Saturday, September 1, 2012

Dinosaur Art week concludes


Anchiornis huxleyi © Julius Csotonyi, used with permission of Titan Books.

I hope that you've enjoyed reading this week's long tag-team style review of Titan's new Dinosaur Art: The World's Greatest Paleoart. While our individual tastes naturally effected our feelings on the book, overall LITC heartily endorses it. I keep my copy in my workspace, and I love having it handy to get a little inspiration. I can turn to an artwork - say, Raul Martin's 2008 diplodocids spread on pages 172-173 - and focus on a single aspect. Right now, I'm appreciating Martin's rendering of these titans' feet. These brief excursions away from the task at hand are an important part of my creative process, and having large-format print pieces of paleoart within arm's reach is wonderful.

Predictably, my modest proposal as to the inclusion of Greg Paul's large color works met some pushback. John Conway and Douglas Henderson, AKA my two favorite chapters in Dinosaur Art, leapt to GSP's defense. Conway wrote in a comment on my Monday post:
I have to disagree on the subject of Greg Paul though. I think his colour work can be great, and unique amongst palaeo stuff. I especially enjoy his flat collage-like style that you see in the Omeisaurus in a forest painting and the Shunosaurus-Gasosaurus fauna piece (both of these are in the book). I would love to produce some things like that. Also, including anyone but Doug Henderson over Greg Paul would have been a massive error, in my opinion. He's clearly the most influential palaeontological artist, leaving him out would be silly.
Okay, okay, I was probably a little harsh in the post. GSP seems to inspire hyperbole... At Facebook, Henderson wrote:
I've grown accustom to Greg's old oil technique--it is a unique Winslow Homer/Hopper/Grandma Moses painting style. Flat indeed, but perfect executions of first-revealed anatomy and animal interactions--if sometimes a little crowded. I think his technique has since evolved. The wild thing about Greg's old work is that the originals are gone--buried under repeated modifications to the original paintings. I can't quite get my head around the willingness and severe unsentimentality to just cover over one's earlier work. I wish there had been more of Greg's color work in the book--it was and still is a major foundation to a modern visual representation of reconstructed animals, plants and environments--a fountain we have all been dipping our cups in, whether acknowledged or not.
I do prefer GSP's older color work, having explored some more of it again, and seeing there was a bit more depth to it. I thank Henderson by giving me some historical reference to put him into better context. But I stand by my opinion that the GSP color work selected for Dinosaur Art is outshone by most of the other work in the book. Different strokes, I suppose. I'll be interested to see if anyone else weighs in about this as more people get the books in their hands. What would be really fun would be a career-spanning review of GSP's work, but if you don't have every publication he's done, it's virtually impossible, as his site only features the work locked up in slideshows.


Elasmosaurs and Pteranodon © Douglas Henderson, used with permission of Titan Books. Yeah, Marc used it too. How could I resist?

In all, though we all had some criticisms, Dinosaur Art gets the LITC stamp of approval, a prestigious and much sought-after award. Its high quality and reasonable price make it ideal as a present for paleontology enthusiasts of any age. I can imagine unwrapping this as a child and losing myself for hours in the art, and as I grew up with it on my bookshelf, gaining valuable insight from White's essay and the artist interviews. I don't need to sell this to LITC's core audience: we all have been inspired by paleoart. But if you've wandered into this strange little corner of the web and there's a young boy or girl in your life who's dinosaur-mad: put Dinosaur Art in their hands. They'll learn the story of Leonardo the Brachylophosaurus and know the animal through Julius Csotonyi's haunting death portrait. They'll feel the weight of herds of sauropods. They'll dive into Paleozoic and Mesozoic seas, meeting bizarre arthropods, enormous marine reptiles, and titanic fish. That's a lasting value that far outweighs its modest cover price.

Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs reviews:
David Orr
Marc Vincent
Asher Elbein
Niroot Puttapipat

But don't take our word for it. Reviews from around the blogosphere:
Dave Hone
Brian Switek
Dan Chure
Dan Joslyn for Geek Life

Finally, LiveScience has done an interview with Steve White, as well as a brief slideshow of some of the featured work.

3 comments:

  1. Some very pertinent comments from Doug Henderson.

    Beautifully concluded David, as expected. Now for me to crawl ignominiously back from whence I came... ;)

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  2. Great reviews all around. But David, I, too, offer my dissent on the GSP matter. No artist has forced me to look at dinosaurs-and animals in general- in a different way more than Greg Paul. Really, there was no precedent for his work-- it's nigh impossible to see where Paul came from, he's just so out of left field. The alien-ness of Paul's work is what attracted me to it in the first place. That and his intuitive, savant-like anatomical conclusions, where before dinosaurs had been inconsistent lumpy masses. His dinosaurs looked like animals instead of inventions of the mind. I think Paul's weaknesses in the traditional and technical aspects of art-making were his strengths. His odd, diagrammatic, sometimes flat and over-demonstrated anatomies are the perfect counterpoint to the romantic atmospherics of Doug Henderson, and both are the ideal foci around which the continuum of paleo-art has swirled figure-8 style these past 30 years.

    Also man, feathered dinos! He had the testicular fortitude to never give up the dream when others denied, equivocated, or even renounced.

    My thoughts, to be taken with a grain of salt.

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  3. I do love GSP's stuff. Just not all of it.

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