Friday, December 2, 2011

James Gurney's Museum of High and Low Art

I got to meet illustrator and author James Gurney (Dinotopia, Imaginative Realism) and his wife Jeanette at Books of Wonder in New York on Saturday and it was a really great experience. Books of Wonder had assembled an amazing panel of first-rate illustrators. I generally don't attend too many book signings, but I'm delighted I went to this one. Gurney was promoting the 20th anniversary edition of Dinotopia.

Given the number of sequels that have been published and the well-deserved fame of the series, I was surprised to learn that the original book had gone out of print. How could such a thing happen? Well, the classic volume is back in print now, and a good value. Gurney took the time to personalize each book for those who purchased a copy, and he graciously included a neat drawing of a dinosaur without being asked. I'm not so easily impressed at these events, but I was impressed here.

Shown below is the drawing he made for me. As he described it, it's an art museum for dinosaurs and humans which showcases, literally, both high art and low art! (I said I didn't acknowledge that distinction. He said he felt the same way.)

James Gurney, Dinotopian Museum of High Art and Low Art, Books of Wonder, November 26, 2011

Even if he's made this little variant of the drawing a dozen times or more, I'm quite impressed. For one thing, Gurney had spoken with me for only a couple of minutes, yet he came up with a drawing that was outstandingly well-suited to me. I mean, I like to think I'm not that easy to read. Of course, I shouldn't really be surprised by his acumen. To be sure, this particular drawing might sit well with any professional of my age eager to take some time out of his busy day to hobnob with illustrators. As a passionate fan, I belong to an unusual "type" that illustrators could use a lot more of.

The really odd thing, though, is that this drawing says a lot not only about me, but about my blog. How can that be? Is it because this blog is such a good reflection of me? Certainly there was no way Gurney could have known I even have a blog, let alone such an unconventional one as this. Yet this drawing, by making a comically artificial distinction between high and low art, somehow gets at the very essence of what this whole blog of mine is about more succinctly than anything I myself have ever articulated here. How about that?  Not a bad thing to come out of a book signing! It's almost as if I've been given a raison d'etre now!

Look, at too many book signings, the purchaser walks away with a book he's paid full price for containing an  author's indifferent signature. Sure, some signatures are wonderfully distinctive in themselves, but many are hastily scribbled, almost illegible. In the future, if someone should question the signature, it's often hard to prove authenticity, and this might be a part of the reason for the proliferation of digital photos taken at book signings, although this recent phenomenon is also partially about having an additional souvenir of meeting the author, one that doesn't entail additional expenditure. 

Here's my point: if you admire an author for his literary craftsmanship, a few personalized words inscribed along with the author's signature can mean so much more than an automatic hurried scrawl. With artists, naturally, it's the artwork that draws us to them. A small drawing or even a doodle usually gets closer to the essence of what we admire about the artist than the signature itself . Book signings can create an assembly-line atmosphere, particularly if a large crowd of buyers shows up or if the booksellers bring out a few dozen volumes for the author to sign for future sale. Someone like James Gurney being willing to take some time and to give some thought to each visitor makes a huge difference. 

Gurney, as I have since learned, makes a variety of different dinosaur drawings for his fans, many of them based on a right-facing Apatosaurus, or what I still think of as a Brontosaurus just as I still think of Pluto as the ninth planet. Gurney is right-handed, which should make a left-facing profile easier, one would think. 

Below is an example posted by Giovanni Zagaria on the Comic Art Fans page of a convention drawing similar to mine. It was drawn at Lucca Comics and Games in 2010 in Italy. Here the museum is open-air, necessitated by an error in the dedication, deliberately obscured. A light wash is applied to provide some shading, adding to the three-dimensional form. It's really quite graceful.

November 3, 2012 Update:  Books of Wonder has launched a campaign to "revitalize, refurbish, and renew." Two images by James Gurney are being used in this promotion.

James Gurney, Dedicated "To My Friends at Books of Wonder," November 26, 2011.
Look familiar? This drawing, made on the same day I was at the bookstore but more elaborate, has been enlisted with the artist's permission in the campaign to help revitalize Books of Wonder after the loss of its cupcake-baking subtenants. The splendid image is included in a series of 85 postcards specially-produced for the campaign. You can get a copy with a contribution.
Image added November 3, 2012

James Gurney, "I Devour Books." Dedicated "To People
and Dinosaurs
 Who Shop at Books of Wonder."
This drawing may have been created specifically for the campaign to help revitalize Books of Wonder after the loss of its bakery subtenants. The bold image is one of two by Mr. Gurney included in the series of 85 postcards specially-produced for the campaign.
Image added November 3, 2012

[End of November 3, 2012 Update: ]

Here's an example of a James Gurney Apatosaurus in blue ink without a gag and without a dedication. I found this copy of Dinotopia:  Journey to Chandara for sale at a West Coast bookseller while researching this post and soon after added it to my own collection. Why not?:
James Gurney, Apatosaurus in Dinotopia:  Journey to Chandara (2007)

Finally, I have never before posted my own drawings anywhere but, by way of extreme contrast, if you want to understand why James Gurney is a world-class illustrator and I, for one, am not, take a look at the birth announcement I drew some years ago which currently serves as my profile picture. I think you'll agree that my conception of dinosaur anatomy is the very opposite of realism, imaginative or otherwise. I mean, just what species are these supposed to be?

Prehistoric Birth Announcement

Note:  James Gurney appears in my New York is Book Country post here with a poster that's quite literally an example of high art.

Melissa Sweet was also at Books of Wonder. See my copy of her Balloons Over Broadway here.  Her balloons are high art too!

There are no previous posts here with my own drawings. That's probably a good thing....


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