Alphonse Mucha: A Father of Graphic Art

I’m certain you’ve seen an Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) print at some point in your life.  So many of his prints have saturated the artistic landscape that I think it’s inevitable you’ve seen one.  The problem is you probably didn’t know the man’s name.  Which is a crime.

Alphonse Mucha was the finest example of the Art Nouveau movement of the early 20th century.  It didn’t just involve paintings and prints, but furniture, architecture, interior design, etc.  Strong, sweeping lines, naturalistic scenes and a general organic feel characterized the movement.  Which are all interesting, but I’m more interested in the line work, which you can see reflected in a lot of modern graphic arts, including comics and animation styles.  More specifically, I’m interested in the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha.

Oh, other great artists contributed to the movement, but Alphonse stood out.  He took the basic ideas and created a unique brand which lasts to this day.  The great comic illustrator Charles Vess counts him as one of his primary influences.  I would say that Mucha influenced the entire subset of graphic (or “commercial”) art.

Art Nouveau had a graphic style with sweeping lines and exaggerated flourishes.  Alphonse combined that with a solid, very competent illustrative style and a great eye for colors and symbols.  He did many illustrations for advertisements, handbills and posters, which is probably how the style trickled down through so many advertisements over the years.  He combined that with beautiful women and naturalistic scenes, overlaid with precise, geometric patterns.  This became more than a mere aping of Romance images.  It became a style unto itself.  The sum of the parts is, well . . . just look at his art.  It speaks most eloquently.

Alphonse started out as a singer and his art was merely a ‘hobby’ until 1894, when he came to the attention of Sarah Bernhardt, who took an instant liking to his style and employed him for years.  He expanded his hobby to a full-time career, culminating in his painting series The Slav Epic.  Unfortunately, his Slav nationalism and Jewish roots brought him to the attention of the Nazis when they occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939.  After a brutal interrogation, the aged Alphonse succumbed to pneumonia a few months later.

Not Mucha. But a nice homage.

Today I’ve seen several artists use his style for book covers and comics.  Outside of the art field, his name isn’t widely known.  This is just so the next time you see one of his paintings, you’ll know the man behind it.

Stephen Fabian: An Artist Who Needs More Love

Stephen Fabian 01Many years ago, while stationed in Wildflecken, Germany, I bought the 2nd Edition AD&D new boxed set of the Ravenloft  role-playing game campaign setting.   I was exposed to artwork from an artist heretofore unknown to me: Stephen Fabian.  These were in the days where game companies couldn’t really afford to get much in the way of color interior artwork.  All of it was, with rare exceptions, black and white.  This didn’t mean there weren’t some damn fine artists putting out illustrations, but most game designers were smaller companies who didn’t have a stable of artists who could paint interior illustrations on a whim (and computer illustrations were purely theoretical.)Stephen Fabian 02

Along comes Stephen Fabian.  He had done illustrations for TSR (the creators of D&D before being absorbed by Wizards of the Coast,) but the Ravenloft setting allowed him to really shine.  For those unfamiliar, Ravenloft is a world setting for D&D that is essentially a combination of dark fantasy and Gothic horror.

Stephen Fabian 04Most of the other artists employed by role-playing games came from a more comic-book tradition.  Fabian, on the other hand, was very much a pulp illustrator.  He did very little line work, and instead he used solid whites and darks with gorgeous gray washes.  Where washes weren’t used, he would use stippling instead of hatching.  The moody and dark tone worked perfectly with the setting.

I had never seen anything like it before and fell instantly in love.  I snapped up every Ravenloft supplement I could find, and Stephen’s illustrations were a big reason.

Stephen Fabian 03 Stephen set a new standard in an era of very little experimentation in rpgs, as did the Ravenloft setting (most younger gamers have no idea how much Ravenloft shaped a lot of monsters they’re familiar with, especially undead–but that’s another subject.)  Stephen’s stark,eerie style struck just the right note.  He was also fond of graphic flourishes, such as stylistic borders and icons relevant to the subject material.  It turned mere game books into pieces of art.  He even did the illustrations for an entire deck of cards in the Tarot tradition called the “Tarokka” deck.

I discovered later that Stephen was no newcomer to the illustration field, and had been doing illustrations to fantasy and science fiction since the sixties.

Stephen Fabian 05He’d done illustrations for various pulp writers, such as Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and A. Merritt and older writers such as William Hope Hodgson.  I dug up whatever artwork I could find and ordered an art book from Bud Plant.  His scope of work was impressive and he had been favorably compared to Virgil Finlay.  Virgil’s influence on Stephen was apparent and it definitely fit with his pulp style.

I haven’t seen many new projects since his memorable run on the early Ravenloft products.  He’s been nominated for a Hugo Award and in 2006 received the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement.

Stephen Fabian 06If you’re at all a fan of classic illustrations styles, pulp styles/subjects and an eerie, ethereal style, you should check out Stephen Fabian’s artwork.

 

 

 

 

 

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