Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Art Book Review - Women of Wonder: Celebrating Women Creators of Fantastic Art

Edited by Cathy Fenner
Publisher: Underwood Books Inc

Review by Richard Williams

The premise for this book is lovely and simple; female fantasy artists. There are fifty-eight artists included and their work covers everything from cartoons to abstract to just good old fashioned fantasy illustrations and all of them are of a very high standard. The book itself is well produced and is edited by Cathy Fenner, a name well known in art anthologies for her work with the Spectrum series of books (the next instalment of which I'm eagerly awaiting), so you can be assured of a high quality coffee table book that is good to dip into repeatedly.

Because this is a celebration of the artists themselves, not just their work, each entry includes a a few paragraphs from these talented ladies explaining why they paint, what they hope to achieve or anything else they wish to say about their art and what it means to them. For this reason I really like this book and it sets it apart from others on my shelves that are happy to just showcase the work. I like to know more about the artists and it gives me the thrill of the connoisseur to be able to spot a piece and say 'oh, that's so-and-so'. Fine art snobs get to do it but guess what, concept artists and fantasy/sci-fi artists are just as distinctive and I like being able to pick them out based on nothing more than a favourite brush tool or a typical mood to their their work.

Without trying to be unfair to all of the artists I would like to pick out a few favourites whose work I've enjoyed for a while (years, for some of them). Names that are always good to look out for such as Melanie Delon, whose book Elixir is well worth a look, and Laurel D Austin whose fantasy illustrations for big names such as Blizzard Studios is incredibly vibrant.

I can't say that you will look at these works and come away thinking that there is a quality to them that makes them clearly 'female'. I think each artists brings their own thoughts and experiences and preferences to the canvas (be that real or digital) and that there isn't anything between the sexes that means you should go to a male or female artist if you wanted a particular piece creating. And I'm sure that's not what this book is saying either, it's just a nice theme for showing off some great work.

There are a couple of caveats, however. Firstly, as ever, this is an anthology so the odds of you liking every piece contained here-in would be, I should imagine, pretty slim. The styles vary quite considerably in some cases and there are pictures here I'm not fond of, although I can easily appreciate the quality. The second issue I have with this book is that each artist only gets a two page spread, one for their written contribution another for a piece of art. I would have liked to see at least two pages of art for each artist as one piece per entry seems like a wasted opportunity to really show off their stuff. I know that would have made the book twice as large but considering it's quite a slim tomb as it stands I don't see that as a problem.

Definitely one to consider if you're a fan of fantasy art anthologies, just don't expect to open this up and be blown away by feminine qualities and the womanliness of it all. This is just really nice art from really great artists who happen to be women and I think it's great that their work is being celebrated.