Monday, 8 June 2015

Book Review - Structura 3

Inline image 1By Sparth

Publisher: Design Studio Press

Review by Richard Williams

Sparth (or Nicolas Bouvier, to give him his actual name) is a phenomenal artist and one of the stars of the concept art genre, should such a thing exist. I find myself in complete agreement with the foreword by Thom Tenery, another exceptional artist, when he describes Sparth's work as 'utterly luminous, rich in abstraction, and graphically built'. For years now Sparth has been at the forefront of conceptual art and has been putting that talent to good use at 343 Industries since 2009. As such it should come as no surprise that the work on display in this third book (following in the footsteps of Structura 1 and 2) is of a quality not often seen, excepting of course from the people who try to imitate Sparth's style. Which, given the impact he has had on the concept art industry, is quite a few people.

Sparth's work is a riot of colour and form but not, in most cases, detail. He is a master of showing you the bare bones of something, the bright outline, with just enough shape so that you know what you're looking at, and letting your own mind fill in the story. This might not appeal to some but it is a very important skill in the world of concept art. You don't want an artist that gives you a finished picture and says 'it looks like this', rather you need someone who shows you a flavour of something so that creative minds can mine the image for every hint of context, nuance and meaning which they can then build upon. It is only later, when definite directions have been chosen, that an artist will go away and produce detailed work.

That's not to say that there is no detail at all in the work shown in Structura 3. Due to Sparth's involvement with 343 Industries there is a whole chapter dedicated to his Halo work and the book cover illustrations are also very nicely finished pieces. It's merely that the majority of work in this book falls into the former category. In fact there is a whole chapter dedicated to what are known as 'speed paints' (a term Sparth mentions in the introduction that he doesn't like) which constitutes a series of pieces where the artist only allows themselves 30 minutes to complete a piece, start to finish. As Sparth explains; "when you work within a 30-minutes time frame, you have to lock the composition in your mind first before it reaches the canvas. What prevails is your ability to put a very simple, abstract idea into concrete shapes". The result are very interesting works of art that almost beg the viewer to give them a story.

The last section of the book includes some tutorials for those that like to practice digital artistry but, speaking as someone who couldn't draw the outline of a tadpole if his life depended upon it, I wouldn't have described these as beginner pieces and I was left feeling that some working knowledge of the tools of the trade was a bare minimum requirement.

So all in all this is an excellent book. I do have a couple of complaints but nothing that would stop me from recommending it. The first is that, as mentioned earlier, most of the artwork lacks clear detail and there are three pieces that even seem childish. I prefer art that has clear definition and the only reason that I like Sparth's work so much is due to the subject matter. Sparth is a master of science fiction and seems to grasp like no other the sheer scale that science fiction cries out for. Big ships, grand vistas, towering structures, all the best ingredients of grand space opera can be found in his work. I only wish he would drawn some as fine art, not just concepts.

The other complaint falls squarely into the lap of the publisher, I think, as this book has been printed in a different format to the other two. This is a personal bugbear of mine. When I get a collection together I would prefer it if the books could all, at the very least, be printed in the same fashion. Structura 1 & 2 were printed in a sort of landscape format whereas book three has been printed as portrait. Maybe it was to show off the art to it's fullest potential and artistic merits won out over printing practicalities. All I know is that the books can't all sit on the same shelf (a long story that revolves around the number of books I have requiring shelves crammed in wherever I can fit them). I'm peeved about it, but not irate. I feel I'm being fair about it.

So if you like grand sci-fi in a colourful, rich style from one of the masters of modern concept art then this book is for you. If not then see if you can find a copy somewhere and give it a go. Sparth's the artist, if any, that's going to change your mind.