John Sunderland

The curated works of the author & artist

Little Quiet Achievements

I have just read that a ‘Bio’ should speak of one’s achievements. Ok here goes. I was born wearing glasses.

I got into Wakefield Cathedral choir when I was nine; that was an achievement because I wasn’t much of a singer, but my mum so wanted me to get a scholarship to the local Grammar School that went with it, I managed to fake it.

Once at school I kept getting my drawings and paintings into the special frame outside the art-room at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School as ‘Picture of the Week’.

That was an achievement, as I was totally useless at everything else.

I managed to avoid having to attend the mathematics classes that I hated and feared along with the Master by lying to him that I was going blind and had to have my eyes tested every week (coincidentally at the times of his lessons) and so became a professional truant.

That was an achievement.

I got married for the first time before I started shaving. That was some sort of achievement, not sure what exactly.

I’ve been married four times and once for three years without a license. I’m not sure this is an achievement.

I have five kids, four of whom are creative types; and at present two granddaughters and a grandson.

I wanted to work in television as a designer and animator, and did. That was an achievement.

I designed the titles for various hit and not-so-hit British Television shows including in 1978, the quiz show of all quiz shows 3*2*1 and in so doing created the cartoon character ‘Dusty Bin’.

You may think that that was no achievement at all, unless you believe that downgrading the cultural life of a nation is a good thing!

I had a vision when I was a truant aged eleven in the local museum, that museums could be more like movies. That vision became a driving light in my creative life and took form when I was commissioned in 1981 to design The Jorvik Viking Centre in York England, which achieved twelve million visitors before my exhibit (which by then was worn out) was updated with another.

That was definitely an achievement for me, and my brilliant team.

I designed and directed an animation feature film for the British cinema called ‘Kremmen the Movie’ (as appeared in the TV series, ‘The Kenny Everett Video Show’). The film was released as “the ‘B’ film that needs no feature,” which was just as well as it was released in the late seventies to back up the Godawful ‘Can’t Stop the Music’ starring the Village People. A humungus load of crap.

We produced the film over six months in a terrace house in Headingley, Leeds with a hearty band of animation folk; believe me, that was an achievement, 13 hour-days and living on Indian take away curries for six months. But whilst in production, it was an achievement. The film is pretty awful too!

I art directed an equally awful spoof horror film, ‘Bloodbath at the House of Death’, which starred Kenny Everett.

Kenny for a time was a pal.

That was an achievement. Then he died from AIDS.

I have designed and produced twenty-three award winning populist international immersive, experiential museums and exhibitions that at one point in the mid-nineties achieved collectively over five million paying visitors annually.

That was a hell of an achievement.

I made lots of people VERY rich whilst managing to stay un-rich most of my life.

I suppose that’s an achievement of sorts; depends how you look at it, from a prolonged austerity perspective!

I once had a yellow sports car. At the time I thought that was an achievement.

I also had a twelve-seater yellow Land Rover I called ‘Beryl’ that had once been an exploration vehicle in the desert somewhere.

That was an achievement, as there wasn’t much of a floor left in it.

I conceived and designed (IBM did the technical bits) the world’s first on-site synchronous virtual overlay system that allowed visitors to archaeological open-air sites to see what had once been there, rise out of the ground in front of them. I called the machine/program ‘The Timeframe’.

That was an achievement I was very proud of.

Once in the British press I was titled ‘The Godfather of the Heritage Industry”.

Another time I was cursed as “the Dark Prince of Heritage”.  Guess that’s because my attractions were making tons of money for their investors and backers.

There goes the Knighthood. Oh well.

I managed never to play sports at school past the age of fourteen.

I’m proud of that achievement, and should have won a trophy for it.

I have some best friends from schooldays who are still my best friends of whom I am very proud. AND they’ve paid off their mortgages too!

Which must be an achievement!

I managed never once in my life to have a proper job. And have been Freelance since 1974 and most of the time managed to make a decent living at it. And, chartered my own course through the unmapped realms of a creative life, doing some original and unique work along the way.

That’s an achievement of which I am proud.

I have lived in some of the most beautiful places imaginable, and met extraordinary people.

I am grateful for those people and for their achievements.

A Pirate brought me to America, no kidding (Quest for a Pirate Traveling Exhibit, Provincetown, Cape Cod, 1996)

And once made a pile of pirate gold and silver, half a meter high.

Once after a long overnight flight to Charles De Gaulle airport, my trousers fell down when I was rushing to make a plane in the airport.

That was an international achievement.

As was appearing in my ‘Y’ fronts and socks, in front of three hundred passengers in a wide-bodied jet at thirty-six thousand feet over Greenland.

I’m not sure if that was an achievement actually, it was almost a three-year stretch.

My wife (#2) once discovered a burnt corpse under our bed whilst vacuuming the bedroom carpet (a life-sized charred dummy for a movie). She didn’t think it as funny as I did.

Getting over that was an achievement.

I was the co-owner of two famous New York City restaurants, Life Cafe. They were my wife’s businesses, which she started back in 1981 (in the East Village) and 2002 (in Bushwick, Brooklyn). Her East Village cafe is the bohemian hangout featured in the Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway musical RENT by Jonathan Larson). It was where I developed my series of surreal pastel illustrations, Menu Picture Riddles, over 200 of them over four years.

Being a co-owner of these wonderful bars is an achievement for a Yorkshireman who loves pubs.

I have lived my life and career in the happy hills and vales of creativity in many forms, worked with some extraordinary people, had incredible adventures, been married to outstanding women, have fantastic kids and loved my life in New York City and now in Spain with my wonderful wife Kathy. And am so excited about the future.

I think that being happy is an achievement.

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Little Quiet Achievements

I have just read that a ‘Bio’ should speak of one’s achievements. Ok here goes. I was born wearing glasses. I got into Wakefield Cathedral

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