Tripping the Paint Fantastic
By Tom Wachunas
“I can believe anything, provided that it is quite incredible.” - Oscar Wilde –
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” -Arthur C. Clarke-
EXHIBITION: Warriors of the Fantastic: Illustrations by Chris Seaman, at the Canton Museum of Art (CMA), THROUGH OCTOBER 28, 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio (330) 453 – 7666 www.cantonart.org
Every time I encounter art of the sort seen here, I flash back to few fellow art students from my college days of the early 1970s. Their paintings looked very much like the cover art of our favorite science fiction novels, sometimes like Hieronymous Bosch-inspired visions or yes, sometimes like acid-induced hallucinations. This often incurred negative critiques from some of our more high-brow painting instructors, such as, “That’s not painting, that’s commercial illustration.” Get with the program. Harrrumph.
Back then, it was not uncommon in ‘serious’ art and academic circles to marginalize fantasy art as the lightweight purview of science fiction buffs, comic book illustrators or rock –n- roll poster designers. The fantasy aesthetic was considered simply too eccentric, silly and/or irrelevant when compared to that of the celebrated, more ‘intellectually engaging’ modernist painters of the day.
But what goes around comes around. These days, thanks to mind-boggling advances in digital animation technology in the film and computer gaming industries, fantasy art content – everything from dragons, wizards, and demons to monstrous aliens and interstellar or ‘secondary’ worlds at war – has become firmly entrenched in pop culture.
Chris Seaman, who graduated from the Columbus College of Art and Design in 2000, started his career as an illustrator for the Harry Potter Collectible Card Game and has since become a successful full-time author and illustrator with a prestigious client roster. For more background and viewing a spectacular array of his paintings, I highly recommend a visit to his web site at www.chrisseamanart.com . But nothing compares to seeing them up close and personal at his CMA exhibit.
If I have one complaint about the show, it’s a relatively minor one: there’s arguably too much of an intriguing thing overcrowding the walls. Maybe, though, that’s the intent – to overwhelm us with dizzying encounters of the bizarre kind. Most of the 42 paintings (executed in either acrylic or oil on board) are so decoratively and elaborately framed that they suggest perhaps a new name for the genre – Baroque Surrealism.
I’ve often wondered about the ever- burgeoning popularity of ‘fantasy’ art. What prompts human imaginations to concoct and savor such wildly extreme scenarios as seen in today’s movie epics, television dramas, Internet role-playing games, and for that matter the otherworldly paintings we see here? Is it simply fantasy ‘entertainment’? Escapism? Really? Escape from what? Could it be that we’re simply displacing or sublimating our fears and anxieties? Are we merely disguising the horrors of real-world living by creating exotic new names and costumes for the evils that have always beleaguered us?
From that perspective, Seaman is an unflinching Realist. His exactitude with brush, his compositional prowess, and his ability as an expressive colorist are all quite astonishing. While the exhibit contains a considerable number of meticulously painted character portraits, most impressive are his panoramic scenes of explosive conflict.
More interesting still, their scale. Call it counterintuitive. You’d think that visual narratives this action-packed would require sufficiently large surfaces to effectively communicate their intense drama. But these paintings are surprisingly tight and small - diminutive albeit gripping snapshots of apocalyptic doings. Like lightning in a bottle.
Photos (top to bottom): Lich King; Last Legion of Battle; Thar’s Revenge