John Berkey’s name is one of two immediately associated with space art. Unlike the realistic, near-future projections of Chesley Bonestell, Berkey’s images usually portray a far-advanced future, glimmering with high technology ships, space stations and other-worldly constructions portrayed on a grand scale.
His paintings can look photorealistic when reduced for publication or viewed in small reproductions, but up close they are revealed to be remarkably painterly. Areas of apparent detail are sometimes actually just textures and even single brushstrokes. Where other artists might slavishly paint in huge amounts of intricate detail, Berkey knows how to suggest, and let your mind fill in the rest.
Berkey started his career painting images of the past, not the future, working for Bigelow and Brown as a calendar artist specializing in historical themes. He has done illustration in a number of venues, including the design for the “old Elvis” postage stamp; but it is for his phenomenal space art, which has dazzled us on the covers of science fiction books and movie posters for decades, that he is widely acknowledged to be one of the foremost artists in all of science fiction art.
Ironically, according to this article from the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages, Berkey is not particularly fond of science fiction and his preferred subjects are portraits (kind of like finding out that one of your favorite rock stars doesn’t really like rock and only does it because he happens to be successful at it).
Berkey often works in an oil and casein combination, not uncommon among illustrators who like to work in oil, but need the quick drying time afforded by casein in order to meet deadlines. His use of color, particularly accent colors and contrasting highlights, can be simultaneously subtle and dramatic.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an official presence for Berkey’s work on the web, so I have to point you to some “unofficial” galleries. These tend to be hampered by pop-ups, animated ads and cookies, but they do have reproductions of the art that you can see. (A couple of them were so onerous as to be unusable, so I didn’t even list them. Do a Google search if you’re really persistent.)
I should stress that I do not recommend purchasing anything form these sites. As far as I know, the use of the images is not authorized and sales do not profit the artist. Instead, if you like Berkey’s work, look for a collection of his work from Paper Tiger called The Art of John Berkey by Jane Frank (more information here). You may also be able to find an older, out of print collection called John Berkey: Painted Space. You will also find some of his work reproduced in The Frank Collection: A Showcase of the World’s Finest Fantastic Art, for which he wrote the foreword.
Sometimes art it wonderful at taking us to another land or back into the past. John Berkey’s spectacular images take us out into space and far into the future.
Addendum: John Machacek writes to say that the Moving Walls Gallery, which recently had an exhibition of Berkey’s work, still has an online gallery of his work on view. This is by far the best gallery of Berkey’s paintings on the web and as long as it remains on view, you can effectively ignore the others. (I’ll leave them on the post, though, in case the ArtOrg site takes theirs down at some point.) Machacek also says that, as of this writing, the gallery still has some posters from the show and show catalogs available. Contact them for more information.
Addendum II: Jane Frank, author of The Art of John Berkey, which I recommend above, has John Berkey original art availble through her WoW-Art site. (Use the Search-by-Artist feature in the left column.) The book can also be ordered directly through her site.