Print Written by Dominic Cuthbert

The Art of John Harris Review


For fans of sci-fi and art, John Harris is more than likely a familiar name, his work having fed into the genre since the mid-'70s. For the uninitiated, imagine Monet painted spaceships. He presents the future as something real, filled with wonder but also danger, moving from sweeping landscapes to broken vessels.

The book itself is beautifully and simply presented, some pages offering an insight into the composition and evolution of a given piece, but often the paintings need only themselves. The dates too are often irrelevant as his body of work is timeless; some hark back to classic '30s sci-fi like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, while others are moodier, the palette comprised of purples and blacks: The Twin Parliaments of Pyrrhus is a particularly overwhelming example.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the collection, and indeed Harris’ work, is that it incorporates all sci-fi. Some of the paintings like The Big Generator and Noise are reminiscent of Blade Runner’s resident futurist Syd Mead, while others evoke prog-rock cover artist Roger Dean’s hallucinogenic landscapes, and some of them are altogether more abstract, specifically those in the Beyond the Horizon chapter, comprised of textures and surfaces.

While his art is all-encompassing, it’s also fun to cherry-pick your favourites, from Migration which conjures Ra’s pyramid ship over the Abydos desert in the Stargate motion picture, to Armies of Memory, which is reminiscent of the Citadel in the Mass Effect trilogy, with more than a few winks to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Harris’ paintings never appear static, he captures motion in his work. There’s a preoccupation with mass, machinery and wreckages in space that, while weightless in the vacuum, are vast, from wounded spaceships, huge red planets that dominate the canvass and debris that tells a story only by its presence.

The book is broken into chapters, each focusing on specific themes and elements of his work. Floating Mass will really get sci-fi fans salivating. While most of the paintings are strictly impressionist and imaginative realism, some of the works are more tangible and informed by speculative thought, bridging the space between art and innovation.

The collection showcases Harris’ thirty plus year career, offering the reader a chance to admire the ambition and evolution of an artist. There’s a symbiosis on display, his work inspiring others who then inspire him. The back of the book collates those of his works that have adorned some of sci-fi’s most interesting writers, from Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game, Ultimate Iron Man) to John Scalzi (Old Man’s War series, Redshirts), who wrote the forward.

There’s no need for any prior understanding of art to appreciate this collection, or indeed a love of sci-fi (though it definitely helps). The paintings tap into something primal, a part of you that may very well be comfortable with Harris’ portrayal of the future.


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