Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Ayrton, Michael

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(1921-1975) UK artist, illustrator, stage designer and writer; many of his book Illustrations were for works of fantasy, and much of his painting focused on material – most significantly the myth of Daedalus and the visual and philosophical enigmas of the Labyrinth – that was also of fantasy interest. Among the titles for which MA did typically dark-toned, highly expressive dustwrapper illustrations, in a Neo-Romantic style typical of many 1940s artists, are the UK edition of Ray Bradbury's Dark Carnival (coll 1947), a 1948 reprinting of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, Here Are Ghosts and Witches (coll 1954) by J(ames) Wentworth Day (1899-?1983), the two volumes of Wyndham Lewis's The Human Age (1955 and 1956), Marcel Aymé's Across Paris (trans 1957), The Blood Rushed to My Pockets (1957) by George Foa and a 1957 reprinting of Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination; MA also did the dustwrappers for all his own books. His views on modern art were aggressively conservative (he took a jaundiced view of Pablo Picasso [1881-1973] in his roman à clef, The Midas Consequence [1974], and in essays, but he admired Wyndham Lewis), and the estranged provinciality of his stance may not have much helped his development as an artist; his work became increasingly stiff. His costume designs for the 1947 stage production of The Fairy Queen (1692) by Henry Purcell (see Opera) were, however, fluent and eloquent; they appear in Purcell's The Fairy Queen as Presented by The Sadler's Wells Ballet and the Covent Garden Opera (1948).

MA's first work of genre interest, Tittivulus, or The Verbiage Collector (1953), is a humorous, heavily illustrated Satire featuring the eponymous fiend (named after a medieval Demon who had the job of collecting the words omitted from the Mass by slipshod, hasty and careless monks) whose 20th-century task is to collect unnecessary language emitted by human beings; he exploits his role to become a Stalin-like dictator of Hell. The Testament of Daedalus (1962 chap) tells the story, accompanied by several intense illustrations, of Icarus's flight and passion for Apollo in the form of a philosophical meditation by Daedalus. The Maze Maker (1967) presents similar material in the form of a fully developed novel. Of the essays and tales assembled in Fabrications (coll 1972), some are of genre interest, including "Tenebroso", a Posthumous Fantasy narrated by the dead Michelangelo. As with his pictorial work, MA's fiction was muscular but stiff, although at times it came vividly to life. [JC]

other works: Golden Sections (coll 1957), essays; Maze and Minotaur: An Exhibition of Work on the Theme (1973).

Michael Ayrton


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.