BOOK REVIEW: The Art of John Harris – Beyond the Horizon
REVIEW SUMMARY: A look at the forthcoming book, The Art of John Harris: Beyond the Horizon, to be released by Titan Books on May 27th, 2014.
PROS: Large, beautifully reproduced images; work spans wide range of Harris’ career; fitting foreword by John Scalzi; reasonable price point for book of this size/quality; equally reasonably priced slip-cased limited edition with signed print.
CONS: More prose about inspirations/thoughts on individual works would have enhanced the book.
BOTTOM LINE: John Harris and his iconic paintings have been a part of the science fiction community for nearly four decades. He brings an impressionistic sensibility to his bold, massive space landscapes that make each piece stand out as a distinct work of art. Generations of readers have discovered his work because of the science fiction novels graced with his creations. Harris continues to be a prolific creator whose work resides on the covers of some of the biggest names in SF literature. This new retrospective is a welcome body of work and should be added to your collection the moment it is released.
John Scalzi provides the foreword to this collection of art, which is fitting given the volume of work Harris has created for John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series over the past decade, including 13 original works to go along with each chapter, released weekly in 2013, for The Human Division.
In it, Scalzi touches on the inspirational power of works of art, giving the example of how John Harris’ painting chosen for the cover of The Ghost Brigade, stirred his imagination at a time when he had hit a roadblock in the execution of that very novel.
John Scalzi states, “John’s artwork, like that of Richard Powers or Frank Kelly Freas, is iconic, and also Bookstore Iconic–which is to say you can see it from across a bookstore, and when you see it, you know what you’re going to get in the pages of that book: A damn fine read that takes you places you can’t go any other way.”.
I find that an apt description because, unlike some cover artists, John Harris is not creating a painting to illustrate specific scenes in a novel but is instead creating a work whose scope and scale evokes some sense of expectation and emotion. His paintings inspire daydreaming about the places they depict.
The title of John Harris’ first art book is Mass, and it is a fitting title given that so much his work centers on great hulking ships, buildings, and planets and how these massive elements exist in relation to one another. In this new collection, Harris talks about how scientific concepts of mass and gravity and spatial relationships are important to him in his work and yet he will at times bend, or violate, those concepts in one way in order to promote them in another.
The Art of John Harris: Beyond the Horizon covers some thirty-five plus years of his career and showcases not only paintings used as cover images for a variety of science fiction novels, but also works he has created over the years for an ongoing story in images that he regularly adds to, as well as paintings inspired by NASA images of Earth from space and other non-book-related works.
While the look Harris achieves is accurately defined as “iconic”, this book shows the full range of his work, including some of the early roughs and pastel sketches that provide the foundation for his finished paintings. This glimpse at the process is insightful, especially as those roughs are also small works of art in and of themselves.
I became aware of the work of John Harris at an early age and have been a fan from the first time I laid eyes on one of his book covers. His work for authors like Ben Bova, Orson Scott Card, John Scalzi and Jack McDevitt cover many years of creative effort and he continues to provide cover work for these authors today. I personally value cover art consistency across book series and I give kudos to the book companies and their creative directors who continue to employ John Harris to create beautiful art.
When I think back to what attracted me to science fiction as a child, and what continues to spark my interest today, it is the sheer enormity and vastness of space. Our solar system is enormous, and that is but a speck of dust in comparison to the greater universe. John Harris captures that sense of the awesomeness of space and does so with rich, sometimes strikingly colorful images. Titan Books has created a wonderful tribute to John Harris’ career to date; it is a lovely volume worth adding to any collection of art books. The release of the book is timely given that John Harris is on the shortlist for Best Professional Artist at this year’s Hugo Awards in London. The May 27th release provides a gorgeous visual reminder of his talent and several of his eligible works from last year are included in this volume. As John Harris has strongly influenced my imagination over the years, I am pleased to see his work presented in a high quality volume at a price that everyone can enjoy.
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