Monday, 3 September 2018

The Art Of Tom Chantrell

Whilst working on a Star Wars At 40 post, I discovered that my favourite poster was created by a British artist.  As I researched him, I found he'd worked on a lot of other cool films too and so here's a celebration of Tom Chantrell and his artwork.
The one that started it for me, the UK quad poster.  Perhaps because of his Hammer associations, Chantrell was the only artist to include Peter Cushing in a poster.

1982 - based on the illustration by Berni Wrightson
And away from movie posters, Chantrell also created the cover art for this book, beloved of so many horror fans (of a certain age)
Thomas “Chan” William Chantrell was born in Manchester on 20th December 1916.  The son of a trapeze artist, he was the youngest of nine children (the first son) and showed an early aptitude for art, winning a prestigious national competition aged thirteen by designing a disarmament poster for the League Of Nations.  He briefly attended Manchester Art College but left to work at a local advertising agency, moving to London in 1933 to work as a silkscreen printer before joining Bateman Artists.  One of their main clients was Allardyce Palmer Ltd who created posters for Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox and in 1938 he produced his first, for The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse.  After active service in the Second World War as part of the Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal Unit, he joined Allardyce Palmer and worked solidly, designing posters for hundreds of films, from East Of Eden and Bus StopBrighton RockThe King And I, five Carry Ons (CabbyJackSpyingCleoCowboy and Screaming), One Million Years BCFar From The Madding CrowdBullitThe French ConnectionA Clockwork Orange and most Hammer productions from 1965 onwards.
Tom Chantrell with his in-progress Star Wars artwork, 1977
Rarely seeing the film he drew for (he apparently considered it a waste of time), he worked from a synopsis and a handful of stills - if he couldn’t find the right image, he’d have friends and family pose for reference shots. 

Leaving Allardyce Palmer in 1972, he went freelance with his reputation as England’s most successful and experienced poster artist serving him well.  A decline in cinema audiences (theatres were being adapted to have several screens in one venue) at the time meant more exploitation films reached the screen (sometimes British, sometimes Continental), which in turn required lots of poster art.  Working for the likes of Eagle, Tigon, Hemdale, ITC, Brent-Walker, Alpha and Cannon Entertainment (and what a nostalgic rush those names induce), sexploitation was most popular but closely followed by horror, kung-fu, cheaply produced war and sci-fi flicks, French arthouse, American Grindhouse and teen sex comedies, it was said that if you needed ‘an appropriately gratuitous poster to pull in the punters, Tom Chantrell was your man.’  In addition, he picked up contracts for blockbusters, such as Star Wars as well as illustrating movie soundtrack sleeves and novelisation covers for Hamlyn.

Into the 80s, he produced VHS and Betamax cover art but rising production costs and the arrival of affordable digital art meant traditional painted posters were soon out of fashion.  He suffered a heart attack and, after being admitted to hospital, passed away on 15th July 2001.

He was married twice and was survived by his second wife Shirley and their twin daughters, plus a son and daughter from his first marriage.

Chantrell Posters
Guardian obituary, by Sim Branaghan
Brit Posters
The Art Of Poster Maker Extrardinaire Tom Chantrell

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