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Visionary artists bend reality

  • @$:"Sandsworms of Dune" 1977 by John Schoenherr, from the collection of Robert K. Wiener.
    @$:"Sandsworms of Dune" 1977 by John Schoenherr, from the collection of Robert K. Wiener.
Published May 31. 2012 05:01PM

The Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley announces its next special exhibition a mind-bending menagerie of fantastical artworks that push the boundaries of the imagination.

At the Edge: Art of the Fantastic will not only be the most comprehensive exhibition of fantastic art in the United States to date, it will also be the first time that this discipline has been presented on such a large scale in a museum setting. The exhibition is organized by guest curators Patrick and Jeannie Wilshire of Altoona, founders of IlluXCon, an annual gathering of the best contemporary artists working in the fantastic field.

Fantastic art, also known as imaginative realism, portrays in great detail scenes and creatures of myths and legends, such as giants, warriors, and fairies, but also conjures up edgy modern-day fantasies in the form of divine interventions, the dream state, the grotesque, noir culture, hallucinatory visions, and the "uncanny" as common, everyday happenings.

"Fantastic" content and styles in art can be traced all the way back to the depiction of dragon-like creatures discovered on cave walls, through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and especially in the Romantic and Pre-Raphaelite periods. Other art movements referenced in the more than 160 works on display in At the Edge: Art of the Fantastic include Symbolism, Surrealism, the Golden Age of Illustration (1880-1930), and 1950s/60s sci-fi and comic book illustrations. Today imaginative realism permeates popular culture via video-games imagery, movies, anime, manga, LARP, cosplay, collectibles, and even music.

At the Edge: Art of the Fantastic will showcase a jaw-dropping diversity of fantastic art from 140-plus artists, ranging from 19th-century historic works to the leading names of today, with some pieces being created specifically for this exhibition.

Artists featured include:

• Jordu Schell is a world-renowned creature and character designer whose work has appeared in Avatar his Avatar head will be on display in At the Edge as well as The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Hellboy, Men in Black, Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, Alien: Resurrection, The X-Files Movie, Babylon 5 - the series, and many more films. Schell will give a presentation on the history of creature and character design in film on the opening day of the show, June 3, at 2 p.m.

• Fans of the collectible card games Magic: The Gathering and Dune are familiar with the work of Mark Zug. His images have appeared on the covers of the Dragonlance series, in Star Wars comics, and in such magazines as Popular Science. Zug was influenced by the Brandywine artists, including N. C. Wyeth, which led him to become an illustrator.

• H. R. Giger is best known for his Oscar-winning visual design work on the iconic Ridley Scott film Alien (1979), which had a major impact on the look of science fiction throughout the visual arts. That influence will be apparent again in the movie Prometheus, which opens in U.S. theaters on June 8. Two Giger works appear in At the Edge: "Biomechanoid II, Work 521 (acrylic on paper)," comes from Giger's most famous collection of work, the "Necronomicon (1977)," and is a perfect example of his often disturbing melding of flesh and machine. The "Necronomicon" works were what convinced Scott to hire Giger for the Alien designs. Also in the Lehigh Valley exhibition is "Female Torso (1999)," a sculpture that brings Giger's vision into three dimensions.

• James Gurney is best known as the author and artist of the "Dinotopia" series for children. His first book, "Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time," published in 1992, made the New York Times Best Seller List and won Hugo, World Fantasy, Chesley, and Spectrum book awards. It has sold more a million copies and has been translated into 18 languages.

• British artist Roger Dean designed the iconic "bubble" logo for the prog-rock band Yes. He also created the fantastical landscapes that have appeared on the covers of Yes albums, from "Fragile," "Close to the Edge," and "Tales from Topographic Oceans" to the band's latest release, "Fly from Here." Dean has two paintings, including, "Fly from Here," in At the Edge. Dean will lecture at the museum on June 21.

• N. C. Wyeth, the father of esteemed American painter Andrew Wyeth, is considered to be one of this country's greatest illustrators. He is best recognized for his series in an early edition of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Many of his works from the 1910s/20s were a great influence on the other illustrators found in At the Edge.

• Other artists included in At the Edge: Alphone Mucha, William Blake, Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham, J.C. Leyendecker, Howard Pyle, the Hildebrandt Brothers, Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell, Olivia, Kinuko Craft, Thomas Kuebler, James Steranko more than 120 more.

A preview party will take place at the museum on June 2 from 6-8 p.m. and will allow visitors a first look at the exhibit. Call (610) 432-4333, ext. 129, to RSVP, or reserve now at There is a charge for non-members of the museum.

The Burning Hearts Fire & Light Theater will welcome revelers on 5th Street immediately in front of the museum at 6 p.m. with a sizzling performance and a bigger show at 7 p.m. (inside the museum if it rains): Fire Staff, Hula Hoop, Poi (balls on chains), Fire Fans, Fire Whip, Sword & Umbrella, Fire Eating and Breathing.

There will be fantasy-themed food creations from Karen Hunter and live music in the museum's upstairs galleries, provided by the prog-electronic duo Twyndyllyngs. The preview party will also include roaming cosplayers elaborately costumed role-players steeped in the subcultures of anime, manga, and video games, who will bring the spectacle of imaginative realism to life. Numerous At The Edge artists and illustrators will be in attendance

At the Edge: Art of the Fantastic will continue at the Allentown Art Museum through Sept. 9. The museum is located at 31 N. 5th St., Allentown.

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