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Fantasy Art of the New Millennium: the best in Fantasy and SF art worldwide
by Dick Jude (HarperCollins Voyager, £16.99, 144 pages, large format hardback; published 6 September 1999.)

Sometimes you get a review copy you just can't put down, from the moment you tear open the wrapping. This beautifully produced guide to the approaches of ten leading cover artists is such a cover scanvolume: a book to dip into, a book to idly flick through, a book to read from cover to cover.

Each of the artists gets a chapter to themselves consisting of a potted biography, some examples of their work accompanied by general text about the artist, and then to my mind the most fascinating section: a closer examination of a number of the artist's works, including discussions of the brief, the initial thinking, the reasoning behind the artist's approach to the commission, all illustrated by the work in various stages, from crude thumbnail sketch, through exploratory sketches, photographic references, roughs to the final work... and often, even, the post-final work, where the artist has continued developing a piece beyond the version used on the book cover.

The choice of artists is excellent, ranging from the intricately detailed ink and watercolours of Alan Lee and John Howe, the traditional (and slightly forced) oils of Don Maitz, the exquisitely macabre oils of Brom; through the airbrushery/oils/digital crossovers of Jim Burns, Rick Berry and Chris Moore; to the digital worlds of sampling, scanning and three-dimensional modelling of Steve Stone, Fred Gambino and Dave McKean. Did I mention that it's a beautiful and fascinating book?

Fantasy Art of the New Millennium (a marketing person's misnomer as, by necessity, all the work included is of the old one) is very much a coffee-table book. What it gains in production values it loses in approach.

It's perhaps inevitable that a book like this leans towards hagiography: you don't select the best just to slag them off, after all. But it does give the text a sameness of tone, a lack of depth. When interesting topics crop up they are immediately glossed over: a brief reference to the young Steve Stone hiding his 'girly' interest in art by honing his playground football skills is followed by the sentence, "This all changed when a bereavement in his family caused Steve to withdraw from playground society and concentrate on his art." The pivotal point in the formation of a young artist and that one sentence tells us next to nothing about why Stone's life changed, how a boy can 'withdraw from playground society', what drives him... Such missed opportunities to really get inside the artists are too frequent in this book.

Fantasy Art might gloss over the surface of these artists and their lives, but what a stimulating surface to skim! For the most part, the book contains a mix of fascinating practical insight (Jim Burns on the transition from airbrush to Photoshop, for example) and the familiar opacity of artists talking about their work (often, artists are not the best commentators on their own work: "The trick here is a 'kinded' vision - scribbling in the 'kind' of way you wish to see. 'Anythingness' by degrees of skilled 'kinded' scribbling becomes 'architecturalness' where I'll need buildings in the composition; 'anatomicalness' is where an arm, hip or face will become necessary," says Rick Berry).

Oh yes, did I mention what a beautiful and fascinating book this is?

Review by Nick Gifford.

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© Nick Gifford 15 January 2000