By Michael Eilers
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Children's literature has enjoyed a renaissance during the past few years, with a resurgence in finely illustrated, well-crafted children's books. The new exhibit "Dreamweavers" at the University of Arizona Museum of Art highlights some of the top creators of modern children's and fantasy illustration, and reveals the enormous amount of skill, patience, and craft that goes into each page, covering as many types of media as it does subjects.
Ranging from luminous oil paintings to stark compositions of cut paper, the works depict fantastic, mythological, and fairy-tale worlds and characters in a way that is both enchanting and utterly convincing. Whether illustrated with fearsome levels of detail and color, or with the gentle wash of watercolors, the works reflect the personal style, technique, and whimsy of the illustrator. Some of the works in the show are taken directly from children's books or commercial publications, but many were done for the sake of exploring this art.
One of the hallmarks of children's illustrations is an intense level of detail, whether it be depicted in the scales of a dragon or the structure of a treehouse. Blending skill and imagination, these artists manage to capture other-worldly and mythical scenes with a nearly photographic focus.
Ruth Sanderson's Renaissance-inspired oil paintings have a luminous, fragile quality that exemplifies children's illustration Ä mesmerizing detail that makes fairy-tale scenes fascinating and instantly believable, with vibrant color and detail.
Watercolor is the traditional medium of children's books, which is why the works in this medium seem more conventional than the oils. "Mirandy and the Brother Wind II," a watercolor by Jerry Pinkey, has a rough, impressionistic feel that gives it both movement and brightness to attract a child's eye. It is also one of the few paintings in the show that leaves blank space on the canvas to allow room for the text of the story.
In a category by themselves are the works of David Christiana, UA illustration professor, and the cut paper illustrations by David Wisniewski. Christiana's "Man in Armor" leans towards a surrealistic style, in which the man's armor becomes a huge encumbrance of metal plates and scraps. Hidden in the shadows are images of animal skulls, teeth, and vague machinery, adding an ominous tone to the paintings.
It is very interesting to see these illustrations out of context, without the stories that accompanied many of them in books. While some of the works, such as David Pinkey's watercolors, look like deliberate storybook illustrations, other pieces stand alone and tell entire stories with their detail and color.
The large oil paintings benefit greatly by appearing in their original size and form, which reveals their incredible detail and depth. The result is a show that challenges the traditional attitude that illustrators are "lesser" artists, and that fantasy isn't a fit subject for art, by showcasing the skills and imagination of these artists.
"Dreamweavers" is showing in the first floor gallery of the UA Museum of Art through March 12. Call 621-7567 for details.
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