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Zoe Lescaze has worked as an archaeological illustrator in Cameroon and as an actress in New York, where she was born and raised. Currently a writer and art critic, she has contributed to ARTnews, Artforum, Even, and The New York Observer, among other publications.
Walton Ford, born 1960, studied filmmaking at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), but soon realized he was a painter. For the last 20 years he has been creating large-scale narrative watercolors. His work has been widely exhibited, including solo shows at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin and the Brooklyn Museum in New York.
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5,0 su 5 stelleI love paleoart, and I love the history of science
Daeagseagsil 1 settembre 2017 - Pubblicato su Amazon.com
Paleoart is the depiction of fossil animals and plants as living organisms. Recent decades have produced torrents of it, and off the top of my head I can name many contemporary paleoartists: Mauricio Anton, Julius Csotonyi, John Gurche, James Gurney, Doug Henderson, Raul Martin, Gregory S. Paul, Luis Rey, William Stout, Peter Trusler. etc. However, for most of the history of paleoart, which has lasted almost 190 years, such artists have been rare.
I love paleoart, and I love the history of science, so I cannot help but like the latest book “Paleoart: Visions of the Prehistoric Past” by Zoe Lescaze and Walton Ford. Zoe Lescaze is a freelance writer in New York, where she covers art and art history. Walton Ford is an artist who paints in the style of naturalist illustrations. As you might expect, this book is not strong in scientific content, but does covers paleoartists and their major works in the period 1830 to the mid-1980’s. Almost every page has at least one reproduced work of art and there is much explanatory text (in smallish print).
Be warned: When this book was delivered to me I was surprised how oversized it is: 11.5 X 15 inches, 1.5 inches thick, and it must weight at least a few pounds because of the heavy paper stock. You will not be able to read this book on the bus, it will be hard to find a bookshelf for it, and you will need a sturdy coffee table. That the book is so big is a good thing since the art is reproduced in very high detail. There are many pages that fold out to properly display those pieces that are very wide, murals for example. Printing such a book is expensive and the nominal price ($100) reflects that, although the price on Amazon is a lot more reasonable.
The first known example of paleoart is “Duria Antiquior” (a more ancient Dorset). It is a 1830 watercolor by Henry De la Beche (1796-1855), who was a friend of Mary Anning. This painting depicts life in the Jurassic based on fossils from Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast of England. This painting is the first to use the “aquarium view”, simultaneously showing life above and below water, a convention that was not widely used until decades later. Ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, fish, and pterosaurs, are shown in violent interaction, with crinoids, squids, and ammonites in the background. Despite the violence (which was the fashion at that time for depicting nature), the creatures have an appealing cartoony look. This work was widely reproduced and copied by other artists.
Up to the middle of the 19th century paleoart seemed to concentrate on two subjects: ichthyosaurs battling plesiosaurs, and dinosaurs. Ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs could be shown in water or walking on land. Ichthyosaurs were depicted as having long serpentine tails (decades before it was realized they had dolphin-like tales) and being able to spout like whales. Some of these depictions were quite fanciful, being more influenced by the idea of dragons, or the work of Hieronymus Bosch, than the available scientific knowledge. Only three dinosaurs were known at the time: Iguanodon, Megalosaurus, and Hylaeosaurus, and only a few bones. Therefore, their restoration was heavily influenced by modern reptiles; they were depicted as a mix of giant lizard, crocodile, and rhinoceros (all quadrupeds). Iguanodon was always represented with a shot horn on its nose (we now know the horn is a thumb spike). Megalosaurus was drawn as a shortened ridged-back crocodile with a frog-like mouth full of sharp teeth (we now know it was a bipedal theropod). A new style of art arose to replace the “constant violence” paradigm. You could call it “peaceable kingdom,” where prehistoric animals lived side-by-side in majestic tranquility.
The latter half of the 19th century was a peak time for paleoart and the popularity of dinosaurs. The first reason is that painter and sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894) designed public exhibits of prehistoric life for Victorian audiences in England, particularly life-size models of dinosaurs as they were understood at the time. The most famous exhibit was at the Crystal Palace in South London, and the sculptures are still visible today. Famous lithographs from the time show the dinner held in 1853 in the mold for the Iguanodon. In Philadelphia, Hawkins created the first mounted dinosaur skeleton for Hadrosaurus in 1868. He established a studio in New York and had planned a “Paleozoic Museum” for Central Park, similar to the Crystal Palace. This project was shelved however. It is not clear, even today, whether the projected cost was too high or it ran afoul of Boss Tweed. In any case, in 1870 the models for the project were smashed by persons unknown and (legend has it) buried in Central Park. Only a few sketches of the project still exist. Later in his career Hawkins did many dinosaur paintings at what is now Princeton University. Hawkins was highly regarded in the scientific community, but he was not without his critics. In the early days most of the criticism was that dinosaurs were too incompletely known to make any kind of guess as to their appearance. Later on, new discoveries made his depiction of dinosaurs obsolete, yet he kept to his older designs. Unfortunately, as much as we admire Hawkins as an artist, in hindsight we see that both of these criticisms are accurate.
The second reason for a boost in paleoart is that the American west was being explored by famous paleontologists, especially the rivals Edward Cope and O.C. Marsh. Many dozens of new (and fairly complete) dinosaur and mammal genera were discovered in a few decades. The tail end of that period, ending with the deaths of Cope and Marsh in 1897 and 1899, respectively, is when Charles R. Knight (1874-1953) came into ascendency. Knight worked with Cope on some dinosaur paintings toward the end of Cope’s life. Knight is probably still the most influential paleoartist up to the middle of the 20th Century, both as a painter and a sculptor. Clearly the dinosaurs in early movies like “King Kong” and “The Lost World” were copied from his paintings, and almost all the current paleoartists say that they were inspired by his work. Not many people know that he was an accomplished artist in many fields: an illustrator of children’s books, a builder of stained glass windows, a taxidermist, a sculptor, and a designer of currency. A very interesting detail about Knight is that he was legally blind for most of his life and needed assistance to complete large works like murals. I won’t go into a lot of detail, other than to say that “Paleoart” covers his early work well. Knight deserves a book of his own, and one recent such book is: “Charles R. Knight. The Artist Who Saw Through Time” by Richard Milner (2012).
The most famous (and probably the largest, at 110 feet long) single work of paleoart is probably “The Age of Reptiles” which is a fresco mural at the Peabody museum at Yale. This was painted by Rudolph Zallinger (1919-1995) in the period 1943-1947 when he was in his 20’s. The painting depicts the Devonian (on the extreme right) to the late Cretaceous (on the extreme left). The mural depicts several dozen species of reptiles walking through a detailed environment which appears to be shimmering with light. Trees in the foreground divide the geological periods. This painting is considered to be in the “pastoral style” because none of the animals are interacting with each other. Zallinger had never painted a dinosaur before the mural. Although the painting was considered scientifically accurate at the time, today we would consider the dinosaurs too dull in color, too static in pose, and too bloated in shape. The painting gained international fame when it appeared in a series “The World We Live In” in Life Magazine. However, what was printed in Life was photographed from an earlier much-smaller egg-tempera study and not the final mural. Also, it was flipped horizontally so time would proceed right to left. The mural is still there at the Peabody Museum and, in my opinion, all persons interested in paleoart should make a pilgrimage to see it.
Zdenek Burian (1905-1981), a Czech artist who worked in the period 1930’s to the 1980’s, is probably the most prolific paleoartist; it is estimated he produced somewhere over 15,000 paintings and sketches. He also illustrated about 500 books. Although his name is not as recognized as that of Charles R. Knight, his images have been widely reproduced in print and copied by other artists. My favorite work shows an aquarium view of two Brachiosaurus neck deep in water (although we now know sauropods were generally land animals, and it would be physiologically impossible to breath in such a situation). In my opinion Burian was excellent at painting dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals, but had a special talent for painting early humans at their daily activities. However, although it was acceptable scientifically at the time, nowadays we would not depict Neanderthals as grim, dark-skinned, and stooped.
So “Paleoart” does a good job of representing artists I already knew about. Its great strength, however, is introducing me to artists I had never heard of. Heinrich Harder (1858-1935) is known for painting collectable cards of prehistoric life that were distributed by one of Germany’s leading chocolate manufacturers in 1916. The work that gave him international fame in 1913, however, is a series of tile murals that decorated the Berlin Aquarium. These depicted various types of prehistoric life in the style of colorful Japanese ukiyo-e prints. The aquarium was destroyed in an Allied bombing raid in 1943, but the aquarium art was reconstructed in 1982 from old paintings and photographs.
Those of us who follow the literature about the dinosaur origin of birds often hear about the horrible wrong turn the field took because of a book published by Gerhard Heilmann (1859-1946) in Danish in 1916 and in English in 1926: “The Origin of Birds.” In this book it is argued that dinosaurs could not be the ancestors of birds because they lacked wishbones. I had always assumed Heilmann was a biologist of some kind, but he was in fact an artist. “The Origin of Birds” is an audacious undertaking; Heilmann assumed his status as an amateur ornithologist and his ability to draw would compensate for his complete lack of formal training in biology or paleontology. Although it came to what, in hindsight, is the wrong conclusion (we now know dinosaurs did have wishbones and we know many dozens of feathered dinosaurs), “The Origin of Birds” is impressive both scientifically and artistically. Heilmann is among the first people to paint Archaeopteryx as having brightly-colored feathers, something that has become the norm.
“Paleoart” discusses two English artists that I was only vaguely aware of, who worked in the 1950’s and 1960’s: Neave Parker (1910-1961) and Maurice Wilson (1914-1987). They have very distinct styles. Parker did contrasty monochromatic “chalk and charcoal” paintings and Wilson imitated the soft style of Japanese watercolors. I find Wilson’s art quite beautiful.
The most unfamiliar artists to me (and to most people in the West) are the “Soviet era” (1930’s-1980’s) Russians: Konstantin Konstantinovich Flyorov, Vassily Alexeyevich Vatagin, Alexei Nikanorovich Komarov, and Andrei Rostislavovich Lopatin. The most attention in “Paleoart” is given to Flyorov (1904-1980). He was a scientist and director of the Orlov Museum of Paleontology in Moscow. He had preference for saturated colors and Impressionistic brush technique, and he seemingly payed little attention to fossil evidence. The latest piece discussed in “Paleoart” is the 60 ft high ceramic mosaic “The Tree of Life” built in 1986 by Alexander Belashov (1933-) for the new Orlov Museum. Interestingly, whereas paleoart is normally a “second class citizen” among the fine arts, in those times Russian paleoartists got free reign while mainstream artists were constrained to produce art in the “socialist realism” style (which to us in non-socialist countries looks like propaganda).
You will not see much in “Paleoart” about contemporary paleoartists. The last chapter has several examples from the late Ely Kish (1924-2014), who did her major work in the mid-1970’s. This seems an arbitrary choice. I don’t particularly like Kish’s work. She is a practitioner of what is called the “shrink-wrapped dinosaur” syndrome, i.e. showing dinosaurs (and other prehistoric vertebrates) having just enough flesh to cover their bones. It always bothered me that in her paintings the pubic bones of dinosaurs always stuck out. On the other hand, unlike most previous art that predates the Dinosaur Renaissance in the 1980’s, Kish did paint dinosaurs in more dynamic poses (tail off the ground, etc.), which is standard now.
I like the discussion in the last chapter about how paleoart suffers from snobbery within the mainstream art world. This is mainly due to “guilt by association” with anything with mass appeal: children, toys, blockbuster movies, etc. To quote: “Throw an engraving of an egret above the mantelpiece and no one balks. Hang a painting of a T. rex in the same spot, and the decision screams nerd stuck in second childhood.”
As you can tell, I am quite impressed by “Paleoart” and would recommend it highly to anyone who loves art, loves paleontology, or both.
DaPetter Bockmanil 8 settembre 2017 - Pubblicato su Amazon.com
Paleoart is a visually stunning book. The scale is grand (finding shelf place for it will be a challenge), the paper is high quality and the reproduction and printing of the illustration is of the highest quality. Several of the illustrations are double spreads, all in beautiful colour. If you love the history of paleo and the early, wonky critters of Victorian art up to the "Dinosaur revolution" of the late 20th century, this book is for you!
The book is roughly organized after time periods, starting with the first fledgeling attempts of depicting the "lost worlds" of the 1830's and going through the classics of the early 20th century like Burian, Knight and Harder. A very pleasant surprise is the inclusion of Soviet paleoart, images that are mostly unknown in the West still.
Anyone looking for a text on animal reconstruction will be disappointed though. The subject of the book is the deceptions themselves, and the artists behind them. The text is fairly light and and explains how paleoart has never been made in isolation, but has been influenced by the political landscape in which they were created, and by the personality of the artists themselves. The book is indebted to Rudwick's Scenes from deep time (which is mentioned both in the introduction and acknowledgements). My only complaint about the book is that the print is quite small. Particulalrly the white print on black pages is sometimes hard to make out. This is a minor point though, as the heart and subject of the book is the puictures themselves.
5,0 su 5 stelleStunningly beautiful, astoundingly researched
DaElizabeth Darlingtonil 11 settembre 2017 - Pubblicato su Amazon.com
Stunningly beautiful and anatomically correct, this is the best dinosaur book I've ever purchased. Aesthetically brilliant, and absolutely mesmerizing, this book does not disappoint on research or illustration.
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