Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dinotopia: Art, Science and Imagination at Lyman Allyn Art Museum in CT

James Gurney, Dinotopia: Art, Science and Imagination
Long time readers of Lines and Colors will not be surprised that I am an admirer the work of illustrator/writer/painter James Gurney. (Let’s see.. beautifully painted illustration with influences from great 19th century artists and Golden Age illustrators, fantastical adventure stories with lushly imaginative settings, Hudson River valley landscape painting and plein air painting, and of course.. terrific dinosaurs — what’s not to like?)

I was pleased back in 2010 to have the opportunity to see an exhibition titled Dinotopia: The Art of James Gurney at the Delaware Art Museum at which I got to see many examples of his original artwork.

In addition to surprises in scale, his work reveals characteristics up close that are not always evident in reproduction, much of it, for example, is surprisingly painterly. Another aspect that comes through in person even more than in reproduction is the degree to which Gurney’s experience as a plein air landscape painter informs and enlivens his fantasy art.

Gurney also works from life in the form of models for his compositions, and a new exhibition that opens at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in new London, Connecticut this Saturday, September 22nd, Dinotopia: Art, Science and Imagination, not only showcases Gurney’s original art for the well known series of illustrated adventure stories, but delves into the creation of the works and the science behind them. The show includes sketches, preliminary versions, maquettes, photos used for reference and plein air studies.

This show is more extensive than the already large show I saw in 2012; it features 135 works, most of which are not the same as in the previous exhibitions and much of which has not been on public display before.

Unfortunately, the museum’s website, as is usually the case with museum websites, is not good at generating any visual excitement about the show.

Fortunately, as is also often the case, artist and blogger Matthew D. Innis steps in and does a superb job of just that, with an extensive post on his blog Underpaintings that includes links to much larger versions of many of the images I’ve shown above.

You can also see more of Gurney’s work on the Dinotopia website, as well as Gurney’s own website and his blog, Gurney Journey.

The latter has developed over the years into one of the best go-to destinations for art instruction on the web, much of which has been condensed into two superb art instruction volumes (so far), Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist and Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter (links are to my reviews, the books can be purchased directly from Gurney’s shop).

Two volumes of Gurney’s classic Dinotopia adventure stories have been rereleased in deluxe, expanded 20th Anniversary editions by Dover Publications’ Calla Editions imprint. I reviewed the Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time 20th Anniversary Edition in 2011.

The new Dinotopia: The World Beneath 20th Anniversary Edition has just been released this month and I was delighted to receive a review copy from Dover.

James Gurney, Dinotopia: Art, Science and Imagination
In themselves, these Dinotopia editions have reframed my impression of Dover books, which used to be “terrific because they were inexpensive art books with fairly decent reproductions”. Now they are making inexpensive art books with very good reproductions.

The new version of The World Beneath, in fact, is better looking than my copy of the original edition — the colors richer and more vibrant, and, according to Gurney, truer to the original artwork.

If you’re not familiar with these books, they are wonderful adventure stories, profusely illustrated (I love that phrase) with Gurney’s lush and imaginative portrayals of a fantastical city atop a waterfall (which served as an uncredited inspiration for the the city in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace), adventure heroes, engaging steampunkery and, of course, a cornucopia of dinosaurs.

Adventure stories, yes — but heavier on illustration than text, they also serve as coffee table art books, showcasing Gurney’s terrific paintings in large spreads.

The new edition, in some ways analogous to the current exhibit a the Lyman Allyen, features an additional 25+ pages of behind the scenes drawings, painted sketches, photo reference, maquettes, and other goodies. The book also features an introduction by noted paleontologist Dr. Michael Brett-Surman.

I will take some consolation in this edition for the fact that I don’t know if my schedule this season will let me get up to the exhibition, though it runs to February 2, 2013. For those who can make it, you’re in for a treat.

2 thoughts on “Dinotopia: Art, Science and Imagination at Lyman Allyn Art Museum in CT

  1. Ed Cahill

    I met Jim Wednesday at a lecture he gave at Kennesaw State. I enjoyed the lecture but most of all looking through his little sketch book which is a work of art in itself full of portraits and little plein air scenes.

  2. Dana Mira

    These paintings are just wonderful. I really like how the dinosaurs somehow start to fit in whatever historical perspective they’re put in. Like the one with the three girls and the tiny dinosaur, because of the colors and textures I almost didn’t see how odd it was for the dinosaur to be in what looks like Middle Age – Europe.

    The robot – dinosaurs are the coolest though, makes you wonder if someone in this day and age would be inspired by Gurney’s works and build the dino-car one day.

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