Vincent Di Fate, Infinite Worlds (1997)
Reviewed by John Hertz
Retrieved from the Internet Archive (originally at Collecting Science Fiction Books; copyright remains with the author). Used by permission.
One of the panel discussions I could not attend at Denvention III, the 2008 World Science Fiction Convention, third in Denver, was “Twenty Essential Books of the Past Twenty Years”. I sent a note to the moderator suggesting Infinite Worlds. She answered “I see what you mean.”
For this spectacular survey of s-f art, coffee-table size, 9x12 inches, 320 pages, the selecting of images (and getting permissions) is astounding even to think of; there are nearly seven hundred, most in color, the rest monochrome, as they originally appeared.
The main parts are a hundred-page historical perspective, and a two-hundred-page examination of a hundred leading artists, one at a time. There is a foreword by Ray Bradbury, an introduction by Di Fate, and just after the first part a study of how a Stanley Meltzoff picture influenced three others, one of which is by Di Fate, one of which is the Paul Lehr picture on the front cover. If you are historically minded you will be pleased to find the editorial director was W. John Campbell.
You may know the fame of Meltzoff — Lehr — W. John Campbell and John W. Campbell, Jr. — Bradbury — or Di Fate. Maybe not. Fame is relative in this wide wide world. The best work has something for the expert and for the novice.
Di Fate was the man for this book. He was Artist Guest of Honor at the 1992 Worldcon, which started it; he won the Chesley Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Association of S-F Artists just after, in 1998. He had won the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist in 1979. He had commissions from International Business Machines, the National Geographic Society, and the National Aeronautics & Space Administration of the United States Government; he chaired the Permanent Collection Committee of the Museum of American Illustration; he was consulted by Universal and 20th Century Fox and United Artists; he was an Adjunct Professor at the State University of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, where he taught the history of illustration, and s-f art.
I recount these things to show, not how Di Fate was approved — what do you care what other people think? — but his breadth and reach. Note in particular his conjoined activity in the worlds of making, teaching, commerce, and museums. Talking about art is itself an art. He had the talent for the task, and by 1997 his thirty-year career had been like a refiner’s fire.
In its history Infinite Worlds names the right artist at the right moment. It makes the right point with the right picture, there and in the one-by-one review. Its words are right. Novices, you are in good hands; experts, see how exactly Di Fate applauds.
The masterful brush of Chesley Bonestell speaks to us with such commanding authority that it doesn’t occur to us to question what our eyes behold.... essential in validating the use of astronomical art as an alternative to the garish and meretricious.... no matter how focused Bonestell was on scientific fidelity, his paintings were never less than works of illustrative art.
I can remember studying Kelly Freas’ work for long hours — his superlative draftsmanship and exquisite design sense, his exceptional use of color and his superb mastery of black & white techniques.... bold, facile pen strokes ... meticulous rendering of images on scratchboard.... a sentimentality and a gestalt that make the whole far greater than the sum of its parts.
Richard Powers’ surreal and largely abstract images.... opened the floodgates to using a greater diversity of styles.... raised the aesthetic standards of the field.... might well be the most prolific illustrator.... Although one is powerless to know with certainty what the shapes represent, they capture the spirit and mood of SF.
Illustrator was always Kelly Freas’ word. In our field, to the elusive demands of realism upon any fiction, we couple the elusive demands of unrealism. Our authors meet both, and our illustrators meet the result. Certainly they are artists.
When technical knowledge is helpful Di Fate brings it.
Widely recognized as one of the most exquisite black & white drawings ever done for the genre, this work on scratchboard [by Virgil Finlay] illustrates Wilson Tucker’s classic tale of immortality, The Time Masters (1954). Careful observation ... reveals that the woman’s face in the foreground is drawn on the board in a series of crosshatches, while the background textures and details are scratched out of the ink in finely etched stipples (dots) and undulating lines.
The intense drama created by light and composition in John Schoenherr’s work reveals an aesthetic sophistication.... the art for “Goblin Night”, one of his best Analog cover paintings, uses values [degrees of lightness and darkness] to great effect. The bold, triangular silhouette of the animal contrasted against the starry night sky is most dramatic.... an early step by the artist toward brightening his palette.
Michael Whelan’s art is character-based, intensely rendered, and beautifully colored.... His careful manipulation of values and ... analogous color schemes [all principal colors having one component in common] are highly effective in creating mood.... often uses airbrush ... fastidious in bringing every aspect ... to a high level of finish.
There are famous pictures here; to name only six by artists I have not yet mentioned, Frank R. Paul’s magazine cover for The War of the Worlds, Edd Cartier’s magazine interior for “The Crossroads”, Hubert Rogers’ magazine cover for “New Foundations”, the Hildebrandt brothers’ poster for Star Wars, Diane & Leo Dillon’s cover for the Caedmon Records Foundation and Empire, Ron Walotsky’s book cover for Temporary Agency. They were made to illustrate s-f stories; they are here to illustrate the story of s-f.
To this extent, in fairness to Di Fate, we must realize his book is backwards. The contents of Infinite Worlds are aesthetically successful, characteristic (or interestingly uncharacteristic), striking — pictures in themselves worth looking at, with less regard for their publisher or for what they illustrate. That is the reverse of what the men and women who made them had as their task. I do not propose it as a fault; I consider it an achievement.
So is the beauty of his book.
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