13 Feb
2024

Ryan Heshka // “Voice of Bloom”

 

I’m unsure if I shared any artful ocular extravaganzas in the form of Eyeball Fodder collections at all last year, not even a single one! Well, here’s the first one of 2024, full of moody blooms, weird, staring faces, and just a general gathering of gorgeous, unnerving vibes.

 

Rosalie Lettau // “Choosing Flowers”

 

Alexander Reisfar

 

Jess McAran

 

Linda Larson // “Going Dutch”

 

Rachael Bridge // “Malevolent”

 

Tetsuhiro Wakabayashi // “The breath that overflows”

 

Nicole Duennebier // “CALIGO”

 

Shoko Ishida // “Eclipse”

 

Benjamin Vierling // “Rose Canina”

 

Dan Hillier

I am terribly saddened to hear that artist Dan Hillier has passed away. Dan’s was among some of the first works I fell in love with in my Tumblr era, circa 2009-2012 or so, when I was discovering and becoming enamored with all sorts of contemporary dark artists. Below are a few of my recent favorites from this brilliant creator, gone from us much, much too fucking soon.

Dan Hillier

 

Dan Hillier

 

Dan Hillier

 

Dan Hillier

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Bruce Pennington’s 1974 cover to A. E. van Vogt’s The World of Null-A

As a kid, I staunchly believed there were only two camps: you were either team fantasy or team sci-fi. And since Star Trek didn’t have elves and unicorns (I hadn’t yet seen the holodeck!) I wasn’t interested.  Fairies shimmered in fairytale castles, while alien princesses, if they existed at all, ruled from sterile metal fortresses. Drawn to the whimsy of talking animals and magical forests, I dismissed sci-fi’s offerings as devoid of the fantastical.

But stories have a way of defying rigid categories. And above all, I came to realize whether scribbled in glitter or etched in chrome, it was the stories that captivated my attention–and, by extension, the beautiful art that accompanied them–not especially the genre trappings through which they were envisioned. One summer afternoon, while browsing my weird uncle’s dusty comic collection, I stumbled upon a cover, unlike the werewolves and vampires that dominated most of the towering stacks (by then, I had moved on from fairy princesses to the monsters haunting crumbling, gothic crypts) Lush, cosmic swirls enveloped a lone, impossibly graceful spaceship, its sails catching the light of a thousand alien suns. It was sci-fi, yes, but rendered in a style that wouldn’t look out of place on a fairy tale tapestry. That day, the 2-camp theory dissolved. Sci-fi, I realized, could shimmer with wonder, could paint impossible visions across canvases both grand and intimate. And not very long after that, on another summer afternoon, I uncovered an ungodly amount of my dad’s back issues of Heavy Metal magazine, and –say no more, right? You know what I’m getting at. I was hooked.

Years later, this revelation lives on. I consider myself an enthusiast of fantastical art of all stripes, and I couldn’t have been more excited when I realized that the creator of one of my favorite art-related Tumblrs–Adam Rowe of 70s Sci-Fi Art— was soon to be publishing an art book. If you don’t know any Tumblrs but recognize Adam’s name from somewhere, well, it could possibly be that you heard him on the Endless Thread podcast about the Wrinkle In Time book cover art. While I babbled about the mystery of it all and sounded like a total space cadet, Adam was the one with the grounding and logical insights who was actually saying all of the smart stuff!

Brimming with dazzling dreams of fantastical futures and explorations of the vast cosmos, Adam’s book celebrating the groundbreaking sci-fi art of the 1970s would have delighted skeptical childhood me and shown me everything I now love about that golden era of science fiction art today. It’s a vibrant showcase of retrofuturistic visions, stuffed to the gills with phenomenal art–from the abstract and avant-garde to the trippy and surreal, from the murky and lurid to the vivid, vibrant, and hyperrealistic, Worlds Beyond Time is an incredibly curated gallery-in-a-book, and love letter to this breathtakingly beautiful and frequently bizarre genre. Of course, it’s easy enough to fill a book with art (HA! That’s a lie. It is not easy.), but what really elevates an already special tome is that all of this gorgeous art is seated alongside a plethora of ridiculously well-informed, engrossing essays written in Rowe’s warm, chat, irreverent voice.

And speaking of warm, engrossing chats–that’s the reason we are here today! Adam graciously answered my questions about Worlds Beyond Time,  his fascination with sci-fi art, and some of the colorful characters and favorite artistic tropes he features within the pages of the book. See below for our Q&A, and thanks from the bottom of my weird, awkward heart, Adam, for your generosity of time, energy, and spirit.

 

Island City in Green, Paul Lehr, 1988

 

1974 Frank Kelly Freas cover for Promised Land

 

SE: I’m always interested in the formative stuff! Is there a definitive moment in your childhood that you can hearken back to wherein a fondness/fixation regarding sci-fi art was born? Or was it a series of snapshots, a thing here and there and so on, which drew you in? What initially engaged your interest and piqued your curiosity about the world of sci-fi art, and what continues to fascinate you about it?

AR: I’ve always enjoyed any sort of genre fiction, particularly old and out-of-style ones. I think the formulas that tend to get reused for disposable entertainment will tell you a lot about cultural anxieties or values. But my interest in sci-fi art is very specifically tied to the look of 70s and 80s art styles – they just really light up my amygdala in a way that even 50s and 60s sci-fi art rarely does. I don’t know how to explain it! That’s actually why I went so specific with my blog name when I first started my Tumblr in 2013. I had stumbled on an illustration on Reddit, and I couldn’t find an existing tumblr specific enough for me at the time, so I created my own.

There are other, similar-but-different art niches that I’ve sort of “spun off” my interest in over the years. I still love 70s sci-fi art, but I also love 80s/90s computer and tech illustration, as well as the 90s yuppie kitsch vibes from artists like Christian Riese Lassen.

 

1996 John Harris cover for The Ringworld Throne

 

In John Koenig’s Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (not really sci-fi related but definitely full of otherworldly notions and ineffable explorations), the author meditates on the idea of “Astrophe,” the feeling of being stuck on Earth, occasionally looking up at the stars, dreaming of other worlds–but always, always being pulled back to reality, that feeling of being grounded. Is there a particular sci-fi artwork you revel in or an artist you admire whose art is so bold and striking that somewhere in your mind, it permanently yanks you right out of Earth’s orbit, perhaps quells that Astrophic yearning?

A great artist for sci-fi yearning is John Harris. There’s a bit of a removed, timeless feel to his artwork, there’s often a lot of cosmic awe. I’m repeating myself from my art book, but one of my favorite stories about him is that NASA commissioned him in 1985, and his chosen subject matter wasn’t a scene set in space or depicting a spacecraft at all. Instead, he painted the smoking, empty launchpad immediately after a launch. It’s a sharp contrast to the triumphant images you’d get from Robert McCall.

Another couple of favorites are Bruce Pennington and Angus McKie. Pennington always captures ideas and images that feel archetypal without being cliche, and McKie always has tiny delightful details that take a while to notice. I can stare at their work for a long time.

 

1980 Richard M. Powers cover for The Number of the Beast

 

In your book, not only do you showcase the artistic brilliance of the individuals you feature, but you also unveil their unique personalities. Your chapter on cheeky visual satirist of chaotic abstraction, Richard Powers, particularly captured my heart– as I have a massive fondness for the goofballs and weirdos, for silliness and absurdity. Beyond their artistic achievements, these artists led rich and complex lives. Can you share some other examples of how their personal experiences and dispositions influenced their artistic expression?

Yeah, Richard Powers is quite a character! In a good way! Fun fact: I read a lot of art books while writing this one, and The Art of Richard Powers by Jane Frank was probably the best one for offering a candid picture of an artist, flaws and all, and fully avoiding the hagiography trap.

Leo and Diane Dillon were always exploring, which led to an art career covering so many mediums and styles that it’s hard to pin down. John Harris’s deep interest in transcendental meditation is impossible to separate from the cosmic awe of his art that I mentioned earlier. John Schoenherr had a love of naturalism that contributed to the lived-in feel of his famed Dune illustrations. And I really love Rick Sternbach’s dolphin in a spacesuit, which I slipped into page 4 of my book at the last second – he wasn’t commissioned for it; he just wanted to explore the idea as a thought experiment because of his interest in marine biology. Basically, any artist who wants to carve a legacy for themselves should let their love for other subjects flow into their art.

 

Rick Sternbach’s dolphin in a spacesuit

 

I really appreciate the way Worlds Beyond Time is structured, jumping back and forth between spreads featuring specific artists, themes, motifs, tropes, and gimmicks, as well as the subjects and landscapes of the stories themselves. It’s an unexpected and deliciously unpredictable format, curious and singular–much like how the best examples of sci-fi art and their stories can be. How did you come up with the configuration for the book?

I’m glad you asked! For the longest time, I didn’t think I could do an art book, but it was when I realized I could do that format that I realized how fun and interesting it would be to write. And I only realized it was an option because I read a book with a very similar structure: Grady Hendrix’s 2017 Paperbacks From Hell, about 70s/80s horror paperbacks. And I know you loved that book too, because I looked it up on your site and saw your review!

I love how fast-paced Paperbacks From Hell is, and how funny and irreverent the writing style is. It’s divided into sections, covering specific books and authors as well as fun themes and min-trends. Seeing that crystalized for me that I could do the same thing. When I first started putting together my proposal for Worlds Beyond Time, Grady was in the area as part of his book tour for We Sold Our Souls, and he was kind enough to meet with me and give me advice! He also recommended I talk to Vincent Di Fate, the artist and art historian who would go on to write my foreword.

Basically, reading Paperbacks From Hell really opened my third eye when it comes to how a nonfiction on fiction book can work. Also, as an aside, I’m trying to make the term “nonfiction on fiction” happen, as a way to describe history books that document eras and types of fictional media. So far, no one’s going for it, and I think it’s because it just sounds like you’re saying “nonfiction” twice when you say it out loud. It’s like the Little Caesar’s guy who says “piece a pizza,” but more confusing.

 

Fred Gambino’s 1974 cover for Dangerous Visions 1

 

And of the common themes or motifs that you see recurring in the sci-fi art you included in the book what were some of your favorite to write about and think about? How did these reflect the cultural and social zeitgeist of the era in which they were created–and is there anything about it that still resonates today?

One of the most popular and striking visual tropes I covered is skeletons in spacesuits. It’s an immediately cool concept all by itself (a very memorable Scooby Doo and Doctor Who antagonist both basically boil down to this trope; that’s pretty cool). But it also has a history drawn from pulp adventure illustrations, where explorer skeletons were always popping up in deserts, caves, and islands. Adventure is a genre that a lot of early science fiction stories emerged from as far back as Jules Verne and HG Wells, so being able to see the visual connections is fascinating to me.

One of my favorite sections is the one featuring reflections in space helmets. There’s an interesting practical reason behind the concept’s popularity – it’s an economic way to get a landscape and a person into one scene, and it lets the reader project an appropriate emotion onto the figure. Plus, it also shares a bit of a history with adventure illustration, where you’d occasionally see the same trick pulled with other reflective surfaces like monocles or gun scopes.

Finally, there’s cities in domes, which is a particularly popular concept for this era of sci-fi art. It’s easy to grasp, looks cool, is fun to paint – but it’s also fairly impractical as a functional concept. Moon bases are more likely to be underground bunkers than domes. But geodesic domes were pretty popular and futuristic in the 60s and 70s.

I wanted to do a section on floating cities as well. I wound up cutting it, partially because it shares so much with domed cities, and partially just because the best examples were from artists who are more expensive to license, like Robert McCall and Chris Foss. The idea of a big floating city feels even more fantastical and disconnected from reality than a domed city.

 

1981 Rowena Morill cover for Project Pope. You may recall we are big Rowena Morill fans around here. 

 

Artificial Intelligence comes up in your chapter about robots, and I’ll confess, today’s AI-driven image generators and language models are something that concerns me greatly, with its creation of “art” without the consent of the human creators whose works were used to train their algorithms. I strongly feel the anxiety of living in a world where the line between art created by human and machine is increasingly blurred, for example, you only have to look at imagery shared by well-meaning family and friends on Facebook, life-size cats crocheted by obscenely grinning nonagenarians or sand sculptures of beautiful woman whose hair has been rendered so finely that it gently drifts in the breeze?! Come on people! THAT’S NOT REAL! Robots, cyborgs, machines becoming sentient, beings enhanced with technology, and all the dangers that transhumanism and artificial intelligence represent…I didn’t get the sense from art and stories that the dangers we’d be facing from AI would have to do with the art itself. I know this is a crazed and rambling question, but what are your thoughts on any of it?

I agree! I think you hit it on the nose with your takeaway about how science fiction didn’t prepare you for the real-life counterpart. But then, the stuff we’re calling AI today isn’t anywhere near sentience; Ted Chiang has said “applied statistics” would be a more accurate term for all real-life innovations than “AI.” But of course, it’s a better marketing pitch to feint at creating tech from famous science fiction stories. The tech we have with ChatGPT is definitely cool, but it’s a shame that it requires copyright theft and exists mostly as a way to cut enough jobs to boost quarterly revenues another 2% or whatever. The real problem, once again, is capitalism.

I do find the topic of how science fiction interacts with Silicon Valley ambition to be constantly entertaining. So many big tech figures love science fiction. I can’t imagine Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t know that the Metaverse from Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash is a dystopia, but he does seem to think that it doesn’t matter.

 

The bird Boris Vallejo painted for The Boy Who Saved the Stars. Despite the question below, this image is actually in the book. Didn’t seem fair to show something not within these pages!

 

It feels a bit tragic, doesn’t it, to omit some really fantastic pieces from a book on a subject dear to your heart that you’re sharing with the world? And annoyingly, you know there’s going to be people who say “I can’t believe you *forgot* x/y/z!” – as if it’s simply a matter of you “forgetting!” Tell us about art-shaped holes in your heart and in your book that you would have loved to include if you had been able.

I couldn’t afford to include as much art as I would have liked from some of the biggest names, including Frank Frazetta, John Berkey, and Chris Foss (and arguably shouldn’t have included the images I did use since it blew past my budget and came out of my own pocket). Paul Alexander and Peter Andrew Jones are two other great artists I didn’t include at all – the former wasn’t essential enough to my book to justify some rights requirements, and the latter felt he had enough art collections out already that would compensate him better.

But the biggest one that got away was this beautiful Brothers Hildebrandt wraparound cover for Earth’s Last Citadel by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore. I had a great scan ready to go, and I was willing to pay more than I did for any other single piece of art, but the estate just ultimately wasn’t interested. I couldn’t bear to cut the paragraph writeup about the image in the book, however, so you can still read all about it on page 152. Funny enough, I used to hate it when an art book would discuss an image that it didn’t feature. Now, I get it.

 

Enrich Torres covert art for the July 1973 issue of Eerie

 

But back to things that were in your book! I was delighted to see that horror gets a spotlight! From mentions of cryptozoology to ghosts and Creepy and Eerie magazine, the horror-nerd in me was totally geeking out. Obviously, you have a great love for sci-fi, but as a horror fan, I’m compelled to ask about your relationship with the horror genre.

I definitely appreciate horror almost as much as sci-fi! Fantasy, supernatural horror, and sci-fi all emerged from the same early-1900s primordial genre goop of “weird stories,” and they still work well when blended today. With movies, I particularly like when other genres are thrown in, like horror, comedy, and action horror. I saw Ravenous last October; it’s a great historical horror. I’m in the middle of reading the second Clown in a Cornfield novel by Adam Cesare, and I definitely recommend it.

 

William Teason 1963 cover art for We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. This image is not found in the book, but it is one of my one-time favorites and too good not to include.

In that vein: if you’re a horror fan looking to dip your toes into sci-fi art, is there any artist/creator, or work, visual, or otherwise (ie literature or cinema) that you’d recommend?

A cover artist for retro horror books that I’ve always loved is William Teason – take his classic 1963 cover for Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle or this artwork for Mary Roberts Reinhart’s The Case of Jenny Brice. Some big-name science fiction illustrators have done plenty of horror illustrations as well, like Michael Whelan and Bruce Pennington. Of course, Paperbacks From Hell will tell you all about other great retro horror artists that fans of Worlds Beyond Time will probably enjoy.

Also, I don’t know what the classification is, but I saw this video a few years ago when it first came out, and I still keep thinking about it. Someone needs to give that creator a blank check to make the feature-length version of whatever it is.

 

According to Adam, “Sadly, the talented artist or artists behind MUFON’s 1977, ’78, and ’79 itinerary covers has been lost to time.”

Since it seems we’re delving into darkness, how do you think sci-fi art has explored the darker side of human nature, such as fear, paranoia, and the unknown? How has sci-fi art intersected with the occult and paranormal, and how has this influenced our beliefs in, or even disinclination toward the supernatural?

Man, I dunno! Strictly through the lens of my art book, I’d say a lot of the darker, more challenging art was swept off of sci-fi covers around 1971 since the publishing industry was expanding and worried that creepier surrealism would scare off readers. (Another example of profit incentives hedge-trimming artistic expression!)

Science fiction has always been a venue for facing horrifying world-ending threats head-on, though. Back in the 70s, nuclear war was a big one, and today, climate change is. Fiction can help raise to the surface some otherwise unthinkable concepts, although fiction alone is never going to save us. The pen’s only mightier than the sword when it’s writing to a lot of other people with swords.

This does remind me of one of the more fun illustrations in Worlds Beyond Time: The Mutual UFO Network’s 1977-79 itinerary covers. The designer is uncredited, but the covers have a great sense of precision and clarity of concept to them, which I imagine is pretty important to an organization dedicated to an often-dismissed phenomenon like UFOs.

 

Bruce Pennington 1974 cover for A. E. van Vogt’s The Pawns of Null-A. 


Onto something a bit more frivolous: I’m a bit obsessed with Richard Hescox’s works, how the gleaming luminosity of his paintings really lends itself to the shimmering details in fripperies and fineries–jewels and gemstones, crowns and headdresses, all sorts of fancy accouterments. Bruce Pennington is another artist who shines at capturing a fashion-forward moment; I’m thinking of an image you included in your book for the cover of E. van Vogt’s The Pawns of Null-A, where Pennington “dresses a power-hungry emperor like an otherworldly Pope,” whose robes are embellished with a treasure trove of glittering symbols and beads– into which the artist had apparently secreted his own name! I’m curious if you can think of any other sci-fi artists who indulged in a sartorially-minded spirit in their book covers and other artworks?

Sci-fi fashion is pretty cool! Although often over-reliant on jumpsuits and cloaks. I have a “fashion” tag on my tumblr that I bet you’d enjoy scrolling through. I see Peter Elson’s work pops up several times; His 1978 cover to Jack Vance’s To Live Forever is pretty eye-popping! This David Schleinkofer fit actually might be considered cool today, which I can’t say about the guy on Roy Virgo’s 1980 cover art for Mannes éphémères, by Clark Darlton and KH Scheer. But the real winner is the robot drip on Isidre Monés’ cover to the 1981 German edition of Robot, by Adam Wiśniewski. Incredible energy on that cover.

One interesting fashion angle is the idea of astronauts having visual ID on their suits, either as heraldry like knights, or as a way for regular joes to express themselves, like sailors with tattoos. There’s an Ed Emshwiller cover for an issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction that captures that idea. Shoutout to Winchell Chung’s site Atomic Rockets, where he discusses those topics over here. If I were to ever get a sequel art book, I’d definitely have a two-page spread on fashion in sci-fi art. I’ve just added it to my sequel brainstorming doc, right alongside other ideas like “Christ figures,” “bugs,” and “spaceships shaped like fish.”

Michael Whelan’s 1987 cover for 2061: Odyssey Three, by Arthur C. Clarke.

I used to include a final question in my interview Q&As, something like, “what’s next?” But that’s a bit presumptuous and a lot of pressure, isn’t it? Isn’t it enough to enjoy what you literally just put out into the world earlier this year? So, instead of stressing you out, my question is more along the lines of what do you do to de-stress? What are you doing when not exploring and examining worlds beyond time? Adam Rowe is a complex creature and contains multitudes– what does he get into when he’s not writing about 1970’s sci-fi art?

A lot of movies and TV! I was just telling someone that I need a friend who actually appreciates mediocre mid-budget 90s movies as much as I do. I also like old crime movies – I just saw 1967’s Le Samourai for the first time yesterday and loved it. Aside from that, the most noteworthy thing I’ve done lately is uploaded the 2006 Jimmy Buffett cover of Werewolves of London to YouTube – it wasn’t available anywhere on the internet if you can believe that! Get the word out, I’m hoping to get past 47 total views.

I’m also developing a taste for other types of illustration from within the 1960s-’90s zone. The Tumblr Lookcaitlin has an amazing collection of retro-tech magazine illustrations, and I just finished the complete collection of the Antonio Prohías Spy vs. Spy comics.

For writing, I’m in the planning stage for another potential art book, but no spoilers yet. I’m also trying to keep doing articles to get the word out about Worlds Beyond Time. This year’s Hugo Award nominations open up on March 1st. Best Related Work? Maybe! Someone needs to explain to me how getting nominated works. Maybe I’ll talk to my publicist.

 

If you enjoy these peeks at the authors and artists I love, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

 

 

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The Art of Fantasy now has a Korean-language edition! So this was actually a crowd-funded project, I guess? It looks as if all three of my books were crowd-funded by this particular Korean publisher. That’s wild!

 

 

I probably wouldn’t be so ridiculously excited to receive these foreign language editions of my books if I hadn’t had to fight so hard for the publisher to send them to me. It still feels quite novel and thrilling!
Ah, that’s silly. I’d be excited regardless.

 

 

I love this About the Author translation: “S. Elizabeth is a writer and curator who pursues decorative beauty. Her essays and interviews on esoteric art are published in [a whole bunch of stuff] …and her shaman culture blog ‘Anxious’, which covers music, fashion, horror, nostalgia, sadness, etc…”

My blog ‘ANXIOUS’. I have never felt so seen.

 

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16 Jan
2024

In September of 2017, I posted a fancy lady vampire painting to my various social medias. opining that surely my friends had it in their hearts to pool their resources and purchase it for me to hang in my boudoir for all eternity, to the tune of a cool 14K. As it happened, no one loved me enough for that! Regardless, I never forgot her lovely, spoiled little face, and I continued the tradition of posting the painting every now and again over the ensuing years. I loved her so much that I wanted to include her in The Art of Darkness, but alas, Richard Bober, the artist, never answered even one of my approximate 90 billion emails. it was not to be.

Sometime in the year 2021, Handsome Devils Puppets and I started plotting and scheming on the idea of coaxing her off the canvas and transferring her soul into the floopy-limbed, fabulously attired vessel of a custom marionette, as a sister puppet for Sei Shōnagon and Maria Germaova.

 

 

The project began in earnest in June of 2023, a month after I had written a blog post that blew up everywhere and got a lot of attention, inquiring about the mysteriously unknown artist of an iconic book cover for a certain edition of a much-beloved book. I was privy to a lot of speculation and chatted quite frequently with the podcaster who was eventually to report on it; I’d pass along more guesses and suggestions that I was receiving from blog commenters and emails, and she’d share industry tidbits and whispers that she was amassing in her detective work. A name eventually emerged that one or two people seemed quite certain about, and though it was a bit of a wild ride getting there–it was eventually revealed that those eagle-eyed individuals were correct. Y’ALL. Richard freaking Bober –the artist responsible for my favorite gorgeous goldilocked vampire mean girl– was the artist who created THAT cover art for Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time!!

 

That cover was something I wanted to include in The Art of Fantasy, but I thought, “Why bother? no one knows who the artist is; who would I even ask for permission?” But isn’t it funny that both these pieces of art caught my eye for various reasons, and without even realizing they were the same artist, I was hoping to have them in the pages of separate books?

I later learned through interviews with Richard Bober’s family and nephews that he was a bit of a recluse, and I don’t think he emailed much, so chances are, I was never going to receive a response to my inquiries anyway! And sadly, he died in late 2022, so he never lived to get proper credit for that book cover. From everything I’ve heard, though, I’m not sure he would have even cared!

So in a very roundabout way, this feels like it has come round full circle. Or looped around several times and tangled confusingly because I do tell a rambling story.

Anyway, isn’t she beautiful? She’s totally gonna steal my soul tonight. Worth it.

If you enjoy these peeks at the artists I love, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee? Maybe next time I can afford the 14K painting.

 

 

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The Princess Bride (Cover for Ballantine Books)

I first became aware of Ted CoConis’s artwork in 2015 when I had searched out the individual responsible for this cover art for the first edition of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. Seeing this starkers bird-headed madam made me wonder if I was remembering a totally different book? Or if the artist had even read the book at all??

I shared this on Facebook at the time, and a friend suggested that, as CoConis was a highly in-demand illustrator, it’s possible that Ballantine had bought several finished but unsold paintings of his in a batch, as his work would have been cheaper that way, and they stuck this one on Princess Bride because it was a fantastical-looking thing. That makes as much sense as anything else, but I still wonder what CoConis thought about it after the fact, especially if he was familiar with the story!

 

poster art for Labyrinth

A few years later, when I was putting together the initial list of artists that I wanted to include in the pages of The Art of Fantasy, CoConis’ movie poster art for Labyrinth came to mind. Labyrinth, that whimsical yet unsettling masterpiece of 80s cinema, had etched itself onto the childhood psyche of my generation. Sarah’s iconic, etheral, dream-spun ball gown, the seductive charm of the Goblin King, and the fantastical creatures woven from Jim Henson’s puppetry magic – all captured in CoConis’ poster, a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors and enigmatic shadows. It was a call I couldn’t ignore, a chance to explore the artistic wellspring that gave birth to such a treasured piece of pop culture. Unfortunately, for some reason or another (I honestly don’t know why), the publisher could not attain permission for this. SAD TROMBONE.

Curiosity piqued nonetheless, I delved deeper into CoConis’ world, only to discover a dazzling phantasmagoria of fantastical visions that transcended movie posters and book covers. His art isn’t merely illustration; it’s a prismatic panopticon, a protoplasmic symphony where sensuality and caprice entwine. Coconis was a psychedelic storyteller painting the pulse of emotions into fantastical tapestries.  And his artistry wasn’t chained to a single canvas. It thrummed on album covers, ignited imaginations on movie posters, and whispered inscrutable promises on book jackets (like the cryptic siren above )

Accolades were plentiful for CoConis. From the Society of Illustrators to prestigious museums, his work drew awards and recognition, tangible markers of a vision that enchanted audiences. While CoConis’ earthly journey ended in 2023, the echoes of his groovy magic still resonate powerfully. Here are a few of my favorites below.

Dorian Gray (Movie poster for American International)

 


Created in 1975 for the cover of Jerzy Kosinski’s The Devil Tree, oil on board, 1975

 

The Sims Sisters (Illustration for Ladies Home Journal)

 

film poster for The Man of La Mancha

 

Shostakovich Symphony No. 14 (Album cover for RCA Records) mixed media on board 31×31

 

album art for Year Long Disaster – Black Magic; All Mysteries Revealed, 2010

 

If you enjoy these peeks at the artists I love, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

 

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Julius Sergius von Klever 

In our world often overcome with noise and clamor, there is a solace of stillness to be found in the art of Julius Sergius von Klever. Step into his hushed canvases, and you’ll be transported to landscapes that whisper promises of peace, perspective, and quiet contemplation. A realm where nature’s quiescence reigns supreme, the only sound is the gentle rustling lullaby of the wind.

Born in Estonia in 1850, von Klever captured the essence of the Baltic landscape. His brushstrokes conjured the hushed majesty of snow-laden forests, the fading light of a winter day as the sun dips below the horizon, casting long shadows across the snow-covered fields. The sky is ablaze with coral and violet, creating a stunning contrast to the pristine white panorama. The trees, their branches laden with snow, stand as silent sentinels, their silhouettes etched against the twilight sky.

And not just the spectacle of wintry splendor! There are autumnal reveries, nocturnal seaside visions, forested mushroom rambles, and thrilling horseback apparitions! All of these scenes are windows into spaces untouched by modern frenzy, the air is crisp and invigorating, the colors muted and yet somehow so incredibly alive, a palette rich with earthy greens, muted blues, and the occasional burst of golden sunlight. The figures, if present at all, are overshadowed by the grandeur of nature, reminding us of our own smallness in the face of something astonishing and enduring. But von Klever’s art is not without its own quiet drama. In the play of light and shadow on a towering oak, in the swirling mist over a distant lake, there is a hidden mystery, a murmuring of secrets waiting to be discovered.

There is a sense of timelessness in von Klever’s work. His landscapes are not frozen moments but rather seem to breathe and evolve with each passing season. They are a reminder that the natural world is a resilient and constant ever-changing entity, and that we are but a small part of its grand narrative, that beauty and wonder still exist in the world–despite our our very worst destructive human tendencies and our everyday commotion and chaos.

I made a playlist many years ago inspired by one of this artists’ paintings. I revisited it the other day, which inspired a closer look at his work and, eventually, this blog post. You can listen to it here: “Holding Up All This Falling.”

Wolf in the woods

 

Winterlandschaft, 1886

 

Der Erlkönig, ca.1887

 

Sunset in a winter forest

 

Winter Stream, Cabin, Moon

 

Sunset in a spruce forest

 

Forest landscape

 

Evening Forest, 1892

 

Moonlight Night

 

The Sea at Night

 

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The Art of Darkness has a Spanish-language edition!

I don’t know why this feels like such a big deal. The Art of the Occult has translations in Japanese, German, Korean, Czech, and French, but that all happened without my knowing much about it and with zero fanfare, at least as far as I can tell. But a few weeks ago, I was tagged in this gorgeously eerie reel on Instagram by someone who has a copy of the book, and I was recently interviewed about the book by a journalist in Madrid.

The writer referred to me as an art specialist, which makes me a little nervous because I am definitely not a specialist in anything, merely an enthusiast! And I’m not sure I said exactly what the title of the piece is implying (I think some things got lost in translation) but hopefully, readers will understand the spirit of what I was trying to convey.

I have copied our original Q&A below in its entirety if anyone is interested! I have peppered the paragraphs with a few artworks from the book to break up all the text and add visual interest; please note the published interview on the Solidaridad Digital website, does not include these extra images.

Post Apocolypse Mirror, Yaroslav Gerzhedovich

• What is the radical difference between the art of darkness and what we could call art of light?

Light and dark are two of the most fundamental tools that artists use to create their work. They can be used to explore shapes, patterns, movement, and atmosphere. But as viewers, we often notice the symbolism of light and dark before we even realize it. Light is often associated with life, goodness, and hope. Darkness is often associated with doom, gloom, and death. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind about that, but in my book, The Art of Darkness, I wanted to explore those dark themes and the negative feelings/emotions that they elicit.

I think we can learn a lot from our demons and our darkness if we stop being so scared of it and really listen to what it’s saying. It’s easy to look at a light, beautiful painting. But why not challenge yourself to peer into the discomfort of a “dark” painting and see what you learn? You might learn something about the painting, the artist, or even yourself. So next time you’re at a museum or art gallery, don’t be afraid to check out the dark paintings. They might just surprise you.

The Pit, Aron Wiesenfeld

• Do you agree with Seamus Heany’s statement that “everything I know is a door to darkness”?

I think it’s a seemingly bleak statement, evoking a sense of despair or hopelessness that might have been true for the poet, it might be true for anyone at some point in their life. When you can’t see beyond the darkened door, you could well imagine that the darkness could go on forever. Limited by our perspective, we can’t see the whole picture. This can be intimidating but it’s also a liberating realization. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to learn and grow and expand your world! You won’t know what’s beyond the threshold until you step through it.

Twilight, Rachael Bridge

• What does it take for a dream to become a nightmare, for flowers, as you explain, a symbol of life and hope, to become a threat?

That’s such an interesting question! It’s so subjective and personal, really, I mean the nightmare is in the eye (and experience and association and trauma) of the beholder. A flower blooming in the spring sunshine is dreamy, idyllic imagery, indeed…but what of the toxic sap? Or the spiderweb trailing down its stem, what of the writhing snake in its shadow? What of the dark woods looming beyond the grassy meadow?

Dreams can turn to nightmares in the blink of an eye, but if you are an arachnophile, if you are a snake handler, if you love a solitary stroll through a hushed forest–none those are going to seem all that nightmarish to you anyway! It’s fascinating to see how different artists take these ideas of innocent blooms or poisonous petals and create art that can be cheerful or dreadful, or maybe a delightful tangle of both at once–it’s all a manner of perspective.

Self-Portrait, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz

• Is there a link, as Jaspers maintained, between art and madness?

I am no expert when it comes to matters of psychiatry (nor for that matter, when it comes to matters of art) but I think a link is certainly insinuated and has made its way into our culture, because of artists who did suffer from psychological issues and who did create some of their most renowned works while institutionalized. I think there’s more to it, though, and it’s a harmful conclusion to draw. I don’t know if a troubled individual creates art because of their pain or in spite of it, but I am inclined to believe the latter.

But what of an artist who suffers from severe depression so relentless that they haven’t got the energy or will to create? Because they were not able to produce art, or something of worth from their pain, does that negate their experience? The relationship between mental unwellness and creativity has a long history and I have to imagine there is still a lot to explore. But…from a very human perspective, I don’t accept that we are obligated to draw forth the pearls of art from the anguish of our wounds.

Richard Tenant Cooper

• How does the historical context condition the art of the dark (I think, for example, of the Victorian Era, where, in addition to Jack the Ripper, Dracula, Frankenstein, Hyde…) emerged?

Art, both light and dark, is a mirror of society. It often captures the spirit of the times in which it was created. Art can show us the social, political, and economic conditions of a particular time period. It can also reflect the cultural values and beliefs of a society, as well as the artistic styles and techniques that were popular during that time.

Dark art can be a powerful way to explore the historical context of a particular time period. It can give us a glimpse into the social, political, and cultural forces that were shaping the world at the time. And it can also help us to understand the human experience of living through difficult and uncertain times. For example, during the Black Death, European artists created many works of art that depicted the death and suffering caused by the plague. These works were often deeply religious in nature and reflected the widespread fear and anxiety of the time. (And let’s not forget that a viewer’s understanding of a painting of a skeleton from the Middle Ages may be different from their understanding of a painting of a skeleton from the 21st century!)

To answer your question, the Victorian era, with its Frankensteins and Draculas, was a time of significant social and cultural changes. Britain had become a powerful industrial nation thanks to the technological breakthroughs of the Industrial Revolution, but this also led to rampant poverty and inequality. Grappling with new scientific and philosophical ideas that challenged traditional beliefs, many artworks at that time reflected the religious and intellectual turmoil of the era. And don’t forget the Victorian obsession with death and mourning—historians named this fascination with death “the Cult of Death”—thanks in part to the high mortality rates at the time and to Queen Victoria, who, after the death of Prince Albert, was to spend the next forty years in mourning.

• What types of monsters preside over our time?

In 2023, my first thought goes straight to robots, cyborgs, machines becoming sentient, that sort of thing. Beings enhanced with technology, and all the dangers that transhumanism and artificial intelligence represent. There are chilling questions of surveillance and control, the anxiety of living in a world where the line between human and machine is increasingly blurred, and the fear of living in a world where we can be utterly replaced by machines altogether.

Just look at the upsetting conversations that have sprung up around AI-generated art and art theft, with regard to actual artists whose works were used without their consent to fuel image generators. A.I. runs on a database of images harvested without the original creators’ permissions–I think that’s pretty monstrous.

Madame Satan, Georges Achille-Fould

• For a monster to be considered such, what does it require? Because there are monsters that we understand and almost admire (I think, for example, of Hannibal Lecter) and others that we would run away from without thinking)

Monsters are often seen as being outsiders or “other”. They might be physically different from humans in some way, or they may have different values and beliefs. This makes them seem threatening and dangerous; it’s human nature to fear what we don’t understand–and they represent something unknown and uncontrollable. Sometimes those attributes might be just outrageous enough to inspire awe and admiration–not necessarily fear and revulsion. But beliefs and philosophies are one thing; action and behavior is another. There’s a big difference between admiring a monster and actually wanting to hang out with one. If your monster starts doing cruel, sadistic, or destructive things, it’s time to put your admiration on hold and listen to your survival instincts. After all, who knows if you’re next?

Sometimes the most dangerous monsters are the ones who seem charming and harmless at first. They lure us in with their masks, then show us their true colors. All that said, monsters are symbols of and vessels for our fears and anxieties, whatever those might look like for the individual. They represent the things that we are most afraid of, whether it is death, sickness, giant spiders, or dapper cannibals. By confronting monsters in stories, myth–and art–we can explore our fears and anxieties in a safe and controlled environment. So the next time you’re watching a movie, feel free to face your fears and cheer for the monster, but look out for those red flags, too!

Antiquity V, Alex Eckman-Lawn

• Of all the disturbing artists that wander through these pages, which one do you feel especially fond of and why?

I especially adore Alex Eckman-Lawn’s art, which also happens to be gracing the cover of the book. Deep, dense, full of doom and gloom and dark details, his surreal, lonely collage portraits, on one hand, call forth a sickening dread in the pit of your stomach and give your heart a little lurch. But on the other, and at the same time… they cause an involuntary, choking giggle. As if a shadowy horror had crawled its way from the void to the sanctity of your home, and after an agonizing wait whilst you cower at the peephole, it gives a smart rap on the door and tells you a knock-knock joke. When you think of them in that way, instead of a face-full of nightmarish chaos, they appear wondrously playful, like a funny postcard from the midnight recesses of your soul, just when you need it most. Oh, hey, it’s just your dear old skull peeking out to say hello, that’s all, no worries! Little voids, the faces-within-your face, checking in on you from the inside, popping out to say, “hi!”

I love losing myself in the nocturnal shivers of art that evokes a feeling of darkness, but I also appreciate a keen sense of the absurd. I have massive admiration for artists who can combine these sublime sensibilities in their practice, and these works of the kooky and the macabre, often filled with sly, weird humor are some of my favorite canvases to gaze upon.

Woman Leaving the Psychoanalyst, Remedios Varo

• I think of artists that you notice, like Dorothea Tanning or Remedios Varo. What influence did psychoanalysis have on the expansion of the macabre, of the dark in art?

Surrealism was all about exploring the weird and wonderful world of the unconscious mind, inspired by Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis theories. Surrealist art often looked like dreams, with strange and sometimes disturbing images that were meant to be spontaneous and free from conscious thought and the restraints of society. But it wasn’t all utopian visions; tapping into the subconscious with its primal human fears and desires sometimes gave rise to violent or nightmarish imagery, which ranged from unsettling to downright shocking.

Maman, Louise Bourgeois

 

Fountains & Alligators (series), Ruth Marten

 

When Night Comes, Nona Limmen

• In addition to those mentioned, many others such as Bourgeois, Ruth Marten, Nona Limmen… do they differ from them when it comes to representing the dark?

I think they all differ uniquely! Ruth Marten was a pioneer of underground art; the work I included from her Fountains & Alligators series, wherein she has altered a number of somber nineteenth-century French prints to include inexplicable instances of alligators, meshes with that sublime spirit of the absurd that I referenced above. Nona Limmen’s lush, atmospheric photographs bring the otherworldly realm of fairy tales to life– if “once upon a time” always began at the stroke of midnight. Louise Bourgeois’ spider sculptures are an arachnophobe’s biggest nightmare, and though psychologically fraught, they are exceedingly clever in their twistiness. Every artist represented in the book brings a darkness to the table, worthy of delving into –just bring your curious heart and your open mind.

Ballad of Lenore, Emile Jean Horace Vernet

• What role does the supernatural play in our disbelieving society?

Whether a belief in the supernatural provides a sense of comfort and hope, or helps you make sense of the world, or whether you come from a culture heavily steeped in supernatural lore and tradition or maybe you’ve just had a powerful supernatural experience–there are many valid reasons why someone would believe these things. Even if none of the above applies to you, you still might be drawn to the mystery and excitement of it…even nonbelievers may be curious about the supernatural, or even fascinated by it! Look at all the supernatural themes we enjoy across a wide swath of entertainment– all of the vampires, zombies, ghosts, and otherworldly creatures, in our books, movies, TV shows, and video games! Even if you have no use for the supernatural in any other respect, I think you’ll be drawn to them in the art that thrills and delights you–whether it’s spooking you from the pages of a book, scaring you on the big screen, or emerging from an artist’s eerie brushstrokes on a painted canvas.

 

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Today over at the gorgeously curated, thoughtfully written Thespiai blog, I share some musings and memories on my childhood discovery of imaginative, immersive worlds in Karen Kuykendall’s Tarot of the Cat People–and how it opened my eyes, blew my mind, and shaped my relationship with creativity and the sublime.

Read more: Captivating, Curious, Chimerical: Karen Kuykendall’s Cat People from the Outer Regions.

 

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Queen of the Bad Fairies, Brian Froud

In a recent interview with Jessica Chobot of the Bizarre States: Resurrected podcast, I was asked questions about art that might not make it into my books, and why, and I thought I might share that snippet of Q&A here today. It seemed an appropriate segue for a new blog post featuring a whole slew of artworks that I included in earlier drafts of my most recent book, The Art of Fantasy: A Visual Sourcebook Of All That Is Unreal but which never made it into the final pages. There’s practically a whole separate book of works here!

For each work here today, I have included the initial caption I had written for it. These are mostly unedited, because at some point in the process it was determined I was unable to use them, so there was no point in further tweaking what I had written. I know a lot A LOT of folks who have purchased my book or read a review copy (thank you!) are probably thinking, “why is there no Frazetta or Froud in this book?!” and man oh man, I wish there could have been. They were on my wishlist from the very beginning. Brian Froud (above) and Frank Frazetta (below) were in my original drafts but had no accompanying captions because I had hoped to include them in as full-page intro artworks in one chapter or another, and those images didn’t typically include extensive captions. But sadly, we could not acquire those permissions.

You will note the works featured below are almost all exclusively by contemporary artists. There were some older works that did not make the cut, but honestly, those artists are long gone and don’t really need the exposure or the support, so that is a round-up for another time!

**Bonus material!!** If you’re curious about my inspirations, wishes, and dreams in terms of fantastical art, here’s my Pinterest board of ideas!)

The Sea Witch, Frank Frazetta

Jessica Chobot: For each of the books (Occult/ Darkness & Fantasy) how do you decide what artwork and artists get included and which do not? What’s the process in making the cut?

S. Elizabeth: This is something that happens from almost the very beginning of the process straight up through the end. I’ve worked with the same editor for all three of my books, and from a procedural standpoint, the projects are pretty similar. The first step is to assemble a sort of dream list of artists or artworks I want to include. My editor will go over it and give some feedback, and mostly I’d say it’s 70% “Sure, these are great,” and 30% “No, I don’t think so, it’s too this, that, or the other thing, or not enough of this thing we’re trying to convey.”

From then, I’ll study the works and see what themes jump out at me and what other works share those themes and come up with a sort of structure that connects everything. To me, that’s a little more interesting than a book of art that groups things chronologically or by art movement or some such. At this point, we’ll schedule a series of deadlines where I’ll submit, say, three chapters for review. In review, it’s again possible that my editor might say, “okay, these three artists don’t really fit this theme very well, can you find more appropriate examples?” And so on and so on until I’ve written the whole book. At that point, there might be 50-100 artists who didn’t make the cut!

And then, once we’re all satisfied with everything…we have to reach out and acquire permissions from the artists. Sometimes, it’s pretty straightforward, and that’s great, but sometimes you have to go through an agent or a gallery or an estate if the artist is deceased; sometimes the artist’s fees might be too much, sometimes there’s no way to get ahold of the artist (so many contemporary artists do not have clear-cut ways of contacting them!) and even if you have jumped through a thousand hoops to find a way to email or DM them…they might never respond. Or they might say no! Which while disappointing, is totally fine and understandable, and that is not a complaint on my part. No artist is obligated to do anything with their work once they’ve created it; they don’t have to sell it, license it, or even show it if they don’t want to! So, at this point, I might have to cut another 50 pieces from the book and work on finding 50 new ones! Sometimes there are even issues with the public domain artworks that I’m trying to include, so even these types of works are not a 100% sure thing. Putting together image-heavy art books is A PROCESS.

JC: What’s an example of something that you wish you could have put into one of the collections? Is there something that hit the cutting room floor that, in hindsight, you think maybe should have been left back in?

SE: In The Art of the Occult, I wish I could have included Rosaleen Norton, the infamous Witch of King’s Cross, whose works were bold and beautifully perverse, and hers were some of the very first I thought of in compiling my initial ideas. In The Art of Darkness, I would have loved to include Gertrude Abercrombie’s stark, witchy, enigmatic landscapes and portraits, and in The Art of Fantasy, OF COURSE, I was desperate to include Brian Froud because in a book of fantasy art, how could you not? But it’s not always meant to be, and in the end, I am over the moon thrilled with all of the artworks and artists that we were able to include and who permitted us to use their work. What’s a little irksome is that there will be readers who are like, “I can’t believe that X/Y/Z artist isn’t in here!” And it’s like, “I’m sorry, dudes! I wanted them in there, too!”

Anyhow, so there’s that! See below for a gallery of fantastical art-shaped holes in my heart (and book), as well as some notes/thoughts on each.

Untitled, Yoshioka

This enigmatic mistress of owls was for a time one of those frustrating internet mysteries of the modern age wherein one’s friends or acquaintances or even a stranger’s social media account shares imagery but they don’t know who the artist is or where it came from. Luckily for us, we also live in a time that provides us tools and technology to help us find the answers to questions like this! Not much is known regarding the elusive creator responsible for this work, known only as Yoshioka but we can let our imaginations run wild envisioning the owlish tea-party fantasy magics steeping in this hazy scene.

 

Morningstar, Lily Seika Jones.

Lily Seika Jones is a full-time artist/illustrator whose highly detailed, whimsical watercolour and ink paintings, take inspiration from her favourite childhood stories and mid-century illustrators, as well as the natural world of the Pacific Northwest. Lily is interested in how myths and fairy tales shape our childhood and the world around us, and sees her art-making as an exploration of the significance of these stories as we grow up.

 

Untitled, Rachel Suggs.

Rachel Suggs’ brilliantly imaginative work combines inspired colour palettes and tender sensibilities with fanciful flora and fauna for scenes that feel like you’ve had a brush with a fantastical daydream. In the folklore of various cultures and ancient civilizations, rabbits have been known to represent a kind of Trickster figure. In Chinese, Japanese, and Korean mythology, rabbits live on the moon. These bunnies and assorted rabbit-like creatures have hopped down through many years of history into our fantasy stories!

 

Beauty, Susan Seddon Boulet

Captivated in early childhood with nature, the freedom of animals, and the magic of the moon, Susan Seddon Boulet (1941 – 1997) enjoyed a rich fantasy life on the cattle ranch where she group up and through the folk tales and stories told by her father and caretakers on the farm developed her love of fantasy and fairy tales. Sent to Switzerland once she displayed a talent for drawing, Boulet went on to create over 2000 pieces of art over the course of her life. Influenced by a variety of writers and philosophies, including Ursula Le Guin, and Anais Nin, as well as Jungian psychology,, the Tarot, the I Ching, this artist mined the collective psyches of unseen worlds for the rich vein of wonder and reverie that suffuses her numinous works.

The Witch King, Anato Finnstark

Seekers on a sacred quest to experience epic amounts of the mythical and magical in their art will rejoice in the realms of mystery and wonder wrought by fantasy artist Anato Finnstark. A freelance illustrator based in Paris, in the dark shadows of this thrillingly frightful creation, Finnstark brings us an undying sorcerer of incomparable fear and dread, the Witch King of Angmar. Once a mortal king of men, the Witch King was corrupted by one of the nine Rings of Power, becoming an undying wraith in the service of Sauron from J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy stories.

 

The Horus Heresy, Adrian Smith

I have it on good authority that It may be impossible to sum up Warhammer 40k in two sentences. I’m going to try.  A miniature science fantasy tabletop wargame that takes place in the grim darkness of the far future where there is only war; a dystopian vision of the 41st millennium replete with a xenophobic and fascist galaxy-spanning Imperium of Man, fighting innumerable neverending conflicts against various inhuman opponents, among them sadistic space elves, raging interstellar orc hordes, and, of course, their own traitorous comrades. An amalgamation of every science fiction subgenre, trope, plot, etc., all cranked up to 12– it’s a lot and to sum up, the Warhammer 40K universe is a pretty horrible place to live.  Adrian Smith is a British illustrator especially well known for his work depicting the darkly horrific fantasy worlds in the early days of Warhammer and 40k.

 

Goblin, Itsuko Azuma 1984

To say that Japanese artist Itsuko Azuma  is a bit of an enigma, or a mite elusive–well, that’s certainly a massive understatement. There is not much in the way of information available on this creator, so let us instead examine this creature that they have conjured onto the page. Goblins, or some form of goblin-like creature, are found in cultures the world over, and typically their small stature belies the vast unpleasantness of their disposition. Ill-tempered and gleefully malicious they are! This example, in Azuma’s distinctive dreamlike and trembling style, portrays a little goblin person dancing a furious jig atop a mushroom.

 

 

American artist Jeffrey Catherine Jones’ (1944-2011) beautifully haunting images graced the covers of over 150 books through 1976, and fantasy artist Frank Frazetta called Jones “the greatest living painter.”* Jones’ visions of gently contemplative women, awash in atmospheres of solitude and brooding elegance engaged fantasy enthusiasts in a different way, creating a quieter, more reflective, and emotional connection to the art than the era’s more commonly depicted oiled and gleaming muscle-bound, sword-swinging counterparts .

 

Michael Wm Kaluta

An admirer of Aubrey Beardsley, and Alfonse Mucha, and later Roy Krenkel and Frank Frazetta, these influences can be glimpsed in the work of Michael William Kaluta —and yet the exquisitely elaborate detail depicted in his visions is intensely, unmistakably his own. In the mid-1970s, this artist rented a studio with three other dreamers of fantastical brillance: Jeffrey Jones, Bernie Wrightson, and Barry Windsor-Smith, (some of the names of which may sound familiar because you read about them earlier in this chapter!) Together they formed an artists’ collective, known simply as The Studio, an association lasted which lasted only four years, but an enduring impact on these artists’ works. Known and praised for his Lord of the Rings paintings amongst many other things, Kaulta also contributed artwork to Glenn Danzig’s fourth album, Black Aria. You wouldn’t think I’d try to work a Glenn Danzig reference into a book celebrating the beauty and majesty of fantasy art but I have no shame and here we are.

 

untitled, MON

I have been losing myself in the lush, lepidopteran shadows of this suit of armor ever since I first espied it. Or is this not a protective carapace but rather a tender cocoon of fragile, filigreed chaos, color, and poetry? Whatever is happening here, this glittering, Baroque haiku of a creature by Japanese artist Mon Mon (b.?) has thoroughly captured my imagination and I am desperate to know their story, how it unfolds and unfurls, and where its glittering mystery ultimately leads us.

 

Sibyl, Barry Windsor Smith

Whether you reveled in the beauty he brought to the barbarian, Conan, were enchanted by the romance of his dreamy fantasy paintings, or perhaps you were bewitched by the inclusion of one of his most eerie works in my previous book, The Art of the Occult, no doubt Barry Windsor Smith’s art left a lasting impression on your psyche and your heart. Heavily influenced by the art of the Pre-Raphaelites and Art Nouveau, with a fluid penwork and hatching style reminiscent of illustrators of Arthurian legends like Howard Pyle, this Eisner Award Hall-of-Famer, genre-shaping fantasy artist and 50-year veteran of the industry is noted as being the first bring those sensibilities to American comic book art in a significant way.

 

 

“Transfiguration” from The Moon Has Come Up, Sulamith Wulfing

Born in 1901 to Theosophist parents, German artist and illustrator Sulamith Wülfing (1901-1989) began drawing her visions of angels and nature spirits at age four. These enigmatic visions continued throughout her life and directly inspired the delicate otherworldliness of her wistful twilight paintings that we still swoon and sigh over today. Wülfing paintings typically conjure a fairy-tale atmosphere, featuring fair-haired, fey young beings in luminous woodland settings, surrounded by brambles and thorns, moths and butterflies, and delicately rendered florals.

 

 

Beholder, Scott M. Fischer, Forgotten Realms Monster Manual

Scott M. Fischer. (b.) is an old-school D&D player who loves fantasy art and who has been creating the sort of art he loves for Wizards of the Coast iconic Magic the Gathering game, among other things, since the mid 1990’s. As a matter of fact, in the 4th grade, he had a school assignment about what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he recalls writing “I want to make the art for Dungeons and Dragons.” We must imagine then, having the dream-come-true opportunity to illustrate the Beholder for the Monster Manual, his inner fourth grader must have been over the moon! What’s a Beholder, you ask? Well, I am glad you did, though you may not be glad for the knowledge. A beholder is all head, with a slavering set of jaws, and has ten eyestalks and one central eye, each manifesting nightmarish, deadly magic. Floating through the air, carving out their lairs with their eyebeams, these despotic monsters are terrifically paranoid, megalomaniacal delights.

 

 

Thomas Blackshear

African American artist Thomas Richman Blackshear II works are things of wonderment: blessings and lessons. Strange miracles. Heavens and hells. Emotionally powerful,with an extraordinary sense of color, drama, and design, the artist describes his painting style as “Afro-Nouveau” and describes it as artwork that “reflects not only my visions as a black man and the unique visions of black people, it represents visions we all share regardless of the color of our skin. Emotions like hope, love, tenderness, faith, and serenity know no boundaries​.” In the image above a powerful, winged beast pensively gazes out at a rushing waterfall while a flock of white birds pass by, undisturbed. Its intentions are unclear…dare we disturb it to find out?

 

Cyril Van Der Haegen

Contemporary artist Cyril Van Der Haegen has provided illustrations for an impressive number of board games, and numerous Magic the Gathering and WOW cards. His work is a fascinating combination of vivid, luminous color against grims shadow-shrouded settings, such as this malevolent menagerie of monsters closing in upon a lone adventurer, his lantern aloft, a faint, flickering shield against the encroaching dark.

 

 

Sand Worm from Dune, Alexey Shugurov

In contemporary fantasy artist Alexey Shugurov’s work, we are treated to an up-close visit with one of the colossal sandworms of Arakkis from Frank Herbert’s epic Dune. Based on the dragons from mythology that typically guard over some type of treasure, found in such stories as Beowulf and Jason and the Golden Fleece, the sandworms and the space travel “spice” they produced were more or less a plot device to get Paul Atreides where he needed to–that being a state of superhuman ascension. Herbert believed that a memorable myth must have something profoundly moving –a force dangerous and terrifying and yet also somehow essential–that could either empower the hero or overwhelm him completely.

 

 

Monstress, Sana Takeda

In the epic fantasy comics series, Monstress, Japanese Hugo and Eisner Award-winning illustrator and comic book artist Sana Takeda brings to life a dark world struggling with the aftermath of a war between humanity and supernatural forces, wherein teenager Maika Halfwolf shares a mysterious psychic link with a violent monster. An entity that takes over both her body and mind, the demon is a source of great power, but presents a terrible struggle for Maika to understand, reconcile with, and control. These twisted realms of magic and chaos are richly imagined and mesmerizing, with creatures that are bring-you-to-tears adorable and terrifying–in marvelous different ways.

 

The Favorite, Omar Rayyan 2010, oil on panel

Omar Rayyan has illustrated children’s books, provided art for Magic: The Gathering, and helped to create the look for the motion picture The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. His work, steeped in rich, fantastical narratives and the sumptuous settings of old-world aesthetics, draws inspiration and guidance from the great oil painters of the North­ern Renaissance and the Romantic and Symbolist painters of the 19th century. Those expecting to see the traditional portraits and classical subjects of a bygone era may be in for a shock! I think it’s a fun shock, though. Rayyan’s canvases frequently depict whimsical interminglings of animals and humans, and, well, whatever this little beastie pictured above is, in endearing imaginings of companionship and camaraderie. This adorable little girl and her darling favorite even have matching flowers in their hair. Twinsies!

 

The Faith Militant, Tim Durning 

Drawing inspiration from his love of nature, light, and pattern, contemporary artist Tim Durning works as a freelance illustrator for clients in the editorial, publishing and game markets. This appreciation for form and illumination can seen in cards and illustrations for the Game of Thrones card game, with the rainbow sword and seven-pointed star of the book’s Faithful Militant faction portrayed as a stylized stained glass window. The Faith of the Seven, often simply referred to as the Faith, is the dominant religion in most of the Seven Kingdoms in George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones series. Members of the Faith worship the Seven Who Are One, a single deity with seven aspects or faces. Their Sacred Scripture is called The Seven-Pointed Star.

 

Tiamat, Tyler Jacobson

In contemporary artist Tyler Jacobson’s work, you will find the drama of fantastical cinematic moments, brilliantly captured and frozen majestically in time. An award-winning illustrator whose work has been featured in magazines, games, and books, Jacobson combines intensely vivid colors, intriguing depths of chiaroscuro, and magnetic composition in the thrilling scenes he creations, such as the massive, 5-headed supremely powerful draconian goddess Tiamat, here. Tiamat is the queen and mother of evil dragons and a member of the Dungeons & Dragons pantheon whose name is taken from Tiamat, a primordial goddess in ancient Mesopotamian mythology.

 

Dinosaur Race, John Pitre

Fantasy painter John Pitre materializes entire worlds completely from his imagination, wielding his expressive paintbrush as an instrument of powerful social commentary. Uniting celestial and terrestrial aspects in otherworldly surroundings, the artist establishes a sense of balance and unity between living creatures and their strange planetary surroundings. The Hawaii-based artist’s fantasy canvases echo the real life issues that concern today’s society, including “the threat of overpopulation, the ominous shadow of nuclear war, and the ecological deterioration of our planet.”

 

Rat people in the Vaulted Chamber in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, illustrated by Chris Riddell

This strikingly atmospheric, painstakingly detailed black-and-white line art by contemporary artist Chris Riddel depicts ‘London Below,’ the fantastical underground counterpart of the modern city of London in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Drawing on the irresistible fascination and morbid curiosity we all have with places of dark, sooty, griminess–subways, sewers, and dark alleys, and mysterious openings to places that are forbidden to us, and perhaps growing out of a wondering what happens to the city’s less fortunate who slip beneath the radar and fall through the cracks of modern life, this is imagery that conjures the feeling of a community fading and forgotten, buried under so much dust and neglect.

 

The Metropolis of Tomorrow, Hugh Ferriss  

Visionary American architect and master of shadow and light Hugh Macomber Ferriss (1889 – 1962) believed that skyscrapers were the product of a culture devoid of spirituality, and yet the man is now perhaps best known for his drawings of brooding, coldly alien skyscrapers. And if that rings a little strange, even more strange how, though Ferriss evidently never designed a single noteworthy building, it was observed after his death that “he influenced a generation of architects more than any other man.” This inspiration trickles down to influence popular culture, in the elaborate spires and  looming silhouettes that piece the Gotham City skyline.

 

Paris of the Future, Moebius, Serigraph

The influence of French artist, cartoonist, and writer Jean Giraud/Moebius’ (1938-2012) signature blend of relentlessly imaginative psychedelic fantasy and surrealism stretches as far as the vast, strange horizons of his incredibly heady works.  Contributing storyboards and concept designs to numerous science fiction and fantasy films, Giraud also co-founded Metal Hurlant (translated in English as Heavy Metal) in 1974, a magazine, unlike anything else at the time, and which revived a genre that had been dismissed by critics. The colorful, ecstatic optimism of the futuristic view of Paris, observed both by us, and four onlookers surveying from up high, beautifully illustrates the Antoine de Saint Exupery quote (inscribed beneath their vantage point) which reads: “The future is not to be predicted, but to be permitted.” 

 

A typical city courtyard with a fountain envisioned by Phillipe Druillet

Known for his explosively detailed panoramic vistas and epic architecture, Philippe Druillet created wildly innovative ways to tell fantastical stories in comic format. Rife with wildly decorated armor, weapons, spaceships, immersive landscapes, and colossal statuary, and detailed to the point of delirium, the more one is drawn into one of his often full-page illustrations, the more one’s mind is thoroughly boggled.

 

The Great A’tuin, Paul Kidby

 Sir Terry Pratchett was the author responsible for a splendid cannon of literature including the celebrated Discworld series of 41 novels. Great A’Tuin, is the gigantic turtle upon whose back the Discworld was carried through space, although, to be precise, the Disc does not rest directly on A’Tuin; instead, it rests on the shoulders of four immense elephants, Berilia, Tubul, Great T’Phon and Jerakeen, who stand atop the turtle’s shell.  Many things remain unknown about Great A’Tuin; these were matters of constant speculation by philosophers, mystics, and theologians. Nobody knows where it goes, or why, except probably Great A’Tuin itself. Paul Kidby (b.1964) was Pratchett’s ‘artist of choice’ for the award and has designed the ‘Discworld’ book jackets since 2002.

 

 

Earthsea, Rebecca Guay 

In Ursula K. Le Guin’s coming-of-age story, A Wizard of Earthsea, we meet Ged, who as a wild and proud young wizard makes a terrible mistake. A major theme in Le Guin’s created world is the ethical and proper use of power; all inhabitants of Earthsea are aware of something called the Equilibrium, and maintaining the Equilibrium means maintaining the pattern and the order of the Earthsea universe. Lush and emotionally charged with vivid languor Rebecca Guay’s Earthsea artwork strikes a compelling balance between the classical and the surreal.

Kushiel’s Dart Donato Giancola

Painter of breathtakingly realistic imaginative narratives, Donato Giancola  balances modern concepts with historical inspirations to create mesmerizing works bridging the worlds of the contemporary and the classical. In this anniversary edition of Jacqueline Carey’s epic fantasy Kushiel’s Dart for the Science Fiction Book Club Giancola has rendered gods-marked courtesan-spy Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève lush in every way an incandescent vision in deep scarlet sangoire, blood spilled by starlight. In Terre d’Ange, where all forms of love are considered sacred, “Love as Thou Wilt” forms the basis of D’Angeline religious belief.  Moving in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitor,  Phèdre trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland.

The Amazon queen Penthesilea, Alan Lee

The daughter of Ares and queen of the legendary Amazons, Penthesileia was a bold, heroic character who famously led her troops to Troy in support of King Priam during the Trojan War. Said to have accidentally killed her sister Hippolyta, it’s possible that Penthesileia was seeking redemption in honor of a warrior’s death, which tragically came to pass at the hand of Achilles in the battles that ensued. Penthesilea’s story is a fascinating study of grief and fate and destiny; just a glimpse into her frank gaze in this haunting watercolor by Alan Lee, and you know that where she’s headed–she doesn’t intend to return.  

 

A New Hope, The Brothers Hildebrandt

Greg and Tim Hildebrandt, known as the Brothers Hildebrandt, worked collaboratively as award-winning fantasy and science fiction artists for six decades, creating illustrations for some of the most influential comic books, movie posters of a generation–everything from their world-renowned poster for Star Wars to the best-selling calendars illustrating J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Their imaginations stirred by by comics, stoked by science fiction novels and films, and influenced by illustrators N.C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish, their dynamic, delightful works are forever favorites among fans.

 

Jor-El and Lara Lor Van, Nico Delort 2016

An illustrator working out of Paris, France, Nico Delort creates magnificent pen and ink compositions on their preferred medium of scratchboard, drenched in dramatic lighting, teeming with intricate detail, nuance, and evocative storytelling. In this dramatic work created for French Paper Art Club, we observe with hushed awe the hero Superman is in his Fortress of Solitude, hovering reverently before the miniature city of Kandor, last remnant of Krypton, and the giant statues of his parents, Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van.

 

Lucid Dreaming for Magic the Gathering, Nils Hamm

What if you could shape your dreams in whatever way you please? Lucid dreaming refers to a special type of dream where you’re consciously aware that you’re dreaming and during which time the dreamer may gain some amount of control over the dream characters, narrative, or environment. What fun! Personally, I’d eat a lot of jelly donuts and go on wild shopping sprees,, but with lucid dreaming, the only limit is your imagination, so your mileage may vary! In this Magic the Gathering sorcery card illustration by Nils Hamm  a player can draw X amount of cards, wherein X is the number of card types in your discard pile. In this lovely bit of fantasy-inspired whimsy, the things you’ve lost along the way work toward granting you a small measure of control in obtaining things that might behoove your future plays.

Labyrinth movie poster, Ted Coconis

The legendary Ted Coconis has been painting and drawing for over 70 years and capturing our imaginations (well, I speak for the Gen X imaginations, at any rate) with pencils paint and ink, art, ever since we were children. Weaving together sensuality, emotion, memory, and fantasy has appeared in every major magazine and has been featured on dozens of iconic book covers and movie posters such as The Princess Bride and, of course, the hyper-gorgeous, ultra-memorble visuals for Jim Henson’s dark-hearted childhood dream, Labyrinth.  

Little Nemo tribute: Dream Another Dream, Toby Cypress

Little Nemo in Slumberland was a full-page weekly comic strip created by the American cartoonist and animator, Windsor McCay in 1905. In each installment, a boy named Nemo dreams up an adventure which always ends with him waking up at home, in bed. We begin with King Morpheus of Slumberland commanding one of his Oomps to bring Nemo to Slumberland and eventually learn that Nemo has been summoned to be the playmate of Slumberland’s Princess–although this dream-quest is constantly interrupted. In contemporary artist Toby Cypress’s gloomy, glorious tribute, the delirium of Nemo’s dreams abound.

 

The Sandman, Yoshitako Amano

Yoshitaka Amano’s ethereal paintings of magical creatures, spirits, goblins, and apparitions have been praised and admired the world over, with influences that include Western comic books, art nouveau, and Japanese woodblock prints. The artist has won awards for his work, including the 1999 Bram Stoker Award for his collaboration with Neil Gaiman, Sandman: The Dream Hunters. Featuring striking painted artwork, this love story, set in ancient Japan, tells the story of a humble young monk and a magical, shape-changing fox who find themselves drawn together. As their romance blooms, the fox becomes aware of demonic intrigues threatening the life of her love; with the help of Morpheus, the King of All Night’s Dreamings, the fox must use all of her wiles to thwart the evil scheme. Written for the tenth anniversary of Sandman, it was no fairy tale adaptation, as some believed, but rather an original story posing as an adaptation, with Gaiman himself providing the misdirection in the form of an unreliable Afterword in which he cites his cheeky, fabricated sources.

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Image credit: Don Maitz artwork featured in Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-fi Art of the 1970s

I am currently reading Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-fi Art of the 1970s by Adam Rowe and I am enjoying it immensely. Aside from being stuffed to the gills with phenomenal science fiction art–from the abstract and avant-garde to the trippy and surreal, from the murky and lurid to the vivid, vibrant, and hyperrealistic–on top of all that, it is written in exactly the way I want to read about art.

Well-informed, brimming with details, and powerfully engrossing sure, but Rowe’s voice is chatty, warm, and irreverent–like you’re being regaled by one of your smartest, funniest, nerdiest friends. You no doubt know of Adam Rowe from his Twitter and Tumblr accounts, where he shares otherworldly, alien retro sci-fi art on an almost daily basis…but while those are both awesome places to peek in at, it’s not the same as having this outstanding book at your fingertips.

Of course, the imagery he has curated is tremendous, but what makes this such a special collection is the enthusiasm, fondness, and overall spirit of curiosity and wonder that infuses every single word in this book. You never doubt even for a second that Adam Rowe is absolutely jazzed about these artworks–and he wants you to be, too.

I will probably write a longer review once I finish the book, and if I do a year-end round-up of gift book ideas, Worlds Beyond Time is going to be right up at the very top.

What does any of this have to do with 31 Days of Horror? Well, I just today finished the Monsters chapter in a section of the book, wherein artists “blend fiction and arguable fact, looking at how artists and illustrators reinterpreted old science-fiction tropes like creepy creatures and alien priests to represent the latest cryptid or mystic vision.”

I thought I might share two of my favorite works from this chapter, the first being Don Maitz’s 1977 cover for Eerie #91, and the second, Richard Hescox’s 1985 cover for Alan Burt Akers’s Omens of Kregen, featuring a final confrontation from the book, in which a bestiary of googly-eyed, wriggly-tentacled monsters have assembled to protect their queen. I know these guys are meant to be scary, but there’s something about this menagerie that tickles my fancy. The “weird and gross but adorable” fancy!

P.S. If you follow me and maybe you’re not a huge sci-fi art fan, but the name Don Maitz rings a bell, it’s because I am always sharing this image.

Image credit: Richard Hescox artwork featured in Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-fi Art of the 1970s

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