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Illumina: The Art of JP Targete

by Jean Marie Ward

Foreword by Patricia Briggs

(Paper Tiger, $29.95, 128 pages, hardcover; June 2003.)

Jean Pierre Targete paints extraordinarily attractive art. His book cover scenes of cover scangrotesque creatures, futuristic technology and stark humanity snare the viewer and draw her/him toward each piece; once caught, the viewer looks deeper into the scene, starting unaware from a focal point and then moving around it, taking in each nuance as she/he goes, bearing witness to a mysterious event captured in a moment.

Attractive cover art is a bookseller's dream. I would imagine that, over the past fifteen years of earning publishers' commissions, Targete's covers have caused many a browser to notice a book in a store and eventually purchase it at the check-out rather than be forced to part with it. It is this quality of attractiveness in his art that won Targete the prestigious Chesley Award a couple of years back.

Which leads me to Illumina: The Art of J.P. Targete, another in a long line of extraordinarily attractive issues from the Paper Tiger imprint. The blue-and-soft-pink cover depiction of a woman in the midst of what appears to be an electrokinetic shapeshifting transformation (commissioned originally for Roger Zelazny's The Guns of Avalon) should lead to many sales if merchants display it prominently within their shops or genre convention booths -- it is that irresistible.

And, after the snare has been made and the viewer becomes enthralled by page after page of absorbing artwork, she/he will notice the equally absorbing text written by Jean Marie Ward and become a reader as well. This is Ward's first effort for Paper Tiger and, hopefully, it won't be her last. The editor of Crescent Blues (a top-quality genre entertainment webzine; combines her feature-writing skills with those of colourful storyteller to aid in bringing Targete's artwork to life with vivid yet concise explanations of selected paintings throughout the book -- this along with a biographical narrative that acquaints us comfortably with the artist himself and the significata that led him to his career choices.

The book is divided into six topical sections, not including the foreword and a tutorial walkthrough (in which Targete explains, with ample illustration, how he created the Dragonstar player handbook cover for Fantasy Flight Games). Ward starts us off with "First Light", the biographical foundation for the rest of the narrative. This leads to "Welcome to the Big Apple", followed by four sections dealing with Targete's most notable preoccupations: the "Human Image", technology and spacescapes, style concepts and creature creations.

Targete's style and subject matter are in fact wider-ranging than these section breakdowns might suggest. His work includes intricate pieces almost as starkly photorealistic as the actual sources themselves, as well as story paintings that evoke moods created by the turn-of-the-century American illustration masters with their gentle richness. Illumina features over a hundred examples of Targete's artwork that will fascinate and delight you, or maybe even shake you up a bit. And, other than companion pieces, no two are alike.

Targete has dabbled with various styles throughout his career, possibly in the journey to find his artistic voice. He invokes Frank Frazetta's name in several places throughout the text, and it's clear he pays homage to the master in just about every ideally formed human warrior figure he paints. One also sees strong influences of H.R. Giger in certain of Targete's aliens (most strikingly, in Targete's The Darkness). I was reminded of Norman Rockwell and Frank Schoonover in Angels Beside You and of George Barr in Dragon Bones. Strong reminders of today's top genre artists are visible in many of Targete's book-cover renderings, if for no other reason than that today's publishing-house art directors demand that covers be based on shared templates.

However, back when Targete was beginning to establish a career in the grist-mill industry that is book-cover art, his best paintings were his personality pieces. At age 19 he painted The March, a moving character study of a young woman with dark hair and sunken eyes wearing a plain dark print dress and an expression of suppressed agony on her face. Behind her is a barbed wire fence, and in the distance a small band of soldiers is on the move, all under a turbulent sky. This work captures a subtlety and a depth of expression like few others I have seen, in what is identified in the caption as "images of the Holocaust..." Similar depth can be found in A Different Way (a perfectly formed young man emerges from a swimming pool) and The Stainless Steel Rat Sings the Blues (in which Harry Harrison's rogue protagonist, faced with a dire situation, turns to the viewer with an all-knowing, wiseacre smile on his face). There are plenty of others in this personality vein.

Targete embraces techniques and reference tools made available to artists within the past few years -- although most of the paintings found within the glossy pages of Illumina were done in oils. He sometimes uses his computer when developing the framework for his paintings -- he discusses using a 3D program to make a porthole frame for one -- yet the final product is rich in traditional application.

And each piece within the book has been reproduced with superlative clarity. Once again, Paper Tiger has given us a hardcover of collectable quality.

My only issue with this book is its layout. The designer seems to have forged his own creative path in a few of the chapters, at times oblivious to the references within the text when placing the paintings he was given to work with. For example, Ward writes on page 31: "In Targete's hands, consummate rogue Slippery Jim diGriz becomes an Indiana Jones figure so sure of himself that he can turn away from a horde of charging monstrosities to share the absurdity of the situation with the viewer." It would have been nice if the picture of the book cover about which she was writing were close by -- maybe on the opposite page or the one following or preceding it. However, we must search every page up to 39 -- eight pages of exploration -- to find the referenced painting. And explore we must, because unlike, for example, Jane Frank's The Art of Richard Powers, wherein the paintings she references are located for the reader with page numbers in parentheses within the text, we are not told where to go to find the paintings here. On the aforementioned page 31, Ward discusses The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted and its cover art is all the way ahead on page 45. On page 32, we are told about The Courts of Chaos, Codes of Conduct, Rules of Conflict and Iapetus. The Courts of Chaos is on page 43, Code of Conduct and Rules of Conflict are on page 44, and Iapetus is on the page opposite the reference. It is most disconcerting to have to keep flipping around the chapter just to keep up; it does a disservice to Ward's well constructed, easy-to-follow text to have to keep interrupting the narrative flow in order to hunt for the referenced pieces.

But be assured this minor gripe does not interfere in any large measure with the overall enjoyment of the entire presentation.

Based on what I've discovered in Illumina: The Art of J.P. Targete, it won't be long before this talented Floridian will be mentioned with the top fantasy illustrators working the trade today. He's certainly well known among publishing-house art directors, based on the number of commissions he's garnered over the past decade. But with the aid of this, the first book of his selected work, Targete's anonymity should now be officially over. Illumina is a coming-out party of sorts. Come share the fun!

Review by Randy M Dannenfelser.

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