Saturday, 13 December 2014

Review - The Art of Space

By Ron Miller

Published by Zenith Press

I’m going to cut to the chase here – this book is filled with some of the most beautiful and inspiring art I’ve seen for a long, long time. From the earliest images of heavenly bodies to the modern-day digital renderings, and everything in between, this book covers everything.

The five chapters – Planets & Moons, Stars & Galaxies, Spaceships & Space Stations, Space Colonies & Cities, and Aliens – covers art that illustrates what we see in Earth’s orbit to what we imagine in star systems and galaxies far beyond our own. The combination of recreation, concept and fiction takes you on quite a ride and the sheer amount of art can feel somewhat like an overload on the senses. It’s hard not to be fascinated by how the ages before us viewed the stars, or inspired by those who imagine the views from the surface of other worlds.

But, I’m getting well ahead of myself. This hardback book, with a solid binding enabling you to leave the book open without fear of the pages flipping over while you peruse the images, is an attractive piece of work with a suitably impressive science-fiction cover (‘The Rings of Saturn’ by Peter Elson) and wonderful 1970s-style sci-fi title lettering. That may seem a little unimportant, but I feel it set a tone for me, a sci-fi fan from the 70s onwards, and even though science fiction isn’t the driving force behind this book as many of the illustrations are based on fact (or, at least, what was taken as fact at the time), there is a solid offering of speculative artwork. To be clear, though, although there are science fiction elements in this book it’s primary purpose is to show us space art throughout the ages based on what we know - or think we know - about the known universe.

The artwork is printed on glossy pages and the amount of detail is fine for a book of this size, but there are images you wish were much, much larger so that you could drink in the visuals, but where do you draw the line? A small book is out of the question and a poster-sized book is unwieldy and impractical, so I think the coffee-table book approach works just fine.

The Art of Space contains some stunning paintings and covers many things, from the bodies of our solar system, to some incredible starship designs to imaginative images of alien life. For example, the early drawings of the Moon reflect how our views and attitudes towards, as well as knowledge of, our Moon has changed so amazingly over the last century. To see the early images of how we thought the Moon would be, as well as the other planets of our solar system, is fascinating when compared to what we know of the Moon and planets now, and actual images alongside what could be regarded as simple flights of fancy really draws the line between a sense of innocent wonder and practical knowledge.

You get this sense throughout the entire book, as early concepts of what could be beyond our world or how we would get there is brushed aside by the reality of it. This doesn’t mean the early images have no merit – indeed, I found the creativity and energy of many of them very inspirational – and it doesn’t sterilise the impact of modern, practical art based on a more tangible sense of reality. In fact, some of the paintings based on what we know about the universe are just as fantastical and awe-inspiring as the speculative art, in some cases even more so. There’s wonder to be found in both types.

In each chapter there’s also a spotlight on some of the most influential and inspiring artists who really gave a lot to the genre – Chesley Bonestell, Lynette Cook, Pat Rawlings, Don Davis and Wayne Barlow. With a brief background and some of their best work included, these little snippets give you an idea of what drives and inspires artists to create the amazing visuals feasts that they do.

It’s written well and gets to the point, and each piece of art has it’s own description to give the image context. It’s very informative and covers all the pertinent details, and includes some great stories such as the ‘Moon Hoax’ and some observations on certain aspects such as the Soviet poster art. Even though I don’t like the black-on-grey text on some pages as I do not feel it’s easy on the eye, it’s a good read and really adds a lot of depth to the images.

I can heartily recommend ‘The Art of Space’. It’s a great selection of artwork accompanied by some good writing and I can’t imagine anyone not being even partly inspired by the glorious images within.

For me it was perfect because I’m a lover of everything this book has to offer, from the early art of Jules Verne stories to the renditions of starship concepts, planet surfaces and insane but believable aliens. It really did have something of everything for me, and I felt I had travelled the cosmos when I turned the final page. This is a truly great piece of work and a must-have for lovers of this genre.

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