Modern fantasy and sci-fi art as we know it was born out of the literary world
middle-class was commissioning more morally charged, non-Biblical paintings. The classical world of Greek and Roman myths, with their human ideals and weaknesses, were the perfect subject for money-makers eager to reflect their increasing wealth and genius.
Johannes Guttenberg had brought the moveable type printing press to the West around 1450, and with it easier access to stories, old and new. “Modern fantasy and science fiction art as we know it was born out of the literary world,” explains Charles. “Literary icons such as JRR Tolkien and the creator of Conan, Robert E Howard, have inspired artists for eight decades with their characters and fantastic plots.” Again, that’s not the whole story. Looking beyond the Western borders, China had invented its printing press some 300 years earlier. Chinese artist Lorland Chen admits that Chinese myths don’t demand the same respect from his generation as they once did. As one of the first artists to teach digitally in China, it was by looking back to an imagined past that he learnt about life. “Growing up under Chairman Mao and the fear of Western countries waging war, families were ordered to build secret factories and facilities in hills, underground,” he recalls.
Despite a sense of isolation, Lorland’s desire for information from non-party channels brought him to his country’s old myths. Characters such as Houyi, the celestial archer, and Luo Shen, the beautiful goddess who brought kings to their knees, helped Lorland out of his shell. “People around the world have the same question: where are we from? The answers from myths are much more vivid than the ones from science.”
Oedipus & the Sphinx Greek myth flourished in 19th century imagery, as French artist François-Xavier Fabre’s painting shows.
Houyi the archer Chinese artist Lorland Chen reconnected with his country’s myths in his adult life.
mash up Anastasia Kustova’s take on the mythical creature mixes Greek and Egyptian elements with a modern twist.
The Groom Snake Serbian artist Vanja Todoric has painted for books on his country’s myths and fairy tales.