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Boudicca by Rick Berry
DARK ART

ANNE SUDWORTH: THE MOOD IS ALL

by John Grant

Note: Anne Sudworth is a British artist with a large following in her native land and an ever-increasing one in the USA. The first book of her work Enchanted World: The Art of Anne Sudworth is to be published in spring 2000 by Paper Tiger. Here, reproduced by permission, is the first part of John Grant's introduction to his commentary in that book.

Anne Sudworth is arguably the most significant painter of fantasy at work today.

Anne Sudworth That statement requires immediate justification, of course, since you will search in vain to find her name in most of the fantasy art reference sources. The reason for this apparent oversight is simple enough: such sources are concerned almost exclusively with fantasy (and more usually science fiction) illustrators, even though they may tip their cap to such figures of fantastic art's history as M.C. Escher, Richard Dadd, Salvador Dalí and René Magritte. The task of an illustrator is a specialist one: it is to produce an illustration a piece of art that is pendant to a specific work and designed to promote the work and, significantly, look good in print. It is a byproduct of modern technology not to mention modern economics that almost all of our best and most imaginative fantasy artists are currently working in the field of illustration.

It is, therefore, easy to forget that there are other fantasy artists, artists who work outside this particular field whose area of operations has unfortunately to be described using the unfortunate term Fine Art (unfortunate because its `fine' suggests superiority). A number of fantasy illustrators produce Fine Art in addition to their more commercial work one thinks of, for example, the excellent abstracts and semiabstracts of Ron Walotsky and some, like Bob Eggleton and John Harris, create paintings that can be illustration and Fine Art at the same time; the doyen of such artists was of course the late Richard Powers. But more pertinent to the current argument are those who, while their works may on occasion be used as book or CD cover illustrations, essentially do not illustrate: they are Fine Artists, pure and simple. They march to their own drummer, with no need to observe the diktats of commercial illustration. They may in some instances go largely overlooked by genre enthusiasts, but the quirky quasiSurrealistic paintings of Judith Clute, the obsessive 3D constructs of H.R. Giger and the painted Amazon parrot feathers of Theresa Mather are as much fantasy art as anything by Frank Frazetta or Michael Whelan.

Elsewhere the illustrator Ron Tiner and I have argued that the essence of fantasy art seems to be that it is a narrative form. This, it should be noted, is a description rather than a prescription we were observing, not ordaining and it applies as much to Fine Art as to illustration. What we were commenting upon was the fact that, perhaps uniquely among the thematic classifications of the creative arts, there is little discontinuity in the expression of fantasy across the whole spectrum of that genre, whether the conduit be the written word, the cinema screen, the painted canvas, the poem, the song or whatever other means the creator finds. image All are dependent to a greater or lesser degree on the notion of story, and in the case of the painted fantasy picture this most commonly means that there is a kinetic at work: although the artist displays what seems to be a simple thing, a single motionless scene, there is nevertheless a sense that it has both a before and an after. Perhaps the most overt example of this in [Enchanted World: The Art of Anne Sudworth] is offered by The Arch (See left; please click on the title or thumbnail image of the art for a larger, more detailed, view.): although on the face of it this is a straightforward `view', in fact it is full of the sense of motion, the profound expression of story, in that you the central character in this particular story, as in almost all the best stories are fully aware as you look at the archway of the fact that you have approached or encountered it somewhere amid strange country, and that shortly, it is inevitable, you will go through it to the lands beyond.

There is a further trick the artist of the fantastic can perform, although it is one that is very rarely successfully done. This is to create an image, whether it be illustration or Fine Art, to which one's only possible response on looking at it is that this is not so much a fantasy picture as a picture of fantasy. One such is Ron Walotsky's Fantasies (1991), done as an interior illustration for Amazing Stories; another is Judith Clute's astonishing Footpads of Darwin #1 (1994). And there are a few a very few artists who perform this particular feat not just now and then but virtually all of the time. René Magritte very self-consciously and deliberately did so; who could look at his Le Château de Pyrénées/Het Kasteel in de Pyreneën (1959) showing a castle and the rock upon which it stands floating above a choppy sea without the feeling that they were looking directly into fantasy's soul? Like Magritte, but without his self-consciousness in that the images she paints are superficially mimetic rather than surrealistic, Anne Sudworth creates picture after picture that shows fantasy naked.

imageThere is a further considerable difference between Magritte's and Sudworth's paintings of fantasy. Magritte does most of the work for you; Sudworth doesn't. Magritte's alternate reality is very ostentatiously fantasticated, so that your own imaginative contribution to the viewing experience, to the generation of the kinetic fantasy that makes viewing Magritte's paintings so exhilarating, is a comparatively minor part of the equation. Sudworth's landscape of the mind, however, is not nearly so overtly skewed from normality at a quick glance many of her paintings can look almost photographic so that the viewer's contribution to the fantasy dynamic is drawn from much deeper, is more profound, is more a product of factors other than the intellectual than in the case of Magritte. To take a single example, even were The Fairy Wood not so titled, it would require an exceptional literal-mindedness on the part of the viewer not to be emotionally affected by the feyness the `fairyness' of the painting, not to discern the fairies present in every stroke of the brush, in every gentle cadence of the light. (See left; please click on the title or thumbnail image of the art for a larger, more detailed, view.)

These are the reasons why I say that to repeat my words exactly so there can be no confusion Anne Sudworth is arguably the most significant painter of fantasy at work today.

It is a statement by which I stand.


Further information:
The Official Anne Sudworth Site (includes galleries of her work)
Paper Tiger


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(Text) Copyright © 2000 by John Grant. Images copyright © by Rick Berry and Anne Sudworth. All images and text used by persmission. Rest Copyright © 2000 by Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.