We all know something about the worlds of fantasy, science fiction and horror. Whether it be from our own fears or through our love of certain stories, these made-up places and tales have never been far from our daily lives.
Historically, stories or myths have been told to teach lessons or share important moments from a culture's past. It wasn’t until more recent times and people becoming more literate that we began to try to illustrate visually the popular stories and myths that were being published.
"John Jude Palencar: Between Worlds" on view at the Canton Museum of Art through July 21 is an opportunity dive into the world of this Ohio artist and illustrator.
“As a youngster I was fascinated with scary and unknown things. I always wanted to create things that couldn’t be photographed, and drawing was a kind of therapy for dealing with my fear of the unknown,” Palencar says in the information that accompanies the exhibit.
Palencar is one of the leading artists creating cover art for books today.
He has created cover art for texts published in more than 30 countries around the world and for some of the biggest authors in book publishing: J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, Ursula LeGuin, Christopher Paolini, Connie Willis, Octavia Butler, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and many others. His work has also been in magazines and newspapers and used by some of the biggest entertainment companies, including Lucas Arts and Paramount Pictures.
This exhibit features his commercial work as well as some of his more personal paintings that go into the artist's examination of “the duality of faith, mortality, beauty and the grotesque.” It’s a selection of paintings and illustrations that are full of shape and form that pulls you around the gallery and through the ideas and stories being related through this artists unique mark, ability and style.
"Night’s Watch" is a 2018 acrylic on rag board that was produced in conjunction with George R.R. Martin, famous for his "A Song of Ice and Fire" book series, the basis for "A Game of Thrones" TV series. In this painting, a hooded figure clad in fur and holding a scepter stands in the foreground with a castle mid-ground and a large stone wall dominating the background. A slightly hazy moon illuminates the entire scene that is mostly done in colors ranging from black to brown and from blue to gray. You can only see the lower half of the figure's face as their eyes are left in shadow. The scene and the clothing of the figure help to relate a texture of the place depicted as well as a story about the world in which this particular scene takes place.
"Extasis" is a 2013 acrylic on birch panel depicting a slightly grotesque shirtless male figure with a halo above his head. The head itself is tilted backward and the eyes are looking somewhat forward, and the figure is placed in what appears to be some kind of wooded area with no leaves on the trees. This placement, coupled with the scars on the chin and face of the subject, help to create a mood many might find a little unnerving. Further, the piece is painted in startling detail; muscles and bone placement are easy to surmise under the skin of the character and this reality sits in sharp contrast to the halo and the slightly distorted shape of the head. "Extasis" is defined as rapture, trance or ecstasy and it is impressive how Palencar is able to tell a story through the title of the work and the expressive and detailed way in which it is painted.
"Pagan" is a 2015 acrylic on birch panel that portrays a dancing nude male figure that appears to have a bull's skull for a head. The figure is highly detailed but has slightly abnormally oversized feet that are depicted in movement. The figure is dancing in front of a highly textured but neutral backdrop that also has slightly obscured geometric shapes that help to inform the overall composition of the work, both visually and in the way they create the overall narrative for the piece.
Palencar creates artworks that peek into the worlds of fantasy, science fiction and horror with an ability that shows off his very reality-based skills as an artist. The techniques, textures and colors he uses shine a light on his talent and highlight his ability to understand his own place in art history.