Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Original Science Fiction Artwork, Pt. 1

While the bulk of my collection is made up of robots and ray guns, the truth is, I see myself as a science fiction collector. And one of the areas in which science fiction truly shines is its artwork. Over the years, I've managed to build a small collection of original sf paintings and illustrations. Most have been published, most are vintage, and all are by artists who've made a name for themselves within the field. Of course, none of that matters if I don't like the art itself. Because I don't buy much, I only go after the pieces that really move me. This generally means subjects that somehow capture science fiction's sense of wonder, its grandeur, its limitless potential. But a weird, bug-eyed monster doesn't hurt, either!

(Note: Parts 2 and 3 can be found here and here, respectively.)

1. "City on the Lake," by Eddie Jones. 11" x 6.5". 1972s. Gouache on artist's board.

Eddie Jones was a prolific and popular British painter who initially made a name for himself as a fan artist. Eventually he powered his way into the professional world by painting hundreds of covers for paperbacks and magazines during the 1960s -- including the wonderful line of Star Trek covers for books written by the legendary James Blish. Bold and colorful, his technique helped define science fiction artwork throughout the Sixties and Seventies.

Rumor has it that this piece was used as the cover for a German science fiction book, but no one's been able to prove it to me. Nor do I have any idea when it was painted. However, stylistically, it looks like something straight off the cover of a Fifties paperback -- but given the timeframe in which Jones did most of his work, I'm betting it's mid Sixties or thereabouts.

Eureka! Thanks to a wonderful email from Rog Peyton, Jones' agent in the 1980s, I now know that this was used for the cover of Die Zeit Der Katzenpfoten (Age of the Pussyfoot) by Frederik Pohl. It was published by Fischer Orbit in September, 1972.

Thanks for the info, Rog!

I bought this painting at the 2006 Worldcon Art Auction in Anaheim, California. It was my first Worldcon, and taking home this painting at the end capped off one of the most fun weeks I've ever had. Among the highlights (if you'll pardon a small tangent) were meeting Ray Bradbury and having him sign my first paperback edition of Fahrenheit 451; seeing the screen-used "hero" blaster from the movie Blade Runner (a prop thought lost until my friend Karl Tate discovered it at the convention); sitting in on lectures full of science fiction luminaries; and meeting and becoming good buddies with author and science fiction wag Jeff Berkwitz. (Hi, Jeff!) Fun stuff!

2. "Untitled," by Richard Powers. 15" x 11". Ca. 1970. Pencils and collage on board.

Richard Powers is the king of abstract science fiction art. He exploded onto the scene in the early Fifties when Ian Ballantine hired him to paint book covers for his then-new company, Ballantine Books. In Powers' hands, science fiction leapt beyond the rockets and aliens and space heroes that dominated covers during the days of pulp magazines. Instead, he created cerebral, abstracted, otherworldly illustrations that hinted at some vast, unexplored world -- kind of like science fiction itself. I absolutely love his work.

This piece originally appeared in 1976 as the frontispiece illustration for the Gregg Press edition of the anthology Modern Science Fiction, edited by the great Norman Spinrad. Powers drew all the elements of the art and then, working with the book's art director, pasted them down in an arrangement that worked best. (Powers did a lot of collage work over the decades, so this was nothing new for him.) Unfortunately, the glue used to paste down the different elements wasn't archival quality and ended up bleeding through in a couple places (the small brown spots). Nonetheless, it's a great example of Powers' black and white work, with creepy, biomechanical robots floating near strange outposts and alien structures. Wild!

Note the signature, which includes the word "Laz/Org." The Lazarus Organization was a fictitious group started by Powers, and he would often include this as part of his signature.

3. "Water For Mars," by H.W. MCauley. 9.5" x 6". Ca. 1951. Ink and pencil on board.

Harold William McCauley started as an illustrator for the Ziff-Davis chain, working on pulp mags like Amazing and Fantastic Adventures. He was known for painting great pin-up girls for science fiction magazine covers, including Imagination and Imaginative Tales in the 1950s. (Va-va-va-voom!) This piece proves that he could also do moody black and white illustrations as well as the next guy.

"Water For Mars" was published in the January, 1951 issue of Other Worlds, and illustrated a story of the same name by the author Stanley Mullen. The spots of bright white are correction fluid (or paint). McCauley used it to fix up the art knowing that when it was reproduced in the magazine, it wouldn't show up. I love these little bits that show it was actually used as a production piece.

4. "Unknown," by William E. Terry. 7" x 7". Ca. 1950s. Ink on board.

William Terry was another illustrator over at Ziff-Davis, and by the 1950s he had become the art editor for Imagination and Imaginative Tales magazines.

This piece was probably published in Imagination, though I haven't had the opportunity to really hunt for it. I love the idea of a kid in a small town approaching the gleaming rocket -- you just know that something great is about to happen! This optimism towards the future is such a hallmark of the 1950s, and 1950s science fiction in particular. It makes me smile, even if I'm cynical enough to know that we're much farther from that ideal than a mere 50 years... Still, illustrations like this remind me to keep hoping.

5. "Plague of Pythons," by Ralph Brillhart. 13" x 9". Ca. 1965. Gouache on artist's board.

Ralph Brillhart painted a number of abstract and surrealist science fiction covers throughout the Sixties, mostly for Monarch, but also Ballantine, Belmont, and Pyramid. Personally, I really like how his work contains so many elements of what we now think of as mid-century futuristic design. It makes for a fun vision of the far future -- except when it's offering up a disturbing look at alien worlds.

This painting was the first original paperback cover I ever bought. It was done for the first paperback edition of the book Plague of Pythons, by the great Fred Pohl (Ballantine, 1965). Not Pohl's best work, I'll admit, but a fun read and a great cover!

Something neat worth mentioning: When I removed the painting from its frame to take this photo, I also took a peak under the matte and this is what I found.

I love how this provides a peek into the way Brillhart worked. Note the sketch of the alien along the top edge, and the way in which the artist uses it to test out his compositional ideas. Really neat stuff.

That's all for now. Stay tuned for parts two and three!


Much of the biographical information contained in this post comes from the be-all and end-all of books about science fiction and fantasy artists, Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary, by Jane Frank. It's an exhaustive study of the subject with hundreds of in-depth entries about pretty much everyone who's ever produced any sort of art within the genre. Highly recommended!

A nice review:

Copies are available at both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

And check out Jane Frank's online store, Worlds of Wonder ( She's been collecting and dealing science fiction art for decades and is tops in the field!


  1. "City on the Lake" is my favorite! "Plague of Pythons" a close second. I love the use of bright orange and deep blue, and the futuristic shapes.

    And very interesting, the peek under the matt to see the work around the edges. Gives it a very personal look at how he composed it, as you said.

    Fascinating. While the closet thing I have ever done to Sci Fi artwork was Frazetta and Boris Vallejo, I used to have one of their books which also featured SciFi artwork. Wish I still had it!

  2. I love these, especially the Brillhart (god knows I've bought enough crappy used-bookstore SF just so I could scan the cover for a Windows backgrounf...) I agree with you on the vibe of the Terry - it's like a snapshot of Bradbury or Serling's imagination(of course the vibe might shift a little when the kid is sucked into the rocket by some strange tentacle and devoured by the Cosmic Horror within ;)

  3. "Water For Mars" sums up the era perfectly.

  4. @1950's_atomic_ranch_house:
    I've always wanted to read whatever story is taking place in that city. (If such a story exists.) Who are the astronauts, what brought them to that place, and what will they find when they go into it? It really gets the imagination pumping.

    "It's like a snapshot of Bradbury or Serling's imagination..." sums it up perfectly. Though your thoughts on what might be the next image in the series of illustrations leads me to believe that you've been reading a bit too much Lovecraft lately!

    Indeed! This could have been drawn in the Thirties or something (though it wasn't). It just screams "Early science fiction."

  5. These are AMAZING Doc! I've not seen any of the pieces. Thanks so much for sharing!

  6. Glad you enjoyed them! I've got one more round of pics going up tomorrow evening. I'd have posted tonight, but the artwork just showed up today and I need to pick it up from the post office. D'oh!

  7. Great Stuff!! City on a Lake is just perfect.


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