Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: De Oerwereld van de Dinosauriërs - Part 3

We haven't finished with De Oerwereld yet - not while I can still harvest more posts from it. Before proceeding, be sure that you've already ogled Part 1: Theropods and Part 2: Sauropodomorph Boogaloo. This week it's the turn of assorted ornisthichians, starting with a stunning work of art that was turned into one of the best-loved palaeo-posters since before time began (I'm in an '80s sort of mood, you see).


Mark Hallett might just be my favourite palaeoartist, if not of all time, then definitely of the hyper-detailed, 'photorealistic' school. Plenty of artists have produced mind-boggling works that are technically superb, but can often feel rather staid, stately and a little lifeless. Hallett's true skill, beyond his already highly impressive technical ability, is in avoiding this. Although extremely detailed, there is a boldness, an energy in his work that is often missing from that of other 'photorealistic' artists. This hugely popular painting, of two fighting Triceratops, is certainly among his very best work - I can but apologise for only being able to provide details here, rather than the whole thing.


In such an action-packed scene, it's easy to miss the enormous care that Hallett has taken in detailing not only the animals, with their highly lifelike expressions and carefully researched anatomy, but the surrounding environment. In a Hallett piece, there will always be splashing water, crumbling earth, and vegetation being twisted and snapped. Like the other artists in this book, Hallett's work has aged remarkably well, and often any historical errors are virtually insignificant. In this case, for example, I'm pretty sure that the uniting of Triceratops' digits into a single elephantine 'paw' would be frowned upon these days...if anyone noticed.


Doug Henderson's work is frequently distinguished by its expert use of elaborate foliage, so it's interesting to see a piece like this, in which two drowned centrosaurs appear (at first glance) to be suspended in an ethereal void. There is a wonderful dreamlike quality here - we are strangers in this alien world, which belongs to the plesiosaur, itself heedless to the dramatic sight of the giant animals' bodies drifting idly by above. Equally, there is a beautiful melancholy, as in so much of Henderson's art...


...Like this, for example. In a lot of palaeoart, the animals will practically be jumping down our throats, as if they're putting on a show for us (it's almost possible to smell the popcorn). Instead, Henderson offers us furtive glimpses through the thick underbrush of a world that is as lush and filled with life as it is hostile and unwelcoming. Dinosaurs, so often depicted as the lords of the Earth, are typically hopelessly dwarfed by their surroundings. There's something so very real about it all.


Of course, it's not all Hallett and Henderson - there are also shots of superb models sculpted by Stephen Czerkas, which have themselves been remarkably influential (for example, check out some of Raul Martin's earlier stuff). Handily presented from every angle, it's possible to see that Czerkas has accurately given the animal sauropod-like columnar 'hands', something that people have seemingly never been able to get right.


Doug Henderson did stegosaurs too - of course he did. They're just way over there, and you'll have to clamber through the forest to catch a glimpse of them. One is reminded of forest elephants gathering at a lakeside clearing - big animals with an unlikely aptitude for remaining hidden. Here, the trees seem testament to the destructive power of a herd of huge herbivores - be they the stegosaurs themselves, or their considerably larger neighbours. Why, the dinosaurs are quite literally framed by the very destruction they leave in their wake. The background stegosaurs, exposed to the sun's glare, take on a ghostly and elegant quality that seems quite at odds with their lumbering, cumbersome appearance.


Speaking of lumbering and cumbersome...and thyreophorans...the book includes Hallett's rendition of the famously spiny ankylosaur, Saichania. It doesn't quite appear flat and wide enough, but is nevertheless imbued with Hallett's scarcely matched lifelike quality. Much of this is owed to the texture work - the animal's thorny armour glints and gleams menacingly, while its gnarled head appears solid enough to touch. It's possible to imagine running one's hand over its knobbly surface, right before having one's head stoved in by a high-velocity bony lump.


Much of the longevity of Hallett's work is owed to the fact that Hallett restored his animals in a way that was anatomically rigorous, while also avoiding the worst excesses of the 'dinosaur streamlining' that went on in the '70s and '80s. In fact, and while it's no William Stout zombie-o-saur, his Hypacrosaurus is unusual in having a rather shrink-wrapped head and pencil-thin neck. Nevertheless, it's very difficult to deny that it is an absolutely stunning piece of work, as per bloody usual. Bah.


And finally...the work of some upstart named John Sibbick. Here, some moronic Ouranosaurus are trying their very best to make a racket and upset Old Man Sarcosuchus, a world-weary soul who would just like to get some rest before he sets out once again to do battle with Suchomimus and what have you. Really, though, this is a lovely scene, with a beautifully well-observed river delta and an exquisitely painted gharial-zilla.

De Oerwereld van de Dinosauriërs will return! There's an awful lot of Palaeozoic art in this book that's begging to be shared, including some seldom-seen Sibbicks, alongside Henderson works so beautiful they'll move you to muted tears accompanied by a sad string soundtrack. We'll be back.

16 comments:

  1. Hallett will always be the archetypical dinosaur artist to my eyes. His pieces were like windows to the Mesozoic to me when I was growing up, more than any other.

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  2. Marc Vincent: "Mark Hallett might just be my favourite palaeoartist, if not of all time, then definitely of the hyper-detailed, 'photorealistic' school."

    That reminds me of a question: Is "Theropods The Dinosaur Art of Mark Hallett" ( http://www.hallettpaleoart.com/gallery/pages/head-study.html ) a book, a magazine article, or something else entirely? I can't find anything about it online & I figured you'd know since you're such a big fan. Many thanks in advance for your help.

    P.S. The Velociraptor in the above link is the most beautifully life-like Velociraptor drawing I've ever seen.

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    1. Well, I must confess that I've become a big fan only very recently - as a child, I was hardly exposed to his work at all, and certainly not the most spectacular stuff. So I'm afraid I don't know...might be worth shooting him an e-mail and asking.

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    2. I think a similar thing can be said of me. Which is why there are still so many artists who have been working a good while who are apparently new to me, and vintage art with which I'm not familiar.

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    3. That appears to merely be an odd graphic, meant to be a collage of some of his theropod studies. But its design sure makes it look like a book cover. I've found no reference to it anywhere else. Perhaps a never-released book idea?

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  4. Excellent post, as usual.

    I would like to add that today it's a bit odd to recall that Czerkas used modern iguanas as a dermal proxy to understand Stegosaurus plates - as illustrated in his beautiful 3D sculpture above (cf. "Dinosaurs Past and Present").
    He also proposed chameleon-like abilities and appearance for Carnotaurus’ tubercles (a speculation exploited in Crichton "The Lost World"), and successfully inspired spiky reptilian sauropods. So, quite naturally (from his point of view), he proposed in 2000 (with L.D. Martin) that the dinosaurian scaled skin proved that birds could not be descendants of dinosaurs. My question is: did he used his stunning 3D artwork (at that time) and his outstanding popular books as a Trojan Horse in order to support what would be later known as B.A.N.D. ideas? (cf. the parts concerning Archaeopteryx or Protoavis in "Dinosaurs: A Global View").

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    1. I'd be hesitant to say that he used his artwork to promote BAND, just because it would be hard to find the evidence. I am aware that he has a number of, er, unorthodox ideas, but thought I'd best focus purely on the art here (otherwise I'd never get the posts done ;)). Maybe in the future I'll go back and talk about the text of the book.

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    2. Thanks for the reply, Marc.
      Keep up the good work!

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    3. Thank you! (And thank you for commenting.)

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    4. PS - Interesting news worth noting: today Jaime Headden has published a piece about Feduccia's last paper, in which there's plenty of room for Czerkas' (MANIAC = "Maniraptorans Are Not In Actuality Coelurosaurs") ideas.

      post: http://qilong.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/youve-got-to-be-kidding-me/
      paper: http://www.aou.org/auk/content/130/1/0001-0013.pdf
      ;-)

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    5. Yeah, I've already read the PDF. All I can see is: oh dear. Collagen fibres again! Haven't read Jaime's post (am about to) but I'm sure it's a thorough takedown.

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  5. This stuff is fabulous! Love it. I have to confess, I thought of the centrosaurs as synchronized swimmers. What -- they couldn't swim? Maybe they're just swimming . . . ? : /

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  6. I have died reading this entry, It's just too good. I would share almost everything on my blog (not everything, so people have to come here to appreciate this wonderful post), but I have to ask: is Gallantcannibal going to "tumblr" this pictures? or does anyone else here have a tumblr blog? I know that David Orr posted this one: http://gallantcannibal.tumblr.com/post/42960218691/marc-vincent-on-mark-hallett-plenty-of-artists
    and I'm going to reblog it, but I wouldn't like to post the other paintings only to discover later that any of you already posted them on Tumblr, I wouldn't like to step on anyone's toes.

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    1. Other than that Hallett, I wasn't planning on putting more up there. You're free to post whatever you want, whenever you want, but a link back to the post they come from is always welcome. Other than that, my toes will be just fine.

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    2. Great!, I always put a link to the blog in the "source" field anyway, but I had to ask in case you wanted to post them first or anything.

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