The Art of Stephen Hickman: Empyrean by Stephen Hickman

(9.0/10)

With a body of work that is mainly fantasy with a portion of science fiction, this coffee table book is a real showcase for art appreciators who want to see Hickman’s interpretation of characters and settings from some of the most famous novels around. Through his book covers, Hickman has evoked the feelings of his subjects. The front page image, Dragon, also gets to be inside stretched over two pages with the scaly face and horned snout as Hickman's trademark leathery wings and tail stare out into the distance.

Complete with preliminary sketches, from before the sketch had been finished along with the final painting, the reader can understand the artist's thought processes, his paintings of the characters and some of the small details that go a long way to explain the look of his art really well. From looking at the images, Hickman's artistic influences are obvious; Boris Vallejo, in some of the characters faces and in the background, Frank Frazetta in another, though in Flame Weaver there is a coloured Eastern influence in the detail of the background as well as on the characters costume - the eagle behind her looks almost abstract in nature as if it is more of a symbol than a supposed living entity. Other than the wraparound cover, the hardback inside has a gloss back cover with a golden line art dragon on the front that adds a sense that the reader has got a bonus piece of art for their collection.

Being 310 x 228 mm readers get to see the full paintings at either A4 or, when the pages are doubled, an A3 image showing all the details needed to get a worthwhile impression of the artist's work. Choice works in the doubled pages range are Red Mermaid, Mad Maudlin, two versions of the same painting The Sea of Vaynu, The Astronomer Prince and The Invisible Thief. As well as the obvious modern fantasy art influences, Hickman has a grasp of the classical look from the Renaissance era with the decorative Eastern influences of that time. In between the colour images are preliminary sketches of what his paintings will look like with some fully realised sketches on coloured paper using black and white pastel, such as in Lyric and Phosphorescence where Hickman would get a good idea of the details and where the light sources would be coming from. There is another striking image, this time done in white pastel on black paper is Luminous Mermaid where the chiaroscuro is unmistakable.

Hickman has an introduction by David Drake and a Foreword by Rick Berry. His work is set into various chapters of Fantasy, Pharazar, Tolkien, Science Fiction, The Classics and the Secret Art of Painting. Fantasy, by the sound of it, is one where this artist feels at his most creative. For those who think there is too much digital art around at the moment, they could enjoy Hickman’s fantastic realism painted in the more traditional style using the sort of mediums most artists moved away from in favour of digital as a quicker way of making art, yet it loses a lot of the freshness traditional art has, only to look generic. Hickman uses Liquin as a medium in his Naghal the Sorceress, underpainting in raw umber and used a palette knife for the background. One of my personal favourites is Dragon’s Hoard, the mix of gold, green and flame red background give the piece a satisfied devilish look out at the viewer. The impression it gives is that the hard is enchanted in some way, from the drinking vessel, sword, harp and mace, the dragon has the smile of one who knows whoever comes for the hoard will have a real challenge on their hands. In Pharazar, their place is a realm based on The Lemurian Stone, a novel Hickman wrote back in 1989 for Ace Books (Fontana in the UK). Love’s Mirror started out as a detailed pencil sketch showing two loves in an embrace near a lake, the lily strewn lake being the mirror. His work also has several studies on warrior women, The Arrow, The Archers of Lhune, The Lemurian Princess and Avonne. Rather than concentrating on painting in a hyper realistic way, he has put emphasis on the power in his brush strokes to evoke the energy of the subject. He shows the keen aestheticism of the woman in The Arrow as she fires her projectile aloft into the silver clouded sky.

His Tolkien work is some of the most beautiful, yet also the least featured in the book. It is clear that he intended to have them as some of his finest and brightest works; The Hall of Fire where the Elves are gathered with the Hobbits is an amazing example of size and detail. One of the strangest aspects of his Elven designs are he makes them look as though they have wide shoulders whether they are women or men as in The Harp of Galadriel and the Meeting of Aragorn and Arwen. They are beautiful as he packs in the details of the sheen in the cloth and the trees around them.

Hickman’s Science Fiction work spans his covers from Larry Niven, Robert Heinlein, Bertram Chandler, and Andre Norton, while his Classics section shows his personal work on fantasy paintings and Cthulhu art and sculpture. Though the book does more than showcase his artwork, most of it very recent, he actually tells the reader how he painted it, and what medium he used. This is something most artists would not do, and I found most impressive as I could imagine budding artists the world over trying to get a similar result as he had. Empyrean is a great book for a fantasy art appreciator who wants to have a full grasp of what being an artist really entails technique, persistence and perfection.

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