NEW YORK—Climbing the stairs this September at the Society of Illustrators is like ascending from fantasy to reality. The society has transformed the walls of all its galleries for a slate of new exhibits that showcase the extraordinary range of its members’ talents. It begins with a show of sci-fi and fantasy on the ground floor, continues with a retrospective of a late great comic artist, and ends in a look back at some of the most touching pieces from the U.S. Air Force’s art collection.
Each year since 1993, Spectrum has showcased original art from contemporary fantasy, science fiction, and horror genres. Myriad works from digital drawings to sculpture together create a porthole for further investigation into these artists’ oeuvres.
From wildlife and fantasy painter Julie Bell we have “Leap,” an oil painting that won first place in the Imaginative Realist category in Art Renewal Center’s 2012/2013 International Salon. In “Leap,” a nude leaps off a precipice as a dragon looks on, its scaliness accentuated by thin, translucent brushwork. As a former bodybuilder and model for her painter husband Boris Vallejo, Bell may very well have been her own reference for this piece.
We find a classic knight-versus-beast scene in Donato Giancola’s “Eowyn and the Lord of the Nazgul.” Eowyn faces off with the witch-king, sword in hand. The piece appears on the back cover of Tim Underwood and Arnie Fenner’s book, “Middle-Earth: Visions of a Modern Myth.” Fenner and his wife Cathy are the founders of Spectrum (SpectrumFantasticArt.com), the fantasy art publication that lent its name to the annual exhibit.
The pictures bring us to other strange and fantastical, utterly self-contained worlds, like Thom Simpson’s “Marshwalkers,” which looks like a freeze frame from “Avatar.”
Jim Burns’s “The Homuncularium” in which a girl, sitting in an alchemist’s workshop and donning steampunk gadgets, looks into the eyes of a lemur-like creature of her own making.
There’s some funny mixed in with the fantasy, too. Peter de Sève, New Yorker cover artist and the designer of Scrat, the prehistoric squirrel from the movie “Ice Age,” elicits an instant mental grin with a picture of Kermit The Frog and Yoda commiserating in a swamp. The 2011 illustration is titled “Easy Being Green, It Is Not.”
Gregory Manchess, whose work was the subject of an exhibit at the society this same time last year, makes a return appearance with “Above the Timberline.”
Dick Dillin Retrospective
Up on the bright red walls of the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) gallery are pages upon pages (mostly in bare-bones black-and-white) of original comic book pages drawn by Dick Dillin and inked by Sid Greene, Dick Giordano, and Frank McLaughlin.
Sort of an unsung hero, Dillin was one of the three pencillers behind DC Comics’s “Justice League of America.” His work on the series lasted 12 years and 115 consecutive issues, and he never missed a deadline. Besides his steady output, Dillin also introduced to the DC universe a host of heroes and villains, some from a previous tenure at Quality Comics. This retrospective is a small but impressive sampling of Dillin’s considerable body of work.
The U.S. Air Force art program started in 1954, after Society of Illustrators President Arthur William Brown joined a group of cartoonists on a tour of Cold War air bases in 1951. Today the Air Force collection boasts over 10,000 works, and new ones exhibited at the society are added to it every two years in a formal presentation co-hosted by the secretary and the chief of staff of the Air Force.
The artworks document the U.S. Air Force’s accomplishments and trials, raids and rescues, and make a grand impression on the walls of the society’s third floor dining room.
Military technology is a common theme. In 1986, Keith Ferris cast a look back at the beginnings of aeronautics. On an airy pastel canvas, an early-model airplane glides over the tree line as cheering crowds abandon their Ford Model Ts in exaltation. Also in 1986, Attila Hejja looked up, further than the visible skies, to form a vision of the space station amid a swirling cerulean space-scape. Hope and wonderment fill these two and several other frames.
In quite an opposite tone, an imprisoned soldier languishes in a cell, the names of other POWs etched into the walls behind him. Maxine MacCaffrey created this painting 1970 to commemorate the 1,600 plus servicemen who went missing or were captured in Southeast Asia.
In a piece by George Bales, starving dogs and overgrown weeds occupy a 1950 view of desolate Pyongyang training grounds. It serves as a reminder that much of North Korea probably still looks like that in 2014.
Artists Michael D. Fay, Victor Juhasz and Steve Mumford will discuss combat art as it is done today in a lecture on Sept. 17, 6:30 p.m.
For more information, visit SocietyIllustrators.org
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Through Oct. 18
Air Force Art
Through Oct. 18
Dick Dillin: Underrated Comic Genius
Through Nov. 1
Society of Illustrators
128 E. 63rd St.
New York, NY 10065