Friday, July 28, 2006

Richard M. Powers

Richard M. PowersI became a fan of of science fiction artist Richard Powers without knowing it.

As a teenager I read a lot of science fiction and much of it was in the form of inexpensive paperbacks from the 60′s that I would come across in used book stores.

While there were a number of cover artists for these books that I enjoyed, there seemed to be two major styles. One was the straightforward style that involved a more or less realistic depiction of spaceships, robots, alien landscapes (that usually looked like the rocky parts of the American West for some reason) and adventurers in spacesuits. Some cool and fun stuff, but pretty much what you would expect for an art style that evolved out of the wonderfully lurid pulp covers of the 40′s and 50′s.

The other style was… something else.

In the midst of the more prosaic cover art, there was a variety of truly weird and bizarre images that looked like the paintings themselves had come from another world (or another dimension or the mind of an incomprehensibly alien creature from beyond the reaches of known space). It was the kind of imagery that prompted a reaction of “Wow! I don’t know what that is, but it is unbelievably cool!

There was a fair bit of variety within this second style, just as in the first, and even though it often appeared on the covers of books from certain publishers (Ballentine and Ace), I assumed it was the work of several artists who were just out on the fringe of the science fiction cover art, or else were all actually sending in the work from beyond the moons of Jupiter. I didn’t realize at the time that they were pretty much all the work of one artist.

Richard Powers started with a more conventional science-fiction style, painting the usual spaceships, aliens and women in other-worldly distress, but like someone whose mind has been invaded by the tendrils of an alien intelligence, his work started to get stranger and stranger, eventually dropping almost all pretense at representing normal science fiction subjects and evolving into a style somewhere between non-representational and the realistic depiction of unrecognizably strange objects.

Powers was, in fact, under the influence of bizarre alien intellects – he had discovered Surrealism. His work shows the wonderfully strange impact of the dream and subconscious inspired work of Surrealist painters like Max Ernst, Paul Klee, Joan Miro and, in particular, Yves Tanguy.

Unfortunately, I can’t point you to a grand repository of Powers art on the web, so I’ll have to give you scattered links to some modest galleries, bios and articles.

There is a collection of his work, The Art of Richard Powers by Jane Frank (from Paper Tiger, with an intro by Vincent Di Fate) that is out of print, but available from used book sources or through Amazon.

Thanks to Jack Harris for links and info.

Addendum: The Art of Richard Powers, a beautiful and insightful book written by Jane Frank and published by Paper Tiger is available dierctly from her WoW-Art.com site. Frank also has Richard Powers original art for sale thorugh the site! (Search by Artist on in the laft hand column.)

 

4 thoughts on “Richard M. Powers

  1. Jesper Svedberg

    Wow. Now you’ve done all my favourite science fiction and fantasy artists. First John Berkey, then Jeffrey Jones last week and now Richard Powers. Now all you have to do is a article on Bruce Pennington and the set is complete. :) (Pennington doesn’t seem to have an official website, this page links to a bunch of unofficial sites featuring his art.)

    There’s a lovely fifties vibe over Richard Power’s work that seems to owe as much to graphical design and typography of the era as it does to surrealist art. I don’t think that there has ever been an abstract/surrealist artist working in the sf/f field who’s ever come close to Powers’ elegant compositions and weird visions.

  2. Charley Parker Post author

    Jesper,

    You’re right about Powers being influenced by the graphic design of the era, that wonderful “60′s modern” style tht seems to be back in vogue today.

    Pennington is definitely on my list. Thanks for the reminder. It’s a good excuse to dig out my copy of Ultraterranium. He’s another science fiction illustrator that I think was quite influenced by the Surrealists, particularly Ernst and Dali. Wonderful stuff.

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