hours of work – a true labour of love if ever there was one – that have gone in to the production of a hand-printed, hand-made, limited edition book in praise of the ball-bursting, willy-exposing, leg-shagging, back-yard scrapping terrier. Only the British. Thank you John. This is a wonderful book. It makes me smile and it makes me sad all at once. But mostly it makes me smile. The pictures are all fabulous, though my favourite is probably the final, piratical Patch: a “rather dangerous and unreliable kind of terrier … an unlovable rogue unless he happens to be yours”. Aren’t they all?
Jack Russell Terrier – Being and Observation and a Guide, is printed in a limited edition of 350 and is available direct from the artist at The Two Terriers Press. If you have a dog and especially if you have a terrier it is a book to treasure (out of reach of that dog – obviously).