FORTEAN ART…

Bob Pepper’s “Solar Lottery”

Being relatively familiar with the usage of word processors after having entered the digital mainframe upon a fairly frequent basis to examine the miraculously comprehensive library of both pictoral and literary information which it preserves within it’s vaults, I became fascinated with the manner in which computer networks like the internet proved capable of both portraying and enhancing graphic art, an apparel beneath which the artificial luminescence of the tele-visual medium could, with great facility, be witnessed to serve as a perfect counterfoil for the desire of the artist to describe events that would otherwise prove to be impossible…

In this sense visual effects such as the description of foreign light sources within photographic prints almost accidentally appeared to retain the potential to transcend reality, becoming part of a fantastic subtly impossible realm through which the expedient conventions of perceptive faculty that typify daily existence were left to ponder over the minutiae of an imaginary vista that promised to free adherence from the customary restraints of mortal concern.

Naturally, speculation devoted to the artificial enhancement of print photography, inspires thought to dwell upon what could yet remain possible through the application of manual artistry to film, a term beneath which hitherto unexceptional photographs could conceivably be modified or re-configured in a multitude of increasingly fantastic ways.

In “doctoring” film intended for tele-visual transmission, one may, in this sense, arrive at an impasse through which the subtle manipulation of visual imagery demands further explanation, an instance in which a number of thematic subtexts may convincingly serve to justify a range of otherwise inexplicable effects…

In this sense both sorcery and science have within recent history, frequently served as a suitable cross reference for high art, a generic distinction through which all manner of optical manipulation may be perceived to stand readily accountable, providing plausibility to the perspective which it appears to grant over alternate realities.

Being an ardent admirer of such art, a predilection which I honed during my early youth, after having been coached by my father’s own passion for visual fantasy, I became fully aware of the liberation that images of both a cosmological and magical persuasion were capable of offering to those of an imaginative disposition, an interest which I fervently cultivated through the collection of both comic books and magazines devoted to the depiction of impossible events.

Subsequently taking it upon myself to perform a little research into the field of fantasy art after having become acquainted with the detail of such work, I learned that a number of artists had through, association with America’s space program during the 1970's, incidentally worked for “NASA”, an instance in which the fabulous graphic artist “Robert McCall” was recorded to have both designed the Mission patches for the agency’s “Apollo Seventeen” program and decorated the wall of America’s “National Air and Space Museum” with an extended mural inspired by space flight.

Both the “Weird Tales” illustrator “Frank Kelly Freas” and the graphic artist “John Berkey” were, in this instance, also notably commissioned by “NASA” to create images for the American “Skylab” program a circumstance beneath which “John Berkey” who similarly achieved distinction for his work on the epic science fiction films “2001 A Space Odyssey” and “Star Wars”, was noted to have drafted a number of pictures inspired by the appalling damage wreaked during the “Challenger” disaster of the mid 1980’s, an event which, in ultimately spelling an end to America’s Space Shuttle program could, in dampening the inclination of art towards speculation of an impossibly exotic character, further be construed to provide an insight into the harder practicalities of interstellar transport.

Intrigued by the notion that such art could, although fantastic, rest soundly upon a basis of fact, I duly performed an investigation into other instances of scientific cross reference learning that the artist “John Harris” had, in having worked for both “Philips Electronics” and “Shell Oil”, once been commissioned to design cruisers for the “Royal Caribbean” shipping company, an assignment which, in granting him an underlying knowledge of naval dynamics, had presumably also served to determine many of the component elements that appear within his art.

Jim Burns” who achieved renown through association with both “Ridley Scott’s” classic film “Bladerunner” and the drafting of a number of illustrations for “Harry Harrison’s” science fiction novels was also noted to have been employed by the Royal Air Force during the 1960's, a period that, in surely acquainting him with the indiscriminate magnitude of heavy industry to which many aspects of modern avionics circumscribe, must surely have served to inspire many of the darker themes that occur within his art, a term beneath which the sheer intractability that distinguishes potentially lethal machinery could conceivably be reinforced by it’s application towards conflict, an instance in which men, beholden to the dictum of such technology’s preservation, could conceivably forsake their humanity, becoming physical manifestations of a ruthlessly irrevocable mechanical scheme.

It may perhaps be with regards to such a prospect that many examples of “Jim Burn’s” draftsmanship consciously appear to pursue a gentler standard, employing both color and tone to salvage the possibility of wistful utopia and enlightened harmony from the brink of despair, an attitude freely reflected in the general bearing of the wider commercial advertising industry in which both his own art and that of others are produced, a forum that, upon a daily basis, conscientiously seeks to appease the notion of cultural diaspora which it fears that it may court.

Although clearly of a fictive persuasion, many works drafted by the artist “David A.Hardy” similarly preserve a factual premium, the draftsman having both worked for a number of astronomical publications throughout his youth and assisted the renowned star gazer “Patrick Moore” in the illustration of “Sun, Myth and Men”, a book which, in being devoted to the study of observed event, retains a ring of authenticity conventionally preserved for matters of a scholarly persuasion.

Perhaps, in being bounded by the exactitudes of real observation, much of “David A. Hardy’s” art is also notable for dwelling upon the issue of human consciousness, a premium that, in serving as a perfect counterfoil for the gauntlet of daily activities that are circumstantially undertaken by men, can dispense with scientific wisdom in favor of an holistic approach which is inclined to observe that the human perceptive faculty can be stimulated towards speculation of a far stranger and more exotic persuasion than one would immediately surmise.

Naturally, in dwelling upon the distinctions which serve to divide fact from fiction within fortean art one may be deceived into believing that what one is perceiving is real, a premium beneath which the artistic pretext that defines much draftsmanship devoted to subjects of a scientific persuasion is, even when largely correct, self confessedly fictive simply because much of it’s diagnostic quota proves to be entirely insubstantiable when placed before the lens of academic scrutiny.

In this sense, the generic distinctions which divide science fiction from fact have, in many instances, been formalized beneath their own terminology, resigning themselves to a number of sub-categories such as “cyber punk”, “steam punk”, “magical realism” and “sword and sorcery” in efforts to separate their quota from any connection with reality and thereby grant the imagination unlimited warranty over what may be perceived.

In circumscribing to the many shades of generic classification which currently defines art work of a fantastic pedigree, many modern comic strips and graphic novels are, in this manner, perceived to intentionally forsake fact for fantasy, describing panoramas that, in being confirmed false, are contrived merely to lend narrative of an equally fictive persuasion thematic texture, a term beneath which the fertility of their vision effectively represents no more than a window into an otherwise impossible realm of incident.

In this sense, the work of “Chris Foss”, is, although easily confused with many of the more exotic aspects of the global aeronautics industry, purely of an imaginary persuasion, the images of vast space craft which recur within the artist’s work, touching a perspectival nerve that provides a vantage from which it remains possible to imagine the magnitude of otherwise inconceivable occurrences.

The technique works well, inspiring an acute sense of awe, among those intrigued by the magnificent scale that science fiction is, beyond all other genres, capable of appreciating, an instance in which a given audience is, upon being granted an opportunity to investigate such art’s detail, almost accidentally transported from an immediate reference frame onto a distant plane in which events of vast and incredible significance can, in an imaginary sense, be construed to occur.

Not only do many draftsmen begin their careers with periods of work within the employ of corporate concerns but some enter into projects of an industrial persuasion after having established reputations for themselves upon the art circuit, an instance in which “H.R. Giger”, who was circumstantially employed alongside “Chris Foss” and “Jean Giraud” to create a series of preliminary sketches for an unreleased version of “Frank Herbert’s” novel “Dune” directed by the Chilean film maker “Alejandro Jodorowsky” during the 1970’s, went on to both acquire and furnish a castle in the Swiss town of “Gruyeres”, a building that, in subsequently being converted into a museum devoted to his work, was uniquely overhauled with modern die-casting technology to resemble a product of the imagination.

Decorated with ribbed skeletal architraves and equipped with a bar furnished in a darkly bio-synthetic style to resemble the sets of “Ridley Scott’s” classic science fiction adventure “Alien”, a film upon which the artist was incidentally renowned to have worked, the internal decorations of “H.R.Giger’s” uniquely adorned chateux, convincingly extend forth from the canvas upon which they were initially conceived like the inventory of a medieval ossuary smitten by contagion, an instance in which the sheer detail invested in their scheme frequently borders upon that which one would conventionally associate with heavy industry.

The artist “Patrick Woodroffe” who, in having designed a number of impressive album sleeves for several rock groups during the 1970’s, went on to both draft a series of works inspired by the artistic traditions of the renaissance and develop a technique for alloying photography to painted imagery, was, through association with “H.R. Giger’s” museum, notably commissioned to produce two high quality bronze sculptures respectively entitled “Le Bouclier de Mars” and “Le Bouclier de Venus” for display at the Swiss Chateux.

Perhaps through association with “H.R. Giger’s” work, much modern science fiction was observed to adopt a darker apparel than that which served to define the blithe optimism of America’s space race during the 1950’s, a process through which what amounted to a relatively bland appraisal of intergalactic technology inadvertently merged with ideas of a more subversive persuasion, lending gravitas to the notion of modernity that they sought to encompass by drawing allusion to a host of underlying schemes furnished with rituals and traditions dredged from eras far earlier than those known to mankind.

In drafting the evolutionary history of a fictive planet named “Darwin Four” during the early 1990's, the art of “Wayne Barlowe” stands as a fine example of science fiction’s potential as a forum for such ideas, an instance in which the artist’s adaptation of the “Grimoire of Pope Honorious”, presents grounds for speculation as to exactly how comprehensive the range of cultural auxiliaries that may incidentally be ascribed to imaginary races could become.

As a result of both the visual nature of art and the cultural formality of generically separating fact from fantasy, much work devoted to the topic of science fiction has, quite circumstantially found itself tethered to a narrative convention which, in itself playing subject to further interpretation through the application of both optical and auditory media to it’s scheme, readily extends province beyond the wildest aspirations of draftsmanship, becoming a multi-faceted corporate entity replete with it’s own mythology, identity and code of practice.

Having drafted cover leafs for a number of prominent authors including “Stephen King”, “Michael Moorcock” and “Anne McCaffrey” in tandem with designing a selection of album sleeves for musicians such as “Michael Jackson” and “Meatloaf” the artist “Micheal Whelan” was, in the early 1980's commissioned to produce a number of preliminary sketches for the sequel to “Stanley Kubrick’s” epic science fiction film “2001 A Space Odyssey”, a media event which, in resting upon the reputation established by it’s precursor, was compelled to surpass the expectations of even the most reserved audiences, employing the celebrated special effects team assembled during the 1960’s by “Douglas Trumbull” in efforts to create a truly awe inspiring realm of incident.

Renowned for pioneering a number of Computer Generated Imaging techniques “2010 A Space Odyssey, The Year We Make Contact”. was, when released, immediately absorbed into the ethos which had, throughout the 1970’s, served to precede it, an instance in which it was more than adequately equipped to cater for virtually every school of conjecture that it may spawn, becoming a plausible alternative to the rationalist equations that, in a contemporary sense, tend to reserve judgement for issues of a cosmological persuasion.

Preserving many elements of the vast cultural reference frame collated by the eminent science fiction author “Arthur C. Clarke” during the drafting of the novel upon which it was based, “2010 A Space Odyssey Two” was uniquely crafted to dwell upon both the conclusions reached throughout the halcyon era of America’s space race and the many diverse realm of speculation that had, by the time of it’s release, been opened for debate, seamlessly blending aspects of modern physics with issues of both an historical and sociological persuasion to the effect of establishing a convincingly comprehensive premium for itself.

Although self confessedly fictive, the sheer quality of much modern fantasy represents, in many instances, such an appealing formula that it achieves a degree of renown far in excess of any comparable factual premium, entering into all aspects of the cultural lexicon as a vanguard of mankind’s innate compulsion to escape the constraints of it’s condition.

The sheer profundity of much modern science fiction is, in this sense, of such a pervasive character that it serves, perhaps more than any other factor within popular media to define what it is that may yet remain possible through the abstract application of physical principles to a natural scheme, a process which, in sanctioning progress beyond the wildest aspirations of cultural optimism appears to be perfectly capable of stimulating a manner of intermediary change that, in falling marginally short of it’s ideal, can yet achieve some of it’s majesty .

Having experienced, in some small measure, a number of radical advances in the general apparel of contemporary culture throughout my life, a period in which the “Cathode Ray” science of mid twentieth century tele-visual apparatus has been convincingly surpassed by “Plasma Screen” technology, interactive computer games have far exceeded the premium set by motion picture cinematography, and the ergonomic efficiency of car design has vastly improved the expedient which served, throughout the virgin era of automotive transport, to facilitate terrestrial convey, I have been fortunate enough to observe the precarious tango which art appears fated to dance with science, a coincidence of interests that, in cherishing a common ideal, miraculously appears capable of realizing many of it’s objectives, superseding not only the industry but also the imagination of the historical precedent that once served to inspire it.

In this sense at least, the future of both fortean art and the manner in which it both mirrors and guides the aspirations of contemporary technology remains difficult to deduce, if, for example, a man of Victorian stock were ordained to pass opinion upon issues pertaining to the cultural apparel of life in the early twenty first century then surely even his most delerious exaggerations would fall short of what is presently accepted to be common wisdom.

Maybe such predictions merely serve as extensions to the gradual accumulation of self confirming myths which inevitably saturate our cultural reference frame, beliefs that, in being wrought through grades of psycho-somatically sustained credulity, retain cohesion only to themselves.

Perhaps, for want of perspicacity in the matter of human consciousness and any physical truth that may serve to define it, we simply misconstrue what it means to be alive.

“Perhaps we leave our heritage behind, perhaps we start again”.

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A Victorian man trapped in the twenty first century

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Tom Scrow

Tom Scrow

A Victorian man trapped in the twenty first century

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