Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Artist Interview: Alexander Lovegrove


There are a huge number of palaeoartists clamouring for attention on deviantArt these days, so it requires a unique take on affairs to truly stand out - especially with Yet Another Tyrannosaurus. Alexander Lovegrove (an ecology PhD student from the UK) first caught my attention with the piece pictured above - a depiction of that very dinosaur in a rainforest setting It might be a little fanciful, but the highly individual style and meticulous detailing make it stand out from the pack. In fact, I immediately thought of Henri Rousseau's jungle scenes, even if Alexander's style and professed influences are somewhat different. The potentially bland and conventional lateral view of the creature is subverted by having the animal's off-centre head facing the viewer, its piercing, predatory gaze proving irresistible to the eye.

Ever since then, it's been fascinating to see what Alexander (right) will produce next, and there have been a steady stream of new pieces on his deviantArt page. He may make some mistakes along the way (who doesn't?), but his bold technique and speculative touches, coupled with his funneling of his ecological interests into his art, have definitely made him a palaeoartist worth keeping an eye on. I wanted to know a little more about what goes into his art, as well as just plain show it off - and wouldn't you know, some fool gave me a platform to do so. Hurrah! Anyway, on with the interview...

Zhuchengtyrannus (left) and Tarbosaurus (right). This piece actually consists of two paintings combined.

How long have you been interested in dinosaurs? Was it something that stemmed from your interests in natural history and ecology more broadly, or did it develop alongside?

I've been interested in dinosaurs as long as I can remember, and just haven't grown out of it. I've also always been interested in the natural world (I am currently an ecology PhD student), so I guess that is part of it too. As I've grown older I have come to appreciate the connections between the world of dinosaurs and modern ecosystems. It's amazing to think that there were whole ecosystems, habitats and biomes that are lost in time.

You mention that 'lots of palaeoartists' have influenced you, but everyone has their favourites - which are yours? (I'm going to guess Doug Henderson is up there.)

Yeah, Doug Henderson is definitely up there! Above all he is a wonderful artist. I think Doug Henderson's work stands out a great deal now due to his mastery of painting natural environments and his skill at composition. I would love to emulate those ideas, but I am just an amateur really. The first paleoart I really started to recognise and enjoy was Greg Paul's, like many other artists of my generation. However, it wasn't his skeletal or pencil illustrations that really captured my imagination but a series of watercolours which I think appeared in the Dinosaurs magazine series when I was a kid. It always seemed like colour was important to me when depicting dinosaurs, they needed to be vibrant! Other big inspirations and influences were Michael Skrepnick and Mark Hallett, whose work I really admire. And then more recently there are so many others - simply too numerous to list! I am also a great admirer of the ultra-realism of John Gurche, although he hasn't depicted that many dinosaurs.

They are not palaeoartists, but John Howe and Alan Lee were really big early influences - I started out painting Tolkein-y things!

'Winter Kill'

You seem to end up painting tyrannosaurs a lot (not that I'm complaining). Do you have a particular affinity for those animals, or is it pure happenstance?

Yeah, I really do like tyrannosaurs a lot more than other dinosaurs - my favourite of all being Albertosaurus. Something about them really fascinates me, in particular their ancestry and relationship to the bird lineage (although I've ended up painting the most derived examples). Their shape seems very elegant to me too, and there's been an explosion of diversity recently that I think I want to capture in my paintings. Although funnily enough some of the paintings were happenstance and I didn't mean to paint them so much. I am trying to broaden my range now though!


From the way your work has evolved over the past few years, I would guess that you've been doing your homework in terms of dinosaur anatomy (none of your theropods have the dreaded 'bunny hands' these days). What have you been reading, and how helpful have you found the community feedback on deviantArt?

Ah yes, anatomy. I still consider this a weak point really, especially concerning muscles and outer integument. I don't measure out proportions and my painting style is quite loose ( I sometimes obscure the underlying sketch and have to hastily paint from scratch!). I must pay much greater attention in future though, as the subject simply demands it. You wouldn't expect a decent painting of a lion or tiger to have flaws in proportion or anatomy, and if they did it would really stand out.

Much of my knowledge has come from various blogs really, but I would single out Tet Zoo, Skeletal Drawing and Theropoda (Google translated) as being particularly useful (I would add SVPOW if I ever depicted enough sauropods). I wish I had more time to learn and properly appreciate the anatomical side of things - in particular when painting a dinosaur that I haven't attempted before. It can be difficult to research effectively, especially as museum mounts are not always accurate. I do try to get scientific papers, but these are often very difficult to access. I like to avoid lateral views where possible (although my work is still full of them) so skeletal diagrams can be difficult to interpret. Another thing that I have been trying to pay attention to is to depict the environment the dinosaurs live in more accurately, but this can be even harder to find information on, other than for a few well-known localities.

deviantArt has been particularly helpful though, with not only feedback but a network of artists to talk to, compare work and learn from. I have found the comments and general encouragement really great, in fact it's probably what kept me painting a few times. I would say though that deviantArt is heavily biased towards younger people. I haven't really opened up to the critique process much on there, mainly because I like to critique my own paintings so much - I can always improve. I may try that in the future though.


There's a lot of healthy speculation in your work, which is wonderful to see. In particular, I'd like you to go into more detail about the development of your 'Daspletosaurus attacks' painting [above]. The ceratopsians are fairly conventional looking, but the Daspletosaurus certainly isn't, which is why it's one of my favourites! What was your inspiration behind portraying the animal's integument in such an unconventional way (with particular reference to the 'plucked' leg)?

Andrea Cau's blog, Theropoda, was a big catalyst for that painting. There was a particularly great post where he explained how it probably was physiologically possible for large theropods to be feathered without overheating. So I went ahead with that idea. It was quite funny that Yutyrannus was found shortly afterwards - I really thought I'd overdone it in the painting! The legs are really a silly idea to be honest. I wanted to make it look like a giant chicken - I've always thought chickens looked like dinosaurs - and explored the possibility of feathers being lost and leaving naked skin. So it just looks like a plucked chicken leg...I think this is pretty unlikely as the bumps on a plucked leg are related to feathers anyway as far as I know! I left an open nostril to also evoke its bird like nature, like a vulture or condor, but I understand this is incorrect. Also the face is heavily scarred and has a layer of tough, keratinous skin around the mouth (a proto-beak if you will) which seemed interesting. I was much more conservative with Chasmosaurus as I know both less about them and felt a little outside my comfort zone just plopping filaments on them - maybe next time!

So much palaeoart now is digital that your 'traditional' acrylic paintings are actually quite refreshing. Would you ever consider 'going digital' even for just one piece of work? (Obligatory question.)

Yes, in fact I have tried it in the past. However I find it difficult to get used to and a lot of the connection with the work is lost for me by using a screen. I'm also just not as good at it! I would like to say though that I really love a lot of the digital art that is being produced by other artists.

Bactrosaurus johnsoni

 How would you say your palaeoart has developed from a purely artistic perspective in recent years - have you consciously aimed for a definitive style, one that incorporates elements of certain artistic movements? Many of your pieces, and I'm thinking especially of the Rainforest Tyrannosaur, have a 'feel' that is completely unique in palaeoart.

This is a really interesting question to me! I strive to improve with every painting that I do, artistically and scientifically. I don't think I have aimed for a particular style, and certainly not consciously if I have done so. My earliest work was just having a go at painting dinosaurs really, which I think quickly developed because I love adding detail to the paintings - the more the better! In particular the 'Rainforest Tyrannosaur' has a lot of that obsession with detail, trying to put in as much as I could to the painting.

That was partially inspired by a visit to rainforest (in Ecuador) as part of my university studies, which made me want to depict the wonder of being in a special, unusual place. In fact, that trip was probably the main reason I've been painting dinosaurs - it felt like I was in a prehistoric environment (even though modern tropical rainforests are more recent than dinosaurs) and became very inspired. I certainly didn't take painting dinosaurs and wildlife seriously before 2007 or so. I would say I'm trying to aim for more realistic painting where possible but my lack of expertise with the medium has resulted in a more stylised appearance than I would like.

I would also like to mention James Gurney's blog, Gurney Journey, which is really fascinating for me as an artist. The way he links art and science together when describing artistic techniques is really great, and I try to learn as much as I can from that. I am also a big fan of Renaissance and Romantic art periods as these works have a great deal of atmosphere while coming from a realist background, which must have influenced my work in some way.

Emus!
Finally, how do you think that palaeoart should continue to evolve?


A difficult question - I think in as many directions as possible! Obviously a greater regard for scientific accuracy, which seems to be happening, is great to see. The recent trends in more speculative reconstructions are really good as well, as we are able to acknowledge that we can't be 100% certain about the appearance of prehistoric animals anyway. An increase in variety is wonderful too, in subject and in style, although again this actually seems to be happening.

The key thing I think, regardless of art style, is that it's ultimately about reconstructing animals and ecosystems, not depicting monstrous creatures. And finally, so many people are producing art now that lots of previously obscure subjects are getting their due - although obviously I am not helping by painting tyrannosaurs all the time! 

*****

I'd like to thank Alexander for his time - and remember, you can see larger versions of many of the above, plus an awful lot more besides (including beautiful extant animals and environments), on his deviantArt page. Also, all art is © Alexander Lovegrove and is used with permission - don't go stealing it now, especially not for any dodgy exhibits. We'll find out, you know - our spies lurk behind strategically altered giant-format 1980s dinosaur books on park benches all over the world.

I don't think Alexander should worry about his art being stylised - it's a strength, not a weakness. But have you got something you're itching to say about Alexander's work, and/or what he had to say? Either scream it at bewildered passers by the next time you leave the house, or drop us a comment below.

9 comments:

  1. I liked Alexander's work before. Now I'm fonder of it than ever. Excellent questions and excellent answers. I definitely agree with your last paragraph about stylisation.

    The topmost tyrannosaur reminded me of Rousseau instantly too, but you knew that.

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  2. Excellent work! I think Alexander depicts 'furry' tyrannosaurs, and the plucked leg on the Daspletosaur adds to the realism. (*If* it's meant to be the result of accident or pathology, it makes me wonder how it came about) Wonderful sense of motion in it, too.

    I don't remember any Greg Paul art in the Dinosaurs! magazine - and I was the sad kind of 12-year-old who scoured the illustration credits on the inside cover. There were a lot of (Orbis commissioned?) watercolour pieces by Graham Rosewarne, though; who, with hindsight, seems to have been heavily influenced by GSP.

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    Replies
    1. Nay, it's the brainy kids who think about such things as artist credits at all. ;)

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    2. I don't remember Greg Paul ever being in Dinosaurs! either, and I thought about inserting a little remark saying so, but it felt impolite. ;)

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    3. Hi guys...thanks for the comments! Vyrmis you are absolutely right, it was Graham Rosewarne, it's been such a long time since I've seen the magazine that I'd got confused. That would make my first encounter with Paul's work those large oil paintings he did, which I really found impressive!

      Alexander

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  3. Amazing post as always, Marc! I feel fortunate to known Alexander's work from a while ago thanks to DeviantArt, and it's great to know about himself thanks to this interview.
    I just have to point out a little mistake: "Another thing that I have being trying to pay attention..." Shouldn't it be "been" instead of "being"?

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    Replies
    1. Thanks - fixed it. I also neglected to italicise Skeletal Drawing.

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