The Artful Collector: Highlights from LonCon3 – The Biggest SF Worldcon Ever! (part 2)

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Chris Foss at the LonCon3 art show, signing copies of his newest art book for a long line of fans
Chris Foss at the LonCon3 art show, signing copies of his newest art book “Hardware: The Definitive SF Works of Chris Foss” for a long line of fans

(You can read Jane Frank’s Loncon3 Con Report, Part 1, here)

In this second part of my report on LonCon3, I will be focusing on ART and ARTISTS – one of the two main reasons I traveled “across the pond” to London . . . the other being, of course, having the pleasure of spending time with other long-time fan-friends.  As previous Hugo Winner Jim Burns puts it, echoing the sentiments of all “For me con-going is primarily an opportunity to catch up with old friends who live in far flung corners of the world and even a bit remotely from me in the UK – and who I rarely see other than at these gatherings.”

Naturally, one of the highlights of the show was meeting Chris Foss, the convention’s Artist Guest of Honor (AGOH) This was a special treat for me, because while I had actually represented him in the sales of his originals, way back in 1994-1995, and had spoken to him several times by phone, I had never met him face to face.  It was a delight to see him busily drawing impromptu sketches in his new art book “Hardware: The Definitive SF Works of Chris Foss” for fans lining up for his signature  A large crowd gathered to hear his GOH interview conducted with aplomb by two-time Hugo Award winner for Professional artist, John Picacio. . . who really didn’t have to work too hard to get Chris wound up and talking about his long and varied career. He told stories about his participation in the ill-fated 1975 film adaptation of Herbert’s classic DUNE, as well as the 2013 American documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, chronicling the project.  He also briefly addressed the outrage du jour for SF artists: the idiocy of an art establishment that rewards artists for ripping off the works of others.  Chris Foss being another in a growing number of artists whose imaginative work Glenn Brown is happy to copy – and profit from.  

Speaking of Hugo’s and interviews and artbooks . . .

Julie Dillon, cover art for "The Very Best of Kate Elliot" anthology 2014 (Tachyon Pub) - only one of many beautiful works
Julie Dillon, cover art for “The Very Best of Kate Elliot” anthology 2014 (Tachyon Pub) – only one of many beautiful works

Julie Dillon, nominee for the Hugo last year, WON in 2014 for Best Professional Artist…a major and amazing outcome for Julie and a morale booster for all those talented female artists in the field who have been waiting since 1955 to win that award (I don’t count Leo and Diane Dillon because they worked as “as one” for all their SF work )- not to mention that two other women nominees were also vying for this prestigious award among a very strong group of contenders: Galen Dara, John Picacio, Dan Dos Santos, Fiona Staples, and John Harris.

While few American artists made the trip, the number of artists showing their work and/or attending this Worldcon was truly impressive.  The majority of artists, as you might expect, were British – and all chose marvelous examples of their work for display.  Although, if painted illustration art was what you were after – you would have to be content with examples from the 80s-early 2000s.  And then – only a few examples from artists who were working then and still had a few left (e.g., Chris Achilleos, Steve Crisp, Danny Flynn, Chris Moore, Bruce Pennington)  Otherwise your choices were either recent personal works, in traditional media (Jim Burns, John Harris, Anne Sudworth, Chris Foss, to name just a few) or works in new media…mixed digital/traditional or purely digital.  I reckoned that at least half the offerings were prints; that is to say, computer print-outs of digitized art files, But the quality, overall, was high.

Maurizio Manzieri, Italian artist, and happy first time member of a SF Worldcon
Maurizio Manzieri, Italian artist, and happy first time member of a SF Worldcon

For first time SF Worldcon member, well-known Italian artist Maurizio Manzieri – the con exceeded all expectations.  A Chesley nominee and “old hand” at being a guest or attendee at The Lucca Comics and Games Festival (Europe’s answer to San Diego ComicCon, now up to an estimated 300.000 attendees for the 5-day event) Manzieri was still thrilled to receive the Art Show Team award for best Digital Artwork in the Show!  Fluent in English, he says, “Lucca may be the biggest . . . but the Worldcon is the heart, the irreplaceable crossroad of the hardcore fandom. There were more than 10.000 members for this edition and they weren’t just visitors, they were FANS, including the professionals! I could see that spark of joy in their eyes, something I’ve always been imagining from my Studio.”  In other words, “he gets it” He also practically sold out of his prints, and was more than satisfied with that.

Otherwise, my ‘take’ on sales results – based only on a small sampling of artists know – are mixed.  For some, like American sculptor Vincent Villafranca, sales were so good that they wished they had shipped in more of it!  For others, artists like Fred Gambino who rarely attend conventions, sales were secondary to the point of being there for the launch of his new art book.  In my opinion, the unusually strong £ – combined with competing distractions (such as day trips to London) and no easy way to ship artworks out of the UK – may have dampened the ardor of many prospective U.S. buyers.  It’s not easy to bid $7500 to $9000 for an original work by Pennington on an impulse – or even up to $25,000 for works by Sudworth over the course of a weekend convention. Even open edition digital prints, modestly sized, were averaging $200 up.  There were no obvious “bargains”.  But again, and to repeat – for most of the artists “sales” were not the point.  As Chris Moore wrote, in an email to me which encapsulates the feeling  “There seems to exist a mutual admiration society within the British SF illustration field, irrespective of the areas of work, the techniques used, the subject matter or the level of expertise, the artists all seem to appreciate what others do. I never hear any negative criticism about peoples work. There may be the odd ‘Not my kind of thing!’ but everyone seems to recognise how difficult it is to survive in our business and accords respect. I get this from the regular convention goers as well so the general atmosphere is one of being appreciated and it’s nice to bask in that feeling of well-being. Lets face it, as artists it’s generally a pretty solitary existence work-wise so it’s great to get out and feel that.”

For some, what wasn’t on exhibit, could be found in art books . . . in particular those published by Titan Press, which kicked off the opening of the art show with a book

Fred Gambino, closest with Ian Miller, John Harris beyond . . . at the Titan Books signing
Fred Gambino, closest with Ian Miller, John Harris beyond . . . at the Titan Books signing

launch for Jim Burns’ new art book “Hyperluminal” as well as a joint signing for all Titan’s attending artists:

Fred Gambino (cap) and Jim Burns signing books at the Titan Books launch for Jim's "Hyperluminal" art book
Fred Gambino (cap) and Jim Burns signing books at the Titan Books launch for Jim’s “Hyperluminal” art book

Chris Achilleos, Fred Gambino, John Harris, Ian Miller, Chris Foss.   Speaking for those who showed up, I think we were kind of dismayed that Titan provided only the opportunity to buy books – but no drinks, nibbles, a ‘party’ – even for the artists signing.   But we soon got over the disappointment and made it into a real party, anyway . . . when Jim Burns’ wife Sue and their children and grandchildren showed up!

Chris Achilleos, at the Titan book signing, foreground, with artists Ian Miller, Jim Burns, John Harris seated behind him
Chris Achilleos, at the Titan book signing, foreground, with artists Fred Gambino (in cap) and Ian Miller, John Harris seated behind him

It’s been quite a while since any publisher has taken on the mantle of “art book publisher” – of the kind that would have given Paper Tiger a run for their money, “back in the day”   Well, here comes along Titan Press and FOUR books all published in 2014, and what’s more . . . all the artists signing are ones whose art is 100% deserving of these new publications.  All the artists are British, and (full disclosure  😉  all are artists I have previously and/or currently represent.  It’s not that they’ve never enjoyed having their own books….for none of them is this their first solo art book….all are well known for their distinctive contributions to the field….but then again, it’s been at least a decade or two years since any of them have had a chance to show off their best work this way.

One of the highlights of the con for me, personally, was the opportunity to interview multi-award winner (HUGO, Chesley, BSFA, others) and notable AGOH (DragonCon 2013) Jim Burns on Monday – just the two of us, no script!  We managed to fill the 1.5 hrs. scheduled for this without any difficulty, thanks to Jim’s prodigious memory and knack for story-telling.  I had sort of forgotten his early days as an RAF pilot . . . and stories of how he started off his career as an artist.  He’s now totally into private commissions, and personal works, to satisfy his itch for painting….while still managing to garner commercial commissions (all 6 covers for Interzone magazine 2013 – digitally)

Jim Burns and his interviewer, yours truly, Jane Frank - still smiling after 1.5 hrs!
Jim Burns and his interviewer, yours truly, Jane Frank – still smiling after 1.5 hrs

Regrets? I never got to the Tower to see the WWI centenary commemoration “Poppies in the Moat”; somehow missed meeting Bob Layzell; never stayed up later than 11 PM.

NEXT WEEK:  the final part of my report on LonCon3 . . . stay tuned for the wrap up!

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