Saturday, 27 August 2011

Desert Island Drawings

Time to get all Brian Sewelly on you and talk Art. Close personal friends will know that I am not a great fan of the Old Masters and their ilk. The closest I ever got to enjoying a piece of proper art was at a J.W. Waterhouse exhibition a couple of years ago where I tried to spot all the hidden witches, ghosts and toads in The Magic Circle.

No, I thought I’d tell you about artists that I personally like for various reasons. You might even say that they’re influential, but that would pretentiously suggest that I’m an artist myself, which I amn’t. So let’s just say that these are artists that I dig. I dig their style, their subject matter and usually the memories they evoke.

I dashed this list off yesterday in about five minutes, so it’s by no means exhaustive. I could’ve gone on about my many, many favourite comic book artists, but I tried to broaden this out and cover a slightly wider field of artist. Not amazingly wide as you will see. No Banksys or Emins or Hirsts here, but a decentish selection of my Desert Island Drawings. Maybe you’ll dig them too.

1) Ben Eine
I know, I know. I said No Banksys and here I am with another street artist. But I beg your indulgence on account of having walked past Ben Eine’s art twice a day every day for two years. His Alphabet Street letters cover 26 metal shop shutters along the length of Middlesex Street, which I would pass on my way to and from work. I liked how jolly and colourful they were, and it was fun watching each letter spring up overnight as the weeks went by. It gives the place a colourful Sesame Street feel, minus the giant forlorn yellow bird (sadly).

Come and play, everything's A-OK...

2) Hannes Bok
What a cool name. I mean, if I knew nothing of the man’s artwork, I’d still love him for his name. Pseudonym actually, but more power to him for choosing something that sounds like a cross between a Dutch painter and a Hyborian necromancer. I came across his artwork in one of those massive ‘Fantasy of the 20th Century’ coffee table books that parents and rich friends might give you as presents, but which are too damn big for your Billy bookcase. Check out his wraparound cover for The Wheels of If (1948). It looks positively psychedelic, predating Steve Ditko’s freaky dark dimension art for Dr Strange by fifteen years. I love how his style, unlike most other fantasy cover artists, seems to evade dating to a given period – it’s just his own weird surreal look.

The Dread Dormammu is just out of shot.

3) Alex Ross
Imagine reading comics for twenty years, where all the art is broadly from the same ‘pencil in the outlines, ink in some shadows, colour in the white gaps’ school. Then imagine picking up issue #1 of Marvels in 1994 and coming across a fully painted three-dimensional scene of the android Human Torch staggering across the road, his white hot body reflecting off every surface. Man, it was like going from black and white to colour, or 2-D to 3-D (except that 3-D sucks). Alex Ross makes superheroes look both cool and real. You can see Spider-Man’s costume ruching up as he climbs past a Daily Bugle window. You can actually tell all the blond heroes apart. And Iron Man looks like Timothy Dalton! His artwork was a revolution in the comic book world, a style often aped but never matched. My favourite piece of his? This enormous Crisis On Infinite Earths anniversary poster, a joint effort between Ross and legendary penciller George Perez. I had it on my bedroom wall and would stare at the tiny details for hours. You can’t beat a good shot of Superman cradling a dying Supergirl (she's actually dead but I'm still in denial).

Still time to save the world...

4) Neave Parker
Who? You may well ask. Only the bloke who painted the black and white postcards of dinosaurs I had when I was little. I don’t think they started off as postcards though; they originally accompanied articles in the Illustrated London News. Amazing what you can find out online. Have a gander at his noble Triceratops or that most British of terrible lizards, the Iguanodon. How cool are they? I really wanted to include his classic depiction of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, but the internet has let me down badly. Suffice to say that said beast is shown standing fully erect, as T-Rex used to in the 1950s. These days he’s all head-forward and tail-out, the slovenly wretch. But back in Parker’s day, the king of the dinosaurs stood loud and proud.

The Fonz of the early cretaceous.

5) Steve Thomas
I came across this chap’s artwork about a year ago, courtesy of Art You Grew Up With run by the enthusiastic Russell Singler. What I like about Steve Thomas’ work is the smooth way he’s rendered classic Star Wars subjects in the style of early 20th century commercial art. His Cruise The Galaxy poster makes the evil Empire looks like a pretty sexy crew to fly with. Cleverly done, and yet so so wrong.

Fly the Imperial skies.

6) Jan Pienkowski
Polish-born Jan Pienkowski has one of those names that is bound to stick in a young British child’s mind as they grow up. At least, if you read Meg and Mog or the splendidly silhouetted The Fairy Tales. But if the man never did anything else other than create the pop-up book The Haunted House, I think he could rest easy in the knowledge of a life well lived. It’s worth it for the ghost materialising over the sleeping figure in the four-poster bed alone.

No, we don't get many visitors...

7) Boris Vallejo
The master of muscle-bound dudes and chainmail chicks, Boris Vallejo and his wife Julie Bell are responsible for a large portion of the photorealist fantasy art genre. Hovering somewhere between Conan and Playboy, his anatomically detailed work made me want to simultaneously become a painter and a body builder. I still haven’t resolved that one. Now I could’ve chosen any number of swords and sorcery barbarianettes as an example of his work, or a particularly erotic shower scene involving a bar of soap with teeth, but instead I went with Chrome Robot on account of the cool metallic effect.

Good looking fella. Shame about the ears.

8) Russ Nicholson
I must confess that I didn’t even know Mr Nicholson’s name until I looked him up yesterday. I had his art down as belong to another Fighting Fantasy illustrator, John Blanche (who also deserves a mention here for his work on The Shamutanti Hills and other surreally inked adventures), but that’s memory for you. I chose Russ Nicholson over Blanche and other D&Dish artists like the Bok-esque Erol Otus or Jim Roslof (of Keep on the Borderlands fame), because of the sheer impact his drawings had on me when I played The Warlock of Firetop Mountain as a 12-year old. His black and white artwork is superbly atmospheric, and kept me playing the book so I could finally get to turn to the picture of the Warlock himself at the end. Though it was the spooky shots of those four zombies looming in a dungeon cell and the close-up of that decaying ghoul springing to life that really did it for me. I tried to find a nice shot of the original black and white ghoul online, but all I could find was some new-fangled colourised version for an iPhone app of the gamebook. Ptui.

His eyes flick open! You must fight! Turn to section 78.

9) Chris Achilleos
As a teenager, I was introduced to the Gor series of fantasy books by my well-meaning parents. The stories started off as John Cartery/Conany tales of barbarians, swords and giant intelligent animals, but swiftly metamorphosed into a sequence of misogynistic bondage parables loosely disguised as fantasy adventure. But that is a discussion for another time. One of the things I did enjoy about the books were the covers, especially those done by some chap called Achilleos. I particularly liked his depiction of an alien Kur from Marauders of Gor, and set about ripping it off for my Art ‘O’ Level. Later on, I discovered that Mr Achilleos was responsible for many of the fine Dr Who Target book covers I had also enjoyed as a child, though for slightly less suspect reasons than his Gor covers.

Look at Hartnell – Daleks shooting off all over him and he doesn’t give a monkey’s.

10) Tom Sutton
My last artist is one of the finest illustrators of simian shipboard action you are ever likely to see, and that is high praise indeed. Back in the 1970s, when my consumption of weekly Marvel comics consisted of whatever two wildly different titles the company had chosen to merge into one that month, I came across a gem of a story called The Future History Chronicles (as I was to find out some thirty years later). The plot, by comics mainstay Doug Moench, was to take the basic Humans vs Hairy Fellas conflict of the popular Planet of the Apes comics, but move the location to a massive ancient vessel called the Hydromeda, a sort of floating Gormenghast full of gorillas. The plot was cool in itself, but Tom Sutton’s intricate black and white artwork, looking more like something from the French Metal Hurlant magazine, realy blew me away. Too many fine examples to choose from, but I think this shot of the Hydromeda does the job.

Who's rowing? you ask. The human slaves of course.
Damn dirty apes.

Anyway, there you go. Some artists whose work I like. Comics and games and fantasy and dinosaurs. Big surprise.


Lilith Laing said...

The artwork for the Wheels of If is absolutely stunning, I remember it so clearly from my childhood. Brought back so many memories. Hannes Bok - absolute genius.

The Chocolate Ocelot said...

Glad it's not just me then!
Nice to hear from you.