Art in the OSR: "What is good?"

Today I was looking at a post on James’ “Grognardia” blog about the art for a Spanish RPG called “La Marca de Este” or something like that. It’s that pic on the right, there. The artist is Antonio Jose Mazanedo.

James says he likes the landscape as well as the realistic narrative touches — the details like the armor, a woman who seems more than just ‘eye candy,’ and the fact that the adventurers are not posing for the camera and have brought along a pack horse and a guard dog. To judge by the comments left on James’ blog, a lot of his readers like the picture too.

And I have to agree with him. Mazanedo has a level of skill in portraying light and atmosphere that would, with the proper subject matter, allow his paintings to hang side by side with such greats as Albert Bierstadt. I wish I had a fraction of that skill.

But I just don’t. I can’t paint like that… believe me, I have tried. And I can see that Mazanedo’s picture shows us everything; I can practically hear the water splashing as the horse hooves clop through the stream.

But the picture is also represents a kind of a philosophical/artistic wall for me. Despite the detail and the perfection, I don’t find myself going much beyond the surface of a picture that gets looked at by me. Mazanedo’s picture isn’t static feeling and lifeless (which is a sense I get from much of Elmore’s work), but I guess I find myself wanting something else — something that shows the artist’s hand a bit more.

It feels weak to simply say, “not my cuppa tea,” nor do I feel entitled to challenge what others may like or want in the art for their fantasy stuff. But I guess I’m just hoping for something other than ‘the illusion of reality’ as a potential visual aesthetic in the art of the imagination. The above picture is very good… and better than anything that I could ever do. But I guess I feel like as long as we are taking liberties with the subject matter (i.e.: dragons and hobbits and whatever), why not take some liberties with presentation as well?

On the other hand, the picture at left (by an artist named Skinner) brings a seriously weird and different vibe. There is no pretense that those ‘mountains’ in the background are supposed to look like the Grand Tetons… and even if that guy in the foreground didn’t have trees growing out of his head, green skin and five eyes, he would still be strange looking. Skinner’s imagery is a visual stew of comic books, psychedelic silk screens, native art and god knows what else… but it looks different enough that I don’t just feel like I’m looking through a window at “wonderland;” I’m looking through this particular artist’s window. That’s part of what I love about some of the artists like Trampier and Otus who did fantasy art back in the day — looking at a good example of their work often felt to melike I was seeing more than the objects in the frame portrayed in as convincing a manner as possible… I was seeing that artist’s particular visual take on it.

My own work is troubling for me sometimes. It often looks and feels ‘too derivative’ of stuff that has come before (on some days I feel like my work looks like it came from the studio of a downmarket Otus or talentless Trampier rip-off). I want to draw something different but it comes out looking the same old way. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to shake old habits and push my own envelope (but first I have to find my own envelope). I want to be able to toss one of my pictures into a pile and have people be able to pick out the one I did just by looking at the other stuff I have done.

Meanwhile, I have mosaics to do, a book to finish, some other illustrations to do, etc.

3 Comments on “Art in the OSR: "What is good?"”

  1. Probably better than i could do, but i dont particularly enjoy the placid stream crossing image beyond the very nicely executed horse heads. Maybe I dont understand why i should be interested in seeing these characters in transit looking at their dog etc. Also i generally prefer more contrasty stuff. I much prefer the “Tumba de los Horrores” image referred to in the comments at Grognardia. I might be fine with the execution if there were something interesting goin on. Overall it seems like a lot of work for little payoff. The guy is good, but make mine a Poag.

  2. For what it is worth, I find the Mazanedo picture very nice. That's…about it. I don't feel the need to look again, nor does it inspire anything beyond…very nice.

  3. “Downmarket”? No, sir. The word you're looking for is Underground.

    Indeed. I have no desire to see fantasy game illustrations all hew to the same style. Down that path lies stagnation. That's why I consider the period between 1979 and 1981 the high point of TSR's art: there was such an incredible variety of styles. I don't like them all — I'm looking at you, Dee and Willingham — but I do think the artwork from that period is better for having more than one approach to the subject matter. Compare that to later periods, when there's a depressing sameness to the artwork, all of which is incredibly technically proficient and bland as hell.

    All of this is my long-winded way of saying that I think there's room for both Mazanedo and Poag — and many others as well. That they don't look the same is a good thing in my opinion and I'd hate it if that changed.

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