cover art by George Ziel for Shorecliff by Marilyn Ross

A full moon hangs low in the sky, its eerie glow casting flickering shadows in the tangled, overgrown gardens. Ancient trees loom like spectral sentinels, their gnarled branches tangling the curls of an anguished heroine, her hair whipping in the wind as she flees an unseen menace. Hark, a lone candle beckons from a distant window–but is it in welcome, or in warning?

In the shadowy realm where danger and desire entwine, George Ziel’s (1914–1982) haunting brushstrokes captured the essence of the genre, bringing to life its dark and captivating world. Ablaze with passion and peril and replete with the gothic imagery of crumbling castles, abandoned ruins, and overgrown cemeteries, these works were mesmerizing bewitchments, both beautiful and terrifying, invitations into a world of mystery and suspense.

cover art by George Ziel for The Haunting of Elizabeth Calder

An artist in his very soul regardless of circumstance, Ziel (born Jerzy Zielensky) survived the atrocities of WWII and the Warsaw Ghettos with his powerful need to create art intact; after his liberation and during hospital convalescence, he turned the desperate scrap paper and charcoal sketches of his fellow prisoners in the notorious camp into new drawings which were then collected into stark, unforgettable books and published in 1946.

After the war, Ziel moved to New York City and embarked upon his incredibly prolific career as a commercial artist, creating countless pulp paperback novel covers. He left behind a legacy of many hundreds of lurid book covers– brooding gothics, macabre horror, even lush romances– a lifetime of painterly visions and shivery wonderments to capture the imagination and transport readers to mysterious realms of secrets and darkness.

Read more of George Ziel’s biography and career over at Lynn Munroe books, and see below for a small gallery of my favorites from among his beautiful nightmares.

 

cover art by George Ziel for Inherit the Mirage by Julia Thatcher

 

cover art by George Ziel for Twilight Return by Jean Kimbro

 

cover art by George Ziel for The Storm Witch by Elisabeth Barr

 

cover art by George Ziel for The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart

 

cover art by George Ziel for Nightgleams by Julia Thatcher

 

cover art by George Ziel for Black Candle by Christine Randell

 

covert art by George Ziel for Appleshaw by Christine Damien

 

cover art by George Ziel for House of the Darkest Death by Alicia Grace

 

cover art by George Ziel for Dark Waters of Death by Sharon Wagner

 

cover art by George Ziel for Whispering Gables by Sandra Abbott

 

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Back in the dark ages of 2010, I found this intriguing gal on a wunderkammer of a website called Ectoplasmosis, and shared it on my own Tumblr.  The span of internet years is akin to vast aeons, so of course, thirteen years later, the Ectoplasmosis blog has long since crumbled to dust …but it has not exactly blown away in the wind as if it never existed at all. I just checked, and there is an Ectoplasmosis Tumblr, and it looks like one of the co-founders is still around. At the time of my initial queries, they never answered my questions about who this mysterious headdress gal was, so it’s doubtful they know anything more over a decade later, so I never bothered following up over the years.

I probably saw her image, sans context, online right around the same time I was doing some digging on the mysterious, similarly dramatic-headdressed woman who turned out to be Maria Germanova, a Russian actress. I don’t know if I can take credit for putting Maria’s name to that enigmatic face, but there was nothing online connecting her name to that carte de visite until I found it, so I think I can!

I do make a point of sharing the above image on social media every year or so because I am hopeful that it will eventually hit a pair of eyeballs that know something about the provenance of the image. It’s been pretty dismal pickings, though. Everyone always confidently asserts, “It’s Theda Bara!!” (probably because they are thinking of this image), and while I don’t consider myself an expert in identifying things like this, I have never agreed with that assessment. Many other people often suggest the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (who strangely enough is erroneously noted as having Maria Germanova’s face, such as in this Wide Walls article, which is going to annoy me until the day I die, but oh well, I guess.)

At any rate, many years have passed since I first began the quest for the identity of the horned headdress woman, and it has remained frustratingly fruitless… until now.

I was recently involved in another mystery, that of the cover artist for a particular edition of A Wrinkle in Time (if you don’t care to read the transcript or listen to the excellent podcast, it’s Richard Bober), and the NYT picked up and reported on the story as well. In asking me a few questions about it, the reporter inquired if I had any more mysteries I needed help with, and I thought EUREKA! Here’s a chance to get way more eyeballs in my arsenal!

Earlier this year, I made a little meme with this image, and on that post an Instagram commenter by the moniker of “doctorstockton” pointed me to the UF site, where someone was curating and highlighting “Gems of the Archive” –and unholy towering headdresses, there she was in this collection of  Cuban Cigarette Cards of Erotica. According to the information here, apparently, in order to sell cigarettes to Cubans still wedded to hand-rolled cigars, Cuba’s earliest cigarette companies began including images of scantily clad and sometimes even bare-breasted women in every box. This collection dates from the early 1920s and advertised the company Cigarros Nacionales on the back of every card; every card invites the smokers to collect all ten series of cards. So…our mysterious headdress woman was a collectible trading card? Like a Garbage Pail Kid?

I immediately reached out to the Cuban Studies Department to see if anyone was able to share any additional information, and I received the most marvelous email back from Lillian Guerra, Ph.D., a Professor of Cuban & Caribbean History at the University of Florida. Professor Guerra generously offered that:

“The whole bunch of these cards are available in an archival collection under my name at UF and is open for viewing to the public. That will not necessarily get you any further on who this female model was, but I am fairly certain that her name was “Geraldy” and that she is also featured in the card that we placed right next to the one with the horned crown: I-7. Her real name was Geraldina, although I don’t know her last name. She was quite famous in the 1910s and 1920s. I have always wondered if she starred in the Cuban theatre of the time as she clearly appears in that guise, rather than simply in lingerie like many others.”

She then goes on to add:

“…The women in these cards were not sex workers, per se; they did generally work in the cabaret business and may have been free-lance sex workers, but the quality of the imagery here speaks to the notion that they were not of the lowest licensed class of sex workers. (In Cuba, there were five categories of licensed prostitutes under Spanish colonial rule in the 19th century.) It is likely that these women modelled for expensive lingerie stores that catered to the women of the highest elite class on the side of main professional occupations as elite cabaret dancers, singers and waitresses.”

Professor Guerra notes that they will not be uploading the new material for the site until October 1, but will run new material every month from Oct 1 until the end of May 2024. She says hat she will be featuring female figures in the first set of Gems of the Archives, mostly teachers, and that she is trying to make it more intimate in the history it tells this year. I, for one, will be checking in often to see what fascinating individuals she will feature in the future.

So…I think that may be as solved as this mystery is going to get for the time being! What do you think?  Many, many thanks to doctorstockton for the tip and Professor Guerra for the knowledge,  insight, and stories. No thanks at all given to the people with an overinflated sense of confidence who keep insisting this woman was Theda Bara, with absolutely no proof or evidence at all.

 

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I am very much a creature of habit.

So, much as I did for the two previous books, I was compelled to create a “How To Wear” for my newest offering, The Art of Fantasy! These items were pieced together to create an ensemble full of *immaculate vibes* and not because I’m trying to get you to buy any of these things; my sartorial daydreams are opulent and not inexpensive, so yes–many of these things are stupidly pricey, I am well aware of that! Also, I apologize if some of these things are sold out or discontinued, but you can often find the same or similar items on resale sites.

Ulla Johnson Fiona Dress (no longer available) // Dita von Teese bra and panties // Valentino shawl (no longer available) // Cecelia Hibiscus Heels //Jennifer Behr butterfly pin set // Braccacialini snail handbag // Renaissance cameo pendant // bloodmilk Dreaming Underground ritual strand (no longer available) // Porter Gulch Marie Ring // Rituel de Fille Anthelion Gold Luminizer // Amali carved dove ring // Pillar opal ring // Imaginary Authors Whispered Myths fragrance // Florasis Goddess palette

BONUS! Here are the ensembles I assembled for the previous two books…

 

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Riverside, Danny Flynn. As seen in The Art of Fantasy

Whether you tumbled down a rabbit hole, traveled via a traumatic tornado or magic train ride, or perhaps even found yourself caught up in the machinations of an artist’s daydream of strange terrains, opulent palaces, and enchanted forests– the very idea of wonderlands where adventure dwells sends the imagination soaring and sets the scene for unforgettably dramatic visuals.

Garden of Hope, James Gurney. As seen in The Art of Fantasy

Artists construct worlds and invite us to enter. A painterly brushstroke is a door left ajar, a peek behind the rustle of a curtain or in the mirror’s depths, through which we catch a glimpse of another world. In that spirit, here are some unbelievable views from the lush, imaginative neverworlds found in my forthcoming book, The Art of Fantasy (to be released into this realm in less than a month’s time on September 12, 2023!)

Dinosaur Beach, Frank Kelly Freas. As seen in The Art of Fantasy

 

De gouden stad (The Golden City), Johfra Bosschart. As seen in The Art of Fantasy

 

The Garden, Martina Hoffman. As seen in The Art of Fantasy

 

Fungus Gigantica, Bruce Pennington. As seen in The Art of Fantasy

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This interview originally appeared on the Haute Macabre blog on May 25, 2017. It references some things that were happening in the artist’s life at that time, and looking back, I wish I’d been a bit more sensitive in my phrasing—many apologies to Tyler, who graciously and generously fielded my boorish questions with enthusiasm and aplomb.  I think back upon his responses and am inspired anew, over and over again.  

Since this interview, Tyler has become a very cool plant guru on Instagram AND has begun a project called Moonbeam Flora, creating gorgeous glow-in-the-dark bouquets out of invasive plants for meditative relaxation.

When I was in the sixth grade and it was the dreaded Science Fair projects time of the year (did everyone hate this as much as I did? Or was I just a really awful student?) my grandfather hit upon the grand idea that we were going to grow crystals in both salt solutions and sugar solutions and see which one was more successful. If I recall, the sugar solution yielded a better crop: small, but beautiful, delicate crystalline structures climbing upwards along a damp string tied to a wooden Popsicle stick, which hung across the top of a garage sale-scavenged glass mason jar. Absurdly proud of the results, I brought the project to school a few days before it was actually due, and was horrified as our classroom’s most popular girl, Mary Lisa Howell, entirely unprompted by me, reached into the jar of sugar crystals, snapped off a particularly lovely specimen, and started munching on it. I quite clearly remember her guileless face, looking at me as if she thought she was doing me a favor. Ugh! I locked myself in a bathroom stall, sobbed for twenty minutes straight, and vowed I was done with science forever.

Crystals, however, I shall forever be obsessed with. And when I discovered Tyler Thrasher’s exquisite creations in late 2014, my obsession reached a fever pitch. Tyler collects lifeless creatures and found objects and bestows upon them new life by growing shimmering crystal clusters on them. And I don’t know if his crystals have ever been eaten by an overzealous fan, but if he was able to bounce back, better than ever, after a devastating house fire – then he’s sure not going to let an eleven year-old bully with a sweet tooth get in his way.

As it turns out, Tyler Thrasher is a handful of things, including artist, scientist, music producer, traveler, rare plant collector, photographer (and even just a handful, period), and I was delighted that this goofball alchemist agreed to chat with me. Read on for our interview about life after the fire, creation in dark times, and the importance of curiosity, experimentation, and living your own goddamn story.

S. Elizabeth: First, I wanted to check in and see how you’ve been doing after the terrible fire that destroyed your home and belongings last December? I am a fervent checker of your instagram, and it seemed you didn’t stop creating, not even for a second. What propelled you forward during what must have been a pretty dark time for you? I realize that it must have been a nightmare, and I hope this isn’t a callow question, but I’m wondering if, through that heartache and loss, you drew inspiration for current or future work?

Tyler Thrasher: The first thing that helped during and directly after the fire would probably be my dark sense of humor. I’m no stranger to dark and pretty fucked up situations, and that sense of humor is what seems to keep me together sometimes and has in the past. After the fire I didn’t even consider a break from my work or from creating, it seemed to have the opposite effect, and looking back in my life that urge to create was birthed during one of the most traumatic moments in my life. I found myself as a kid creating and making art as a means to cope, and that urge seems to have persisted over the last 15 years. I did lose all of my work. All of the music I was working on, photos I had taken, and some of my favorite drawings and paintings.

I was/ am currently working on my first ever artbook, “The Wisdom of the Furnace”. One thing that propelled me forward was the title of the book. Before the fire, I had shot hundreds of images for my book of work that I will never see again, and oddly enough, before the fire, the book was titled “The Wisdom of the Furnace”. The next morning while I was sitting in my in-laws home, I was thinking about the book and everything I had lost for it, and the title sang. It was the same title it had always been, but it had realized itself and proclaimed its new purpose. The fire gave the title of my book some prestige and some well-earned prestige at that. The new and realized title of the book is what propelled me forward.

I know the “The Wisdom of the Furnace” is a hefty and mystical-sounding title, but if I could just defog its meaning a little bit, it might help some to understand why I was propelled forward. I chose the title in early 2016. I was thinking about old alchemical works and some of the advancements and progress that ancient study led us to. During my research I found lots of illustrations, code, and text that would reference or highlight the importance of fire and its vitality. The flame and the furnace were so essential for the alchemist’s Magnum Opus and the art of transmutation.

So much of what we know today regarding modern and practical chemistry came from the furnace. So much of what we know today regarding physics and modern science, in a sense, took place in the furnace. At first, the title of my book had a pretty straightforward meaning. But after the fire, I realized it was not just the furnace that gave us so much insight, but it was also the alchemist who boldly reached into it. The fire wasn’t going to give me answers; it wasn’t going to be an end result for the book or my work. The fire was just a catalyst, as most flames in the laboratory are. I realized that this book hadn’t even begun. Everything I shot beforehand was empty and vapid before the fire. It would take an effort from me beyond pointing a camera and shooting, but to get up and realize this catalyst and respect the potency of nature and the furnace.

I realized that despite losing everything for the book in the fire, the book would still be the thing I pulled out of the soot and the remains. And in essence, that sense of transformation is the vital core of alchemy.

Shit like this happens to me all of the time. I don’t think I believe in destiny, but every now and then, the universe gives me a little wink and a nudge.

So many folks describe your creations as “macabre”; I’m curious though, as to if you feel that’s an accurate representation of the work that you do?

I think macabre is a fair and accurate description. When I first started exploring this theme and medium, a lot of my friends and family thought it was a little disgusting. I mean I went from drawing landscapes to submerging dead insects into chemicals. I get it. I think parts of my work are rightfully macabre. My favorite thing EVER is when people ask what I do. When I describe what I do to others, yes its macabre. Description alone, I sound like a fucked-up mad scientist.

My other favorite thing EVER, is when I show them pictures, because they usually look very confused. And the response is usually the same, “OH! I had no idea what to expect! That’s so *Insert compliment here*”. And, of course, that always feels good! I think visually, it’s not so macabre. It is a celebration of life and an homage to what nature can do with one’s remains after life. In a way, it addresses a sense of purpose after consciousness, a purpose on earth and under the laws of nature. And I love that. It’s spiritual without being too much so, and it gives nature the respect it deserves. So much of what I do is a collaboration with nature.

The overwhelming theme of your work, even as it evolves, is “ curiosity and experimentation”–and that seems to be a code you wholeheartedly live by. I’m remarking on this having just seen some photos you posted on your instagram, a gorgeous series of nudes; your tender, graceful 2d illustrations, and after having listened in on your SoundCloud channel over the past week, it seems you are something of a musician, too! Not to mention those “Raise Some Heck” tee shirts you created! (Currently sold out, but I nabbed one!) Can you share with a bit about these different passions of yours, and what keeps you focused on the true essence of your work , whatever you might consider that to be?

To put it shortly, I get bored easily. HAHAHA. I always have. I don’t know why, but as a kid, boredom was literal hell for me. Mental anguish. Maybe I’m just mentally deficient, but I couldn’t and still can’t handle boredom. I’m also fiercely protective of what I like and what I enjoy doing, as I think most people should be. I think curiosity and experimentation are just vital for being human. We can’t run away from it, and I think whether or not you conform to that, we all, in some way are controlled by these urges.

The first thing I ever did was draw. It’s funny now because everyone knows my work by the crystallized pieces, and whenever I post an illustration, people are like “Wait you can draw?!” I don’t blame them! That’s a downside of social media, people see whatever they see first, and that’s their impression. I’ve been posting more of my 2D work lately because I want it to get some light and recognition. I enjoy doing them, and at some point, I would love it if those illustrations made me some money too!

Music has always been a passion of mine as well. I LOVE LOVE LOVE electronic music, specifically progressive house and trance music. I don’t know why, but I am compelled to believe they are the two most inspiring and motivating genres both mathematically and emotionally. I listen to these genres when I work out, drive, longboard. Anything that requires any type of movement towards an end goal. The repetitive elements and rhythms are just enough to shut my brain off and pull me into a zone of “get shit done”. The music I make is somewhere in this area with a little bit more “funk” every now and then. I’m still learning A LOT but I freaking love making music.

I think the fact that I make sure I do so many different things and keep my mind and spirit happy by trying new things is the “true heart of my work”. There’s so much out there, so much humans have created and discovered and explored and I would be a pretty lousy human if I didn’t give my brain the drug it needs and explore and discover more than just what’s immediately in front of me. (This is just the definition for a human for myself.) I have always lived by the code of “curiosity and experimentation,” and I hope this persists til I die because it’s been very good for me so far.

I saw you quoted in the Daily Dot from an article in 2016 where you stated that, “I don’t want to be working on anyone else’s story or art”. This is such a powerful declaration, and I’d love to hear more.

Well, who would?! I don’t mind helping others with their story or popping in as a side character that dies off in the next chapter, but there’s not enough time to help someone else live their story and try to pop back in for my own. I won’t and cannot be a sidekick in the story of “Tyler Thrasher,” and it breaks my heart when I see someone being a sidekick in their own story. This doesn’t mean you should live selfishly and have a complete disregard for others. It’s the opposite. I don’t think all good stories could exist without others. We need other people, creatures, and entities to help us along, and we need to help others along. Just make sure you aren’t living someone else’s story and neglecting your own. That sounds a little preachy. hahaha.

Another thing I meant by this is in regard to my degree. I got my degree in Computer Animation at Missouri State University. I was wildly convinced that I wanted to be an animator and make stories. That was until my school made the tragic mistake of bringing in an animator to talk about his career and life. And it was miserable. Possibly the saddest artist I had ever listened to. We were told that animators often work 60+ hours a week on average and on projects that meant absolutely nothing to them. This particular animator mentioned how he spent most of his conscious week working on Dora the Explorer and Zhu Zhu pets and I could’ve wept for him. I asked him if he had time for his own work and with a very tired sigh, he said “no.” I knew immediately that this was a bullshit scam and I wasn’t having any of it. I declared that day that I would be a freelance self-employed artist who would not work on anyone else’s story. I would work my ass off if I had to in order to make sure that part of my work remained pure and untouched by Dora and her evil companions.

I told my professors my goal, and they gave me a very nervous look. We had an assignment to come up with a four-year plan outside of school, who we wanted to work with and for, and what we wanted to be doing. I didn’t even turn in the paper. I just said, “I want to work for myself.” I, of course, failed that assignment, but I was honest and true to myself. I didn’t and don’t want to live selfishly. I want to inspire and help those around me, and I want to be inspired by those around me. I just don’t think the world needs more people working on Dora the Explorer. We’ve given her too much of our time, and I guarantee you no kids are waiting around for the newest story-breaking episode. They’re not even played linearly. The kids will be ok with the same 200 episodes we’ve made already, haha. I have a deep respect for the animations and projects individuals all agree to work on together and with passion. I have very little affinity or respect towards the studio or warehouse that pumps out the same empty project just to keep the artists busy, children distracted, and parents spending money.

Find Tyler Thrasher: website // instagram // facebook // tumblr // twitter // soundcloud

All photos courtesy Tyler Thrasher. 

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The Art of Fantasy (interior) L: Tino Rodriguez // R: Andy Kehoe Art

Here are some more peeks for you at various image spreads tucked into the pages of The Art of Fantasy. I can’t tell you how much fun I had curating this collection coaxed forth from myth, magic, fantasy, and art history. Maybe I had a little too much fun because one reviewer said they did not appreciate my attempts at humor. Ah, well. Sillies are gonna silly. I can’t help it!

The Art of Fantasy (interior) L: Witold Pruszkowski // R: Jason Mowry

Were they referring to my caption for Witold Pruszkowski’s Dragon?

“The hazy, dying embers of a setting sun sets up the moody backdrop and contributes to an uncanny sense of romanticism in 19th-century Polish painter Witold Pruszkowski’s (1846-1896) golden hour portrayal of this fearsome beast. Is this dreadful dragon violently twisting toward an armor-clad foe in advance of an incendiary last stand, one which will either end with a barbecued knight or beast with a sword in its heart? Or is this merely a benevolent beast discharging a fiery belch, goggle-eyed with embarrassment? Whether we’re quivering with terror or with barely-repressed giggles and Fremdschämen, the artist’s fondness for fantasy and fairytale archetypes, combined with a keen eye for weird detail and mystical atmosphere, paints a curiously evocative picture of this mythical monster.”

(The monster was burping, okay? I said what I said!)

The Art of Fantasy (interior) L: Eric Velhagen // R: Leonor Fini

I read somewhere that “reviews are not for authors; they are for other readers,” and I kinda like that attitude. I try not to read reviews for my books–I am anxious enough as it is, and I don’t need another source of dread. Although when the first few start showing up, it’s hard to resist! But I got it out of my system for this go-round, and now I am done.

The Art of Fantasy (interior) L: Virgo Paraiso //R: Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh

Anyway! Although today is certainly not the last day you can preorder The Art of Fantasy, it *is* your last opportunity to nab some artsy preorder goodies! Find the link to do so in my bio, and in the meantime, feast your eyes upon these wonderments by the following artists.

The Art of Fantasy (interior) L: František Kupka // R: Laurence Schwinger

 

The Art of Fantasy (interior) L: Kiki Smith // R: Yuko Shimizu

 

The Art of Fantasy (interior) L: Frederick Sandys // R: Colleen Doran

 

The Art of Fantasy (interior) L: Daniel Maclise // R: Mr. Werewolf

 

The Art of Fantasy (interior) John Atkinson Grimshaw

 

The Art of Fantasy (interior) L: John William Waterhouse // R: Marie Spartali Stillman

 

The Art of Fantasy (interior) Pamela Colman Smith

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Behold, my office wall’s final form! Did it take a lot of holes in the wall to get here? Sure it did! Did I drop many tiny nails on the carpet and retrieve far less than I lost? I mean, it happens. Did I map out a strategy for efficient use of time? Look—

Top and going clockwise:

Center: The Uninvited by David Seidman
Lights: teardrop fairy lights from Lumina of London

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There were a handful of artists of the elfin and ethereal that I would have loved to include in The Art of Fantasy who are not actually in these pages, and it’s sure a bummer, but what can you do? So life goes on. However, there is one such creator of enchantments and fantastic beings who never in my wildest dreams did I imagine would actually be in my little book, and yet…here they are! I am referring to none other than the extraordinary creations wrought by the outrageously talented Forest Rogers.

One gets the sense that Forest Rogers is an artist who has experienced first-hand both the joy and despair of mermaids singing, has felt the euphoric, incandescent flutter of angel wings, held the literal hand of the dark night of the soul, and maybe even danced a tango with a prehistoric skeleton or a luminous beam of starlight.

How else would this artist instinctively know how to sculpt the ineffable, the transcendent, and the staggeringly unbelievable into such a graceful and dynamic reality?

 

The Beautiful Crustacean, Forest Rogers, 2016, mixed media, Japanese air-dry clay with mulberry paper.

These creatures, marvels of myth and imagination, monstrously beautiful and tinged with melancholy, seem poised at the verge, a frozen moment of fragile movement – as if they may at any moment take flight and disappear with their secrets into the mist, or skitter close and whisper mysterious revelations.

Approach them with care, take only what is offered to you, and let the world go on, knowing that you have experienced a bit of the magic that made them.

You can see Forest Rogers’s “The Beautiful Crustacean” here in the Impossible Monsters chapter of The Art of Fantasy: A Visual Sourcebook of All That is Unreal, on sale everywhere on September 12th, and available for preorder now!

Pre-order your copy of  The Art of  Fantasy by August 1 from any retailer and be one of the first 100 readers to receive bonus goodies! Details here.

 

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Wonder of the Sea, Wenzel Hablik, 1917

“Long live the imagination! Because everything that exists once was an idea.
Long live the will! For the act of wanting to change the world and make it freer.”

What else is there to say about the dazzling works of Czech artist Wenzel Hablik (1881 to 1934) other than to point to the above quote, words uttered by the artist himself? But I do have to say a little something, don’t I?

It seems like cheating to slap a bunch of paintings on a blog and call it a day– even if the works are as resplendent as those conjured by this dreamer of utopian fantasy.

Freestanding Dome With Five Mountain Tops as Base, Wenzel Hablik, 1918

I won’t lie to you, though. When I first saw his works, I thought they looked like kaleidoscopic, Expressionist versions of the She-Ra Crystal castle that my sisters and I were obsessed with as children. Listen, no one ever credits me on my impeccable sophistication, ok??

The Cloud, Wenzel Hablik, 1910

An architect, designer, painter, and printmaker associated with the German Expressionism movement, Wenzel Hablik was trained as a master cabinetmaker in Vienna and Prague but eventually pursued architectural and interior design projects. Polymorphic genius that he was, Hablik revered nature as the greatest creative force and saw the crystal as the most important symbol of natural creativity–for him, crystal architecture would become a societal utopia on the path to a better living.

Hablik also embodied his crystalline fantasies in exquisite drawings for household textiles, wallpaper, jewelry, and silver cutlery, along with designing vibrantly modern, elegant interiors, furniture, and fabrics, oftentimes in collaboration with his wife, master weaver Elisabeth Lindemann. Later works, influenced by the futuristic writings of H.G. Wells and the poet Paul Scheerbart, incorporated speculative technological ideas alongside more celestial and cosmic-oriented fancies

His vivid, experimental worlds, meditations on dazzling colors, translucent forms, luminous geological patterns, and prismatic heavenly bodies remain, even today, scintillating feasts for the eyes.  Hablik’s legacy is one of radiant beauty and hope and a reminder that imagination is everything, and that art can be a powerful and inspiring force for change. That we can dream of a better world and have hope that such a world is possible.

 

Starry Sky, Attempt, Wenzel Hablik, 1909

 

Interior of a Cathedral, Wenzel Hablik, 1921 

 

Crystal Castle In The Sea, Wenzel Hablik, 1914

 

Fire, Wenzel Hablik, 1913

 

Exhibition Space Wallpapers, Wenzel Hablik, 1921

 

Thunderstorm, Wenzel Hablik, 1910

 

Design for a great hall, Wenzel Hablik, 1924

 

Where to – where from? Wenzel Hablik, 1912/13

 

Cycle’s Utopian Architectures, Airplane Towers, Silos, Artist Apartments, Wenzel Hablik, 1921

 

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Godzilla, Yuko Shimizu, 2019, ink drawing with digital color.

What comes to mind when you think of fantasy creatures?

When I think of “fantasy,” I think about the impossible, unreal creations that spring from our imaginations–and that’s not always in the form of a unicorn or an elf, you know?

Sometimes they have a supernatural origin or sci-fi or cosmic horror vibe or comic book association, and while I don’t want to say that I “want to challenge your notions of what fantasy creatures look like” –because I don’t want to be the know-it-all who makes those kinds of obnoxious declarations– I really do think that the umbrella of fantasy can encompass ALL of those fantastical things.

Anyway, there’s some art in my forthcoming book that fantasy purists will probably get on my ass about, like, “Godzilla’s not a fantasy creature!” Whatever! Write your own book! Because lemme tell you, I was never going to write a book swarming with fantastical creatures and monsters that did not include my favorite prehistoric reptilian kaiju. I don’t think any monster list is complete without our favorite enormous, destructive king of nuclear waste-spawned monsters, Godzilla.

With his gigantic stature, scaly body, and atomic breath, Godzilla is basically a dragon from ‘traditional’ fantasy art, right? Gobbling up citizens and scientists instead of knights and crusaders, devastating vast metropolises towering with glassy skyscrapers as opposed to castles and fiefdoms. Well, I think that Japanese artist Yuko Shimizu might agree if her fantastical rendering of the king of kaiju is any indication. Vividly colored, boldly realized, and with striking details, Godzilla here is a towering sci-fi fantasy dragon viewed through a surreal American pop and Japanese graphics and comic culture lens.

And since I am sharing a bit about why dear Godzilla shows up in The Art of Fantasy, I thought I’d give you a peek as to this fantastical radioactive beast’s cronies in the companion spreads

Vodyanoi, the Water Sprite, Ivan Bilibin, 1934, charcoal on paper.

Peerless illustrator of Russian folklore, Ivan Bilibin (1876–1942) was a graphic artist and stage/costume designer who was largely influenced by Art Nouveau and whose work is commonly associated with Russian fairy tales – to the extent that we could say his work very much defines our perceptions today of what Russian folklore art looks like. Seen here is Bilibin’s depiction of a water-dwelling demonic creature found in the mythology and lore of Eastern Europe – the Vodyanoi.

A bloated, cranky frog-faced old water spirit who, when angered, breaks dams, washes down water mills and drowns people and animals – the surest way to rile the Vodyanoi is to upset the natural balance of his watery habitat. Although according to legend, he can be appeased with a knob of butter. That seems fairly relatable

Creature, Vincent Di Fate, 2006, acrylics on hardboard.

A multiple-award-winning artist specializing in science fiction and fantasy illustration, the works of Vincent Di Fate span the remote frontiers of astronomical art and aerospace illustration – space chases, futuristic supermen, machines born of dreams or nightmares. Astonishing voyages of the imagination to the edge of the cosmos and vast worlds inhabited by incredible beings, light years away from planet Earth.

Some of these visions, however, live a little closer to home. Di Fate casts an eye on one of the ‘truly remarkable character designs of the 1950s science fiction movie genre’, that infamous gilled man captured by scientists in the Amazonian jungle. Thought to be a missing link between creatures that lived in the water and those that walked on land, its appearance is both fantastical and terrifying, and, in Di Fate’s hand, rendered breathtakingly beautiful, as well

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