Friday, August 31, 2012

At the Edge

Donato Giancola
The Hobbit:  The Expulsion (2001)

Several years ago, Brooks Joyner, CEO of The Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley, was invited on a journey, one sure to have pitfalls and perils and the certainty of encounters with dragons.  It began with a chance encounter with a young fantasy artist by the name of Jeremy Caniglia, who must have spoken passionately about his chosen genre to the museum director.  By the time their conversation was over, Joyner had heard the artists' perspective on the history of fantasy art, its connections with the art of the late 19th century and with the artists of the Golden Age of Illustration, its marginalization with the rise of Modern Art, and the weird dichotomy in which the field finds itself today, where it is still not awarded the respect it deserves in the fine art world, yet its images are extremely popular with the public and regularly form the basis of every new Hollywood blockbuster.  With this, the seed of an idea was planted in Joyner's head.

N.C. Wyeth
The King's Henchman (1927)

Robh Ruppel
Harbinger House (1996)

Shortly thereafter, Joyner was invited to judge artworks at Illuxcon, a symposium for fantasy artists held in the nearby city of Altoona, Pennsylvania.  While there, with his conversation with Caniglia still on his mind, Joyner saw the brilliant works being created by contemporary fantasy artists (some right before his eyes), and he decided that his museum would be the perfect venue for "officially" honoring this artwork and bringing it to the general public.  Enlisting the aid of Patrick and Jeannie Wilshire - the founders of Illuxcon, the Illustration Exchange, and the Association of Fantasy Art - plans were laid to organize a groundbreaking new show.

The result, after three years of hard work and planning, is At the Edge, currently on view at The Allentown Art Museum.  With 165 pieces of art on display, it is, to date, the largest show of its kind, and by placing modern fantasy illustration alongside the genre's precursors, it may be the first show to ever present fantasy art in its historical context.  Artworks range from William Blake's 1797 book illustrations for Night Thoughts through Julie Bell's A Dream About a Dragon and a Tree, created in 2012, specifically for this exhibit.

Though other museums have deemed such fantastical and illustrative art as "low-brow," and refused to "legitimize" it by putting it on display, The Allentown Art Museum took a chance by forecasting the public's tastes, and the risk has paid off.   The show itself has been a great success, opening with a strong attendance, and continuing with a steady stream of visitors throughout its run.  According to Chris Potash, the Manager of Marketing and Public relations for the museum, what has been a great surprise has been the number of young people and families coming in to see the show, the unexpected benefit of which is the new generation of museum-goers making their first trip to the facility.  And rather than presenting a show which could be easily dismissed, the museum has instead created an exhibit which has drawn significant attention, from newspaper and radio interviews, to television spotlights.

Justin Sweet
Elf Princess (2009)

Franklin Booth
In the Golden Land of Dreams (1913)

Michael C. Hayes
Procession (2012)

And what of Mr. Joyner and his journey?  Well, like characters of a fantasy novel who leave the comfortable world, jump the garden gate, and seek adventure, it is never possible to travel "there and back again" without bringing a little of that other world back with you.  Dedicated as he now is to the promotion of this "fantastical realism," he has now offered the Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley as the home for next year's Illuxcon symposium. 

Allen Williams
Love Lost (2010)

J.C. Leyendecker
Woman Kissing Cupid (1923)

Matthew Stewart
Battle Under the Mountain (2010)

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting the At the Edge exhibition, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.  Had it been just a show of contemporary fantasy illustration, I would have enjoyed it, but with the addition of works by Edmund Blair Leighton, Dean Cornwell, N.C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle, Franklin Booth, Joseph Clement Coll, Howard Chandler Christy, Edmund Dulac, J.C. Leyendecker, Willy Pogany, Arthur Rackham, and Frank Schoonover, I was blown away.  

Michael Whelan
Weird of the White Wolf (1976)

Organized in such a way as to not group the works by time period (with the exception of a small wall dedicated to 1950s pulp illustration), it was a treat to see the works intermingled.  Some works, like Iain McCaig's Alice (2001) blended  in timelessly with other watercolors from a hundred years earlier, while Edmund Blair Leighton's Footsteps (1915) could have easily been attributed to one of the modern masters.

Edmund Blair Leighton
Footsteps (1915)

James Gurney
Garden of Hope (1992)

Many familiar artworks are there, including several from icon Frank Frazetta, who lived much of his life in the nearby Poconos.  My personal favorites, however, which I was glad to finally see in person, were the aforementioned Footsteps by Blair Leighton, The Garden of Hope (1992) by James Gurney, and two sculptures by Thomas Kuebler: The Mythical Menagerie of Doctor Baltus Bagoon (2010) and Cletus & Shorty Hunt Snipe (2011).

Thomas Kuebler
Doctor Bagoon (detail)

Thomas Kuebler
The Mythical Menagerie of Doctor Baltus Bagoon (2010)

If you are close enough to visit the exhibit, I encourage you to do so.  There are only a few week left before the show closes on September 9th.  Let's show our support for the artists involved, the Wilshires, Brooks Joyner, and the rest of the staff at the Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley by making the remaining days of At the Edge as popular as the first.

The Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley is located at 31 North Fifth Street in Allentown, Pennsylvania, just a short distance from Interstate 78.  It is open from 11 AM to 5 PM Tuesday through  Saturday, and from 12 PM to 5 PM on Sunday.  For directions, please visit the museum website.

Mark Zug
Sands of Gorgoroth (2011)

Scott Gustafson
Pegasus and the Muses (2007)

Darrell K. Sweet
The Slaying of Glaurung (1982)

For those unable to attend the exhibit, there is a catalog available for At the Edge, available in limited quantities.  For those who attended the show already, but were unable to purchase the previously sold-out catalog, the catalog currently available is from the second printing.  Contact the museum store for ordering information.


Brady said...

I really wish I could have seen the show. I hope that someday a similar show will be on tour.

I love that fantasy and sci fi art is getting more recognition, it's what inspired me to become an artist in the first place.

Great write up!

Do you know if the catalog has all of the artworks or just some of them?

Johan Derycke said...

I agree with Brady.

The ironic thing about it all is that painting can be seen as fantasy since the very beginning. The fact that some fine art appreciators see fantasy art as a lesser form or art is totally unjustified.
What one often hears is that fantasy art is commercial art and therefor it can never be seen as fine art.
Most of the greatest painters of history were excellent businessmen: Rubens, Van Dyck, Velazquez, Rembrandt, Alma-Tadema, Sargent... they all made good money with their art and were often commissioned for their most wellknown artworks. They got their inspiration from the Bible (which is in essence the best sold fantasy book in the world), Greek and Roman Mythology, etc.
The greatest painters of history excelled at keeping their public fascinated by telling stories, which is exactly what fantasy artists of today excel at.

I'm very happy to see fantasy art being so well supported by this blog. Artists like Donato Giancola and James Gourney are among my all time favourite artists, precisely because the influences of the old masters are so well visible in their artwork, and the quality is not inferior to that of the work of the old masters in my opinion.

bernie Liumako said...

What Johan said + Petar Meseldzija :)

Jason de Graaf said...

I would have loved to see that show! I almost forgot how awesome Franklin Booth is.

Chris Potash said...

For Brady et al.: The 112-page AT THE EDGE catalog does include every artwork in the show, yes, in full color and with a write-up about each artist and work. The third printing is available now in the Museum store, or by contacting the Museum:

The Mystic said...

Amazing - I wish I could have seen it! I might add that I've known J. Brooks Joyner of the Allentown Museum since the mid-seventies when he was director of the Nickle Arts Museum in Calgary, and he had a taste for fantastic art already back then - he was also a critic for the Albertan, and I saved a favorable article he wrote about my work back in 1976. Since then, I had returned to my roots in Vienna. I think this is the start of a new era - I am currently involved with the fledgling 'Phantasten Museum' in Vienna, and the circle of Visionaries around Ernst Fuchs (and the followers and next generation of the 'Vienna School of Fantastic Realism').

Andrew Magruder said...

Minor correction from above - 4th printing of the show catalog is now on sale. Yes, even the catalog is that good.

Totally worth the 10 hour drive. Loved it!