The Art Of John Harris
- Beyond The Horizon
Titan hardcover £24.99
review by Steven Hampton
'Inspirational' is a word that crops up a lot in descriptions of science fictional art, and, as John Scalzi notes in his introduction to this book, it's a term
that applies especially well to John Harris' artworks. The subgenre of hard-SF, in illustrative terms, has very rarely been expressed as well as it is in this
collection of stunning images. Despite the impressionistic style, there's both weightiness and weightlessness evident in many of Harris' best efforts.
The gritty feel evoked by many of these paintings, especially those depicting big space hardware, crackle with energy because the artist has captured the fantastic
appeal of gigantic machinery, like immense starships and landing craft, often shown working in hostile environments. An earlier collection of Harris' art, Mass
(Paper Tiger, 2000) is had a precisely chosen title. It's a word that neatly sums up the reaction to seeing this new book's pictures of imaginary objects. There's
a physical impact granted to Harris' work by use of muted colours and rough textures.
Not very many of the artist's paintings are of shiny things that reflect light sources. In these artworks, light appears to be absorbed by the imaginary objects,
large or small, whether they are just hanging in space or not, and this strengthens the illusion with a measure of implied reality. Another clever trick used in
creating space art exemplars, like these, is the way that vapours and fumes (like engine exhausts), and/ or the dusty particles of micro debris fields, are emitted,
sometimes explosively, from the floating vehicles. This in itself conjures up a compelling solidity for the sci-fi image, because if the workaday starship 'emissions'
have a cloudy substance of their own, then the ship must (from our viewpoint) possess a mass of its own.
Like Mass before it, the title of this art showcase is also very well chosen. Beyond The Horizon suggests not only that we are will be placed in a position
to see much further than usual, perhaps into fantastical futures, but also that individual painting have far more going on in the capsule worlds they show us than is
obvious. It's hard not to see a story behind each picture here, and so easy to imagine that many of these expansive images are like windows framing a scene that continues,
outside even the sharp edges of the picture's borders, or snapshot of action with a present that implies its own dark past and maybe a poetic future. Something, we think,
with an insistence from dream, must exist in the blank spaces of otherness. Something that's simply hidden from our vantage point: and perhaps it's tale worth sharing.
The affect is particularly impressive when a painting already depicts something that's of a colossal scale, like a city or planetary landscape. These are exciting images
full of teeming activity but, somewhat paradoxically, their technological or natural wonders are shown with a mood of everyday happenings, of not actually ordinariness.
This is a key appeal to Harris' art, a grounding of sci-fi and fantasy images in palpable reality, with astute use of feathering to blur lines.
This is almost a coffee-table sized book, with lavishly designed 12" x 9" pages, capable of displaying printed versions of Harris' canvases in full-page or
two-page spreads, so we can better appreciate their extraordinary scope and raw imagination.
The publisher, Titan, has more books like this already available - or due soon - from other genre artists like Fred Gambino and Jim Burns.