I enjoyed Palencar's surrealistic cover art for years without knowing his name. I think the first may have been for Connie Willis (both her collections of short fiction). I remember stopping and studying the cover and thinking, "Wow, this is really, really something." I saw more work, recognizably "that artist's" work, on other covers--Octavia Butler novels, Charles de Lint books. Oh, "The Onion Girl", that's another one that made me pick up the book. He makes you do that-- stop, look. He makes you stare. He does things to your insides with this amazing unreal reality he presents.
Look at the cover of FOUR AND TWENTY BLACKBIRDS? I remember being stopped cold in the bookstore for that one. "What does this mean?" It's eerily beautiful. Startling. It's something special.
And he is that. Really, really something special. There is a moodiness, a sort of solitude and mysticism, that you can feel in the artwork. I've gotten this same feeling enjoying the work of Remedios Varo--though without the consistent weight of Varo's symbolism, I gather-- that dazzling surrealist obsessed with alchemy. Palencar seems to be interested in the isolation of the humans in his worlds of wonder or terror. (The Lovecraft cover art paintings are very difficult to behold. Chilling, nauseating, as they should be.) (Then again, I could be totally wrong. This is, after all, just my impression, and I am neither an artist nor an art historian. I'm merely someone who loves SF novels and enjoys SF art.)
So, after years of enjoying cover art by JJP, I was delighted to discover that this book was out there. I have it, I've perused it, I sigh over it, and it will sit next to my other books on SF art, including my Richard Powers one. I'll be enjoying it for years.
What's inside? Well, open it and get to a fabulous two-page title page spread with a robed angel, all soft pale colors and that gorgeous face. (Palencar does faces with marvelous skill. Beautiful, dreamy, thoughtful, inward-looking, trance-y, aesthetically superb faces. And hands and feet, too. I love studying his painted feet and faces. He makes them beautiful.) ORIGINS: The art of John Jude Palencar. Turn the page for another two-page spread with the copyright info. A brunette woman with an exquisite upper back, bared by the robe that's fallen off her shoulders. Slim-fingered hands reaching out to the left, up to the right, strands meticulously painted at her nape. Again, pale colors, greys and whites,and the browns of the woman. That texture that you associate with Palencar--a graininess, like wood or granite or some other natural object with a FEEL to it. Turn one more page and you get to the painting used in ELDEST by CHristopher Paolini, and it is Paolini who pens the foreword, which he ends with, "Welcome, then, to this collection of one man's visions. You may find them thought provoking, you may find them awe-inspiring, but if nothing else, I hope you find them memorable."
I think they are memorable.
Turn the page again and you find the painting "Angelica", painted for the Sharon Shinn novel of that title. A brunette, eyes closed, face turned up, seemingly in prayer, a subtle moon to the right, unattached wings flying off to the left, and a dawn (or maybe dusk) palette of pale lavenders/grays/charcoal, and the soft and pale wings. Note the fingers and that exquisite bone structure. Opposite this painting is "Burning the Midnight Oil" : A biography of the artist, complete with photos.
After several pages of insight into the life and work of the man, the great stuff parades for you: sketches, fully realized works, titles. Page after page of the subtly painted, gorgeously executed, profoundly pleasurable art. Don't expect commentary. This is the only thing lacking in the book, although some may say it's not needed. Me, I love when works are commented on by the artist. What does it mean to him? Why that object? Why these colors?
But sans commentary, you still have paintings that speak well for themselves of wonder and the fictional or theatrical works they relate to.
Palencar just got nominated for a Hugo award for his art. I, for one, hope he wins. These paintings say he's already a winner, just by having this grand talent.
Buy ORIGINS and just abandon yourselves to his art. It's not a bad way to spend a few hours. Not bad at all.