Thursday, September 6, 2012

Dinosaur Art: The World’s Greatest Paleoart

Dinosaur Art: The World's Greatest Paleoart:  Raul Martin, John Sibbick, Douglas Henderson, Mauricio Antón, Raul Martin, John Sibbick, Mauricio Antón, Douglas Henderson, John Sibbick, Raul Martin
Dinosaur Art: The World’s Greatest Paleoart is a new book edited by Steve White and with a foreward by Phillip J, Currie and an introduction by Scott D. Sampson. It is published by Titan Books, who were kind enough to send me a review copy.

The premise of a book like this is relatively straightforward — assemble lots of dazzling paleontological reconstruction art by top names in the field, add commentary in the form of interviews with the artists, print it as a deluxe oversize coffee table book, and everyone will love it, socks knocked properly off.

In reality, though, the process is not so simple, and the application of a subtitle like “The World’s Greatest Paleoart” (even with the understanding that the book is about contemporary artists) invites reaction from paleo art aficionados, who as a rule hold strong opinions about the subject — myself included.

Because of the expectations created by the subtitle the first thing I noticed was the glaring lack of some of the names that I would have immediately expected under that banner — notably John Gurche, James Gurney, Robert Walters, William Stout, Mark Hallet and Michael Skrepnick.

However, I also understand the reality of publishing this kind of book. While it is generally considered an honor and good public relations within the field to be included in compendiums like this, the artists are asked to prepare their images and supplementary material for inclusion, and publishers rarely give the editors funds to even compensate the artists for their time, let alone have them share in profit on a book for which they are supplying the basic material.

Having been asked to contribute to a number of books on webcomics and digital comics creation, I can attest to the work involved; and after asking around, I’m not surprised that some artists who were asked to participate in this particular project felt they had to decline.

The editor, then, was left to compensate, and the result is mixed. Here is where my differences of opinion with the editor’s curatorial choices come to the fore, both in terms of artistic values and the concern for scientific accuracy.

Amid the dramatic presentation of these fantastic prehistoric animals, next to which most fantasy monsters pale in comparison, it’s easy to forget that these are real, if extinct, animals.

The images are more than illustrations, they are meant to be scientific reconstructions, akin to botanical or medical illustration, except that for prehistoric animals and plants, the information the artists must work from is based on fragmentary evidence and scientific inquiry that is incomplete and subject to controversy.

To create paintings and drawings that are dramatic, work well as artworks and are still true to the science involved is quite a challenge, but those who do it well do it exceptionally well.

So, while there are some artists the editor has chosen that I would not have included, I will emphasize those on which we agree — and that I certainly consider worthy of placement under the banner of “World’s Greatest Paleo Art”.

Notably, these include:

John Sibbick, whose detailed, textural portrayals of dinosaurs and pterosaurs are one of the high standards in the field,

Douglas Henderson, whose atmospheric landscapes put the animals in a real world context better than almost anyone,

Raul Martin, who brings a high level of drama to his interpretations of the animals, without feeling the need (as some do) to defy the laws of biomechanics and gravity in the process

and Mauricio Antón, who is a bright light in the often overlooked portrayal of prehistoric mammals.

Regardless of my difference of opinion with the editor on some of his other choices, the inclusion of these superb artists, and the fact that their chapters make up a significant portion of the book, make it well worthwhile in my eyes.

The book itself is beautifully produced, with nice book design and good reproductions (despite a few less than sharp examples). Impressively, given the production values, Titan has kept it very reasonably priced ($35 U.S.).

Don’t let my griping about who’s who discourage you from checking this volume out, or detract from the fun of holding a big book in front of you with lots of gloriously large images of what is indeed some of the world’s greatest paleoart.

(Images above: Raul Martin (cover), John Sibbick, Douglas Henderson, Mauricio Antón, Raul Martin, John Sibbick, Mauricio Antón, Douglas Henderson, John Sibbick, Raul Martin)

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