Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dark Dick




You can take this posting's title as you wish. It actually refers to the work of Philip K. Dick, one of the most influential science fiction authors of the 20th century. In 1979, when I was at the beginning of my modest career as a science fiction illustrator, I got a commission to do frontispiece illustrations (that is, opposite the title page) for hardcover versions of two series of novels by Philip Dick. As a dutiful illustrator, I went and read the books. I found them truly twisted and depressing, but I was determined to do a good job on the illustrations. Therefore I became twisted and depressed. 

This one is the frontispiece to a tale called THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH, summarized in its full incoherence in Wikipedia. The stoned-out characters of the story appear as well as a church steeple turned into a syringe, the planet Mars, and the reader's hands strangling a little girl (it happens in the book, but as I dimly recall, the little girl is not what she seems, or a hallucination, or something). The book was full of this kind of illusion within illusion, and reflected the drug-addled mind of its creator. As I recall, not wanting to take drugs, I used music as a drug (symphonies of Mahler, or Christian pop music hymns) until I felt almost suicidal, and then I did the art. This was in the spring and summer of 1979. I did 12 pictures in 2 series. I hated the art after I finished it, and when I got a chance a year or so later, I sold it all at a very low price to the guy who had re-published the books, and who really liked the art. 

So I can really do dark, twisted, depressing, and violent art if I am commissioned. I just don't like it. Perhaps I'm just a squeamish old biddy, who doesn't want to express what is really going on in the world. Does art have to be shocking, violent, brutal, and filled with nihilistic despair to be true to our era? There seems to be a need for that in art, because such things have been created ever since people started making art. Will I make this kind of art, too? I don't believe twaddle about "doing what's in your heart." I do art because I can solve an interesting problem, even if it's proposed in a drugged haze by Philip Dick.

Original drawing is about 7" x 10", ink on illustration board.

3 comments:

Mike said...

Christian pop music hymns? Yikes, I'd be suicidal too. ;) You certainly suffer for your art.

You may not like it, but I think it's an excellent piece of art.

Interesting comment about "doing what's in your heart". I figured most artists (my musical self included) use their ability to express what's in their heart and mind.

I'd like to understand more on what you mean by doing art to solve interesting problems.

Tristan Alexander said...

Hannah...er Pyracantha, Naughty naughty title, hehe.
While the art is well done (as usual for you) it doesn't seem dark at all, everyone is smiling and happy looking! In context of the story I am sure it is effective, but on it's own, it ain't dark at all.

Pyracantha said...

Mike: I have recently re-discovered that Philip Dick series I did, and I will post more of them. A couple of them do cross the line over to horror illustrations. 25 years later I guess they weren't bad as art.
I will talk about problem solving in art later on, stay tuned.
Tristan: the reason that everyone is smiling and happy looking in that picture is because they are all stoned out of their gourds.