MEET THE ARTIST – STEPHEN GERVAIS
Press release by Paula Martiesian, Providence based artist and arts advocate
Spend time talking with illustrator/musician Stephen Gervais and the names of Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, George R. R. Martin and Peter Straub – all masters of horror and fantasy fiction and literature – will come up. Gervais isn’t bragging or name-dropping. He is an unassuming and modest guy with a large insecure streak about his artwork. Yet Gervais’ illustrations have graced the novels of some of the great horror writers of our times.
Gervais was only twenty-nine years old when he landed an important assignment illustrating the premier limited edition of Stephen King’s horror novel Christine. This was only his second illustration job; his first was a children’s book.
Success came quickly. “I was an innocent and a little overwhelmed,” Gervais says. “Suddenly I was traveling the country, sitting on panels, expected to be part of the conversation.”
He needed to effectively illustrate a story without disturbing the reader’s perception of the characters and without “disrupting the continuity of the narrative.” He developed a quiet, realistic style full of detail. The illustrations have the look of silverpoint drawing with many subtle shades of gray that build to create powerful forms and images. He is drawn to faces and architecture.
Today he is working on illustrations for a limited edition of The Haunting of Hill House by the late Shirley Jackson, considered by some to be one of the finest examples of horror literature.
Gervais grew up in Warwick, attended Pilgrim High School and worked his way through some of the hipper places of local employment – College Hill Book Store, Oakes on the Hill, Trinity Rep and India Imports.
His first love was music, a love he inherited from his mother and father. He learned how to play bass, guitar, piano, pipe organ and synthesizer. He composed a score for a local movie production, but never pursued music as a career.
His father, a commercial art salesman for United Printing, encouraged his son to explore his visual art talents. A seven-year old Gervais attended Saturday morning classes at the Rhode Island School of Design, trudging up the stone steps of the Waterman Building. Much later Gervais attended the Art Institute of Boston. After college he worked on building his portfolio of drawings.
When his illustrations became popular, his wife Suzan Gervais (a librarian at the Rockefeller Library) stepped in to act as his agent, manager and overall cheerleader.
Now in his sixties, Gervais moonlights as a part time building guardian for Brown University. He checks IDs, answers people’s question and when all is quiet he draws. Lately, Gervais’ illustrations have been in demand and he has been very busy. But when illustration work is scarce, the job gives him a steady income. “The students enjoy it,” Gervais says. “And the drawings spark some great conversations.”
The BankRI Galleries featured the artworks of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts contemporary artists and are curated by Paula Martiesian, a Providence-based artist and arts advocate.