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.