Friday, May 23, 2014

The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi - review

Following the success of 2012's Dinosaur Art, Titan Books have evidently noticed the public's appreciation for palaeoart - not just as an eye-catching way of padding out a kiddies' dinosaur book as in the bad old days, but as art for its own sake. In what I can only hope will become a series of titles featuring the work of today's prominent palaeoartists, Titan now present their latest stupendous coffee table compendium - The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi. It's quite the stunner, and I could happily rant about it all day long (in an interminably rapid manner while flapping my hands about), but I'll try and keep it brief.

NB: I should hopefully have some more images for the review soon. I'll upload them when they're available (my e-mail conversations with the publisher are a little slow moving, which is my fault, not theirs). In the meantime, check out Dave Hone's interview with Julius Csotonyi and Steve White for more pics (the interview's very good too!). All art is of course © Julius Cstonoyi, and should you use it without permission, a flock of angry dinosaurs will descend through your bedroom window and peck you while you sleep.

While slightly smaller than Dinosaur Art, this is still a hefty book; even so, it often proves too confining for Csotonyi's more panoramic works, many of which luxuriate over vast fold-out spreads. While the bulk of the book is divided into Palaeozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic sections, there was never any doubt as to who the cover stars would be - quite literally. And so we are treated to a truly eye-popping, wonderfully composed cover, as a gorgosaur attempts to snatch a baby Spinops from right under the parent's nose (while putting itself in serious danger of being pummeled). Csotonyi's great skill is in portraying the athleticism of these animals through dynamic, exciting poses, while also convincing us of their enormous heft, and making them appear completely at home in their surroundings. Csotonyi's worlds are not the cartoonish, volcano-strewn theatre backdrops of old - they're true palaeoenvironments, allowing us a glimpse not just at long-vanished creatures, but the complete world they inhabited. In that regard, he stands among a very few of the world's truly great palaeoartists.

Csotonyi's careful approach to reconstructing prehistoric habitats pays off nowhere better than in his Palaeozoic scenes, which take on a truly bizarre, very alien appearance - as well they should. So often depicted in drab, sandy landscapes, it's still startling to see the likes of Edaphosaurus and Dimetrodon at home in lush forests of gigantic ferns and club-mosses. For those of us who are enthusiasts mostly of Mesozoic reptiles, it's easy to forget just how weird things were back still further in time. Csotonyi's achievement is in not just describing, or even showing us that world, but really taking us there.

Csotonyi works mostly in digital these days, and has increasingly made use of photo-composites in his work. While he remains very good at a technique that is terribly easy to get horribly wrong, I must confess to still enjoying his pure (digital) painting work a lot more; it looks so much more 'of a piece', and actually convinces us more of the scene's reality. Admittedly, some of Csotonyi's best photo-manips are quite difficult to detect as such, but all too often the technique results in a disjointed sky or (in one rhino-starring incidence in particular) foliage. Still, Cstotonyi's use of photo-compositing shows signs of improving with time even in this book, and the painted elements of his work remain utterly gorgeous.

Amid all my fawning, it's probably worth mentioning a little something about the broader content of the book that I am ostensibly reviewing. While the unabashed purpose of the book is to showcase Csotonyi's art in all its glossy, excellently reproduced glory, the reader is given a little more to chew on than a gallery of pretty pictures. The majority of pieces receive explanatory labels (and often rather more than that), either from Csotonyi himself, Steve White, or a host of scientists, who will have typically published on one or more of the animals featured in a given piece. In such a way, the artworks are given a broader scientific context, one that was often missing in Dinosaur Art. Many of the pieces are also accompanied with preliminary roughs, sketches and earlier revisions, which provide a welcome glimpse into Csotonyi's process, in addition to fascinating 'what if' alternative versions of some of the best works. Thanks to the range of works on offer, it's also possible to see Csotonyi's work evolve over the years (thankfully, his primary-less dromaeosaurs are now a thing of the past).

One of the best examples of these elements coming harmoniously together is in a section looking at Csotonyi's fish-eye view of an Apatosaurus knocking over a tree (apparently inspired by a chat with Dave Hone). Here is a complete insight into the scientific thinking and speculation, artistic process, and the gradual and painstaking development of this particularly unusual and challenging piece. A number of different works are given this treatment, and it'll all prove highly engrossing for anyone interested in the business of great palaeoart.

In sum, this is the type of palaeoart book that we've all been waiting for - the sort that has only very rarely been seen before. It's a celebration of Csotonyi's work, of course, but it's also a celebration of the art of restoring extinct animals more broadly. The price tag (£25 in the UK, $34.95 in the US) might seem hefty at first, but you definitely get what you pay for - this is a wonderful book that you'll be poring over for weeks, and referring back to for years to come.


  1. Thanks, Marc. I'm a big fan of Csotonyi's work. Stunning realism and dynamism with both the beasts and their environments. I just bought this new for £13.89 thru Amazon UK from a seller with a 4.7 rating (hopefully it turns up!). Amazon US also had new copies in the low $20's so shop around.

  2. After having seen the book in person, I'm very conflicted about whether to add Csotonyi's new book to my "My Serious Dino Books" ( ). I really want to, but there are a couple of things that make me unsure.

    1stly, I'm unsure of whether there's enough scientific commentary (from both Csotonyi himself & the paleontologists) to make the book a worthwhile read. & no, paleoart alone does NOT make an adult dino book worthwhile (no matter how beautiful & accurate). Don't get me wrong as paleoart is very important to me (Besides being a visual learner who needs visual aids, I love seeing fleshed-out dinos interacting w/their environments like living animals). However, the text is just as important, especially when it puts the paleoart into a scientific context.

    2ndly, a lot of the text is ridiculously tiny, which makes me unsure of whether reading the book will be too much trouble. Seriously, whoever's idea it was to make the text that tiny should be punched in both eyes.

    3rdly, I'm unsure about the foldouts, which make it easier to damage the book. Maybe they wouldn't be an issue if I didn't have to open them to read some of the ridiculously tiny text.

    AFAIK, Lanzendorf's "Dinosaur Imagery" is still the overall best paleoart book.


    1. The book is about the art first and foremost - this isn't an illustrated book about prehistoric animals, so if that's what you're after, look elsewhere. As for the text, other people have mentioned having a problem with its small size, but it hasn't bothered me. That said, I'm short-sighted...

  3. The art is beautiful as always. Csotonyi has improved quite a lot


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