William Stout! Now that I have your attention, please bear with me while I relay a little autobiography. The good stuff's coming, honest, but I need you to know where I'm coming from, see. (Note: while these have all been scanned from The New Dinosaurs, I have chosen to focus only the old material, as befits Vintage Dinosaur Art.)
Growing up in the cruel, desolate hinterlands of...England, an awful lot of important palaeoart passed me by as a child. My local library stocked a solitary Greg Paul book that I would borrow on occasion, but other than that the palaeoart of my formative years consisted partly of British artists like John Sibbick, but mostly of second-tier material published in the likes of Dinosaurs! (which frequently ripped off Sibbick). As such, I'm only just now catching up on the work of a great many artists who induce a warm, nostalgic feeling of fondness in the scientists and enthusiasts of my generation (and the generation before).
Mention William Stout to one of them, and they'll raise a hand to their forehead and swoon while frantically fanning themselves, like an Edwardian lady. However, coming to his work completely afresh, I must confess that my initial feeling was...revulsion.
Having got all that out of my system, I can move on to explain how I've been converted. Mostly. Above all else, Stout was innovative. Even if the more extreme shrink-wrapping of his '70s and '80s creations would not be met with approval today, his unique style and experimentation in composition and depicting speculative animal behaviours certainly would. Taking his cue from the illustrators of the Golden Age, and with frequent nods to a more comic-book style, Stout's early work was bold and daring in a way that few other people were attempting at the time.
The above illustration, depicting a group of pterosaurs performing some impromptu dental work on a tyrannosaur, is typical of his approach not only in aesthetic style - how many other artists present palaeoart in a circular frame? - but also in daring to be novel in its depiction of symbiotic behaviour. Stout's work was very much a product of the Dinosaur Renaissance, and he clearly wasn't content with having his dinosaurs doddering around, occasionally stopping to bite and prod each other, as they had done in previous decades. He wanted them to be really alive - fighting, yes (see above), but with disease as well as each other, growing up in a hostile world, herding, and interacting with other animals in their environment. And taking a shit now and then.
There's probably a good reason why so few palaeoartists choose to depict dinosaurs passing waste, but again, it's a perfect demonstration of how Stout was breaking new ground, although not half as much as the following:
Depictions of diseased dinosaurs remain vanishingly rare, but this skin-sloughing Stout Triceratops dates from 1981. The animal shows good attention to anatomical detail (an area where Stout has sometimes been found lacking), but this piece is notable most of all for its stunning stylisation and use of black; the stark monchrome, the onset of darkness as the dying creature wheezes its last. It's unsettling, but intentionally and effectively so, and is definitely one of my favourite Stout pieces.
Stout's attention to composition is perhaps best displayed in this painting of a Camptosaurus sheltering from a storm behind a convenient, enormous boulder. Such a rock formation, extremely smooth and resembling a gigantic wedge of Goudse kaas, might seem a little silly, and perhaps it is (although I'd argue that far sillier formations exist in reality). However, what this piece does - a feat also achieved in the work of Doug Henderson and Ely Kish - is depict a reasonably sized dinosaur as being fragile and vulnerable to the forces of nature, and dwarfed by the ecosystem it inhabits. And all of this is without mentioning how beautifully the flying foliage and battered trees have been depicted.
So Stout's a talented artist. Clearly. In addition, the anatomical issues that afflict his dinosaurs (less so these days, it should be noted) are nowhere to be found in his illustrations of modern animals, and even prehistoric mammals. The above image shows the right half of a double-page spread, and while the packed assemblage of all these different species is somewhat fanciful (as is their overt resemblance to modern forms), they are each stunningly beautiful and add up to a jaw-dropping whole (I love the borders, too). Then there's the left half...
The Corythosaurus aren't actually terribly skinny - svelte, perhaps but there's nothing wrong with that, necessarily. That is, except for their heads of course, which appear alarmingly sunken - little more than skulls-with-eyeballs. This particular Stoutian quirk has persisted into his more recent work, even as his dinosaurs overall have bulked out, and in spite of his clearly excellent understanding of the anatomy of modern animals. It would be very interesting to speculate as to why, although it seems as if he has an occasional tendency to feed his dinosaurs through the Monsteriser, which while making them visually arresting subjects can also have some alarming, rather twisted-looking results...
...as seen with these baby tyrannosaurs, which remind me of nothing so much as mummies. Which brings me back to where I started - feeling a little queasy about it all. However, it's important to take the long view with Stout. He's had a hugely important role to play in the development of palaeoart, particularly in terms of breaking ground through unusual stylisation and moving away from stereotyped, staid depictions of dinosaurs. In short, he helped make dinosaurs cool again.
I must admit - I'm still not a terribly big Stout fan. But I can see why so many people are, and he has a truly impressive catalogue of work to his name. Hopefully, the lovely bugs below will make for a fitting finale.