White Cloud Worlds at The New Dowse

White Cloud Worlds
The New Dowse, Lower Hutt
until March 13th

Massey illustration majors must give daily thanks for Richard Taylor, without whom there’d be no employment except for the School Journal. This exhibition highlights the conceptual work of 27 local science fiction and fantasy artists, and although they mostly work for Weta, there isn’t anything from their most famous movies, presumably because the studios own every scrap of paper they touched during production, except for tissues.

Actually, there may not have been that much paper. Most of the works are digital, beautifully printed in a large format. Only one artist’s work was in screen resolution (it looks fine on a computer monitor, but terrible when blown up for a print,) and he was presumably mortified when he saw how slick everyone else’s stuff looked. There was a Photoshop screencast condensed from about 20 hours’ work (which gave me the idea to try one for Jitterati this week) and some of Simon Morse’s excellent tattoo designs, which didn’t really fit in with the theme, but at least you could tell it was his.

I presume this is mostly personal work, and although it’s technically superb, too much of it is safe and anodyne. However well-executed (and some of these guys are the best in the world at what they do), it seems there’s only so many ways you can draw post-apocalyptic steampunk robots.


5 Responses to “White Cloud Worlds at The New Dowse”

  1. David Thomsen Says:

    My girlfriend compared it to a very high quality ‘deviantART’. They’ve worked hard to improve their technical skills, but the subject material is still just what a 14-year-old thinks is awesome.

    I mean, the cover features a really awesome barbarian fighting a snow monster.

  2. Saw this yesterday. I thought the exhibition format didn’t do it any favours – it felt curiously arid. There needed to be more context, a stronger curatorial hand, something guiding the art. del Toro’s intro panel mentioned that the strongest illustration doesn’t need its context but I think this exhibition showed how some illustration, um, still does.

    Simon Morse’s stuff as the exception. It really was an outlier in the show, wasn’t it?

  3. Maybe it’s because he’s been developing that style for twenty years, but Simon’s work was more distinctive than most of the other more “realistic” visualisations. Is it technically fantasy art if your model (Eva Strangelove) really does look like that?

  4. Rhinocrates Says:

    My girlfriend compared it to a very high quality ‘deviantART’.

    I have to be much more diplomatic, face to face, because I know a few of the people involved, however vaguely.

    That said, I’m very frustrated with a lot of sf and fantasy art from the last couple of decades. First, it’s far too “realist” – there’s no real understanding of why artists pursued the techniques of Cubism or Fauvism… hint: cameras and computers can simulate very well, but they can’t analyse. What is the mood, what strange quality of perception is there that lends emotion to this scene? Why does it have to be in human-centred perspective in Euclidean space? Look at Gothic art, see how importance determined scale… look at the Cubists and see how dynamic observation broke down fixed perspective, look at cartooning and see how calligraphic technics can be more expressive than the mere modeling of surfaces… and even then, look at how Durer’s woodcuts modeled contour with more feeling and understanding of the sheer tactility of a form than any number of pixels could.

    My theory is, subject to contradiction, modification and inebriation, is that illustrators today are told, “Here’s how you construct a giant robot for the CGI in the latest movie/game – and try to keep up with the technology.” In more traditional schools, the conversations went more like this:

    Teacher: Here’s the new view of the world emerged and here’s how this artist tried to apply it. In the Renaissance, for example, perspective was used in a way that gave precedence to the view of the world as constructed by the human individual, as opposed to the supposedly fixed, ideal relations of theocratic art. Hence, things appeared larger if they were nearer, not necessarily because they were more important. Here are their techniques. As you can see with this nude/landscape/still life…

    Student: I want to paint giant robots.

    Teacher: AS I WAS SAYING…!

    Student: I want to paint giant robots!

    Teacher: Alright, I have no idea how to paint giant robots. I do know how you can look at surfaces, planes, edges, light, colour, and most importantly, I know why an artist chose to investigate the world through art. Maybe in time you can evolve a way of depicting the world that would show the kind of perception that would grow in a world that accommodated giant robots. Deal?

    Student: Uh, deal… I think. Is this going to take long? I need to have something for my portfolio pretty soon if I’m going to get a job that actually allows me to feed myself.


    Student: I want to paint monsters!

    Teacher: Okay, so what is a monster?

    Student: Uh, a big animal, with big sharp teeth!

    Teacher: No! “Monster” is derived from “monstrum”, a word meaning “omen”. A monster is a fundamental disorder of nature, portending great and terrible things. It is sent by the Gods! How do you show that order, how do you show the potential collapse of that order?!

    Student: By making the teeth really big and shiny!

    Teacher: Face/palm

    Teachers like that aren’t around in design schools nowadays. The technicians that are hired don’t have the intellectual or cultural resources. The response will always be, “here’s how you do it” and the unspoken end of the sentence will be “for the latest movie or game.”

  5. Rhinocrates Says:

    Actually, to be fair, I can blame Peter Jackson, James Cameron, Michael Bay and any number of directors and whatnot. Renaissance artists were surely compromised and corrupted by the system of patronage they lived under, but there’s plenty of evidence that they used their patrons as much as they thought they were using them. Directors like Peter Jackson on the other hand have seen lots of bad movies and think they know what looks cool and want more of it and a simple Darwinian process will select artists who can deliver what looks good on a screen. Those who can’t will starve or become accountants.

    Jackson, Cameron et al are so enamored of their own minds that they are not in the least bit curious. Stanley Kubrick was curious, insatiably so, and when working on 2001: A Space Odyssey he asked himself, “what does a real spaceship look like?” and hired NASA engineers to design them, and he wondered “what makes the ‘proverbial good science fiction film’?” (his words) and hired Arthur C. Clarke to brainstorm and write the story. The result was something that changed utterly the concept of what sf films could be. The same with Ridley Scott and Blade Runner. Scott wanted to know what the world of Philip K Dick would look like, right down to the detail of what twenty-first century parking meters and porn magazines would look like, so the designers (led by Syd Mead, an industrial designer) went to work.

    The directive was: “What would X look like?”, not “It would be cool if…”

    What I see in Jackson, Cameron and so on is a lot of astonishing technical virtuosity, and absolutely no curiosity at all. Avatar, The Lord of the Rings, Tron: Legacy and all those other films cost hundreds of millions made billions… and I’ll be perfectly happy to forget them.

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