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                        Celebrating the Art of Cinema, ... and Cinema as Art


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 ... and his influence on the modern film

by CEJ

"Who looks outside, dreams;
    who looks inside, ... awakes"

Carl Jung        

     “Good drugs?”, "Bad childhood?".   Any creative individual (writer, film maker, musician, photographer, designer, … name it), especially one who’s ever created but one thing remotely construed as “dark”, has heard it.  But modern psychology (as well as the evening news) tells us that darkness which so many seem so unwilling to acknowledge (especially within themselves) is every bit part and parcel of the human heart and mind as that which we call the "light".  And to deny the existence of one is to the ultimate detriment of the other.  Alas, the “normal”s in society seem resistant to grasp this truth while art and psychology have understood it for centuries.  There is of course the aforementioned Carl Jung quote.  And on another occasion the analytical psychologist would similarly opine about archetypal symbolism within said light and dark human psyche:

     “There is a thinking in primordial images, in symbols which are older than the historical man, which are inborn in him from the earliest times, eternally living, outlasting all generations, still make up the groundwork of the human psyche. It is only possible to live the fullest life when we are in harmony with these symbols; wisdom is a return to them”.  

     Writer Robert Louis Stevenson would delve into this thematically in one of the most famous works in literary history, his “STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE” (pub. 1886).  Socrates believed - as Henry Jekyll learned the hard way, “the unexamined life is not worth living”.  Some see the great failure of Joseph K in Franz Kafka’s THE TRIAL (Der Prozeß, 1925) to be not his lack of understanding about the titular “trial” in which he mysteriously finds himself, but rather his stubborn refusal (his resistance) to self examine the state of his own life.  As is, all he wants is to retreat safely turtle-like back to the geographical (and psychological) womb of his mundane bank job existence.  Amazing how much Joseph K sounds like a contemporary character.  But even the ancient Greeks were attuned to the concept of light and dark swirling within the cramped confines of man’s nocturnal psyche, then for better or worse finding freedom in the actions committed by those same men during the waking day.  Hence Morpheus, the chief attendant of Hypnos - the God of Sleep; Morpheus bringing dreams to mortals and gods who fall under the power of Sleep.  And while often portrayed in ancient paintings as a handsome fellow, his true appearance was that of a terrifying winged demon.  Okay, heady stuff to be sure.  But the bottom line? - it's healthy (and necessary) to look inside; all of which brings us to fantasy illustrator Wayne Barlowe.  And believe it, he’s heard every "darkness" comment over his 30 + year professional career:     

     “ ‘Wow, what drugs did you take to do that painting?’, or ‘Wow, your dreams must be really crazy!’.  But no, it’s a really average normal life.  I have two children, I have a wife, a house; (and) everything is neat. No, I’m not a tortured soul”.   

                                                                                                          - Wayne Barlowe - 1997 interview


     Those familiar with the field of fantasy art have known the name and images of Wayne Barlowe for three decades.  Sun blasted alien landscapes and molten hellish underworlds populated by demon armies, near-biological architecture, and tortured, mutated (and mutating) souls seeking redemptive relief from eternal damnation ... or at the very least craving a few moments of physical respite.  The art of Wayne Barlowe doesn't make you look, it makes you feel ... and think ... and ponder.  At first glance shockingly horrific, upon closer examination one discovers his gloriously realized paintings to be strangely and ironically therapeutic.  There's a familiarity to them a first time viewer can't quite put their finger upon.  But there is something definitely recognizable, though not as being from our mundane Joseph K-like physical world.  Something instinctively recognized as having proceeded from the darkest recesses of our soul and poured onto canvas before us.  Then in the same way an addict’s first step towards recovery is in acknowledging the existence of a problem, so have we acknowledged our kinship to the darkness of Barlowe’s images, and subsequently feel free of that darkness once locked within us.  As Jung said, we’ve looked inside … and have awakened.  But don’t take our word for it.  The proof is in the world’s reaction to Mr. Barlowe’s work.  


     Wayne Douglas Barlowe was born January 1958 in Glen Cove, New York to legendary natural history illustrators Dorothea and Sy Barlowe.  After attending the Art Students League and The Cooper Union in New York City, his first professional publication was The Instant Nature Guide to Insects, produced in collaboration with his parents.  In 1979 his long passion for science fiction lead to the publication of his first solo effort,  Barlowe’s Guide To Extraterrestrials, which became an international best seller and the object of numerous publishing award nominations - among them The American Book Award, the Hugo, the Best Illustrated Book of 1979 by the Locus Poll (which it won), and Best Book For Young People by The American Library Association.  This would lead to him becoming a one man industry, creating over the next 20 years in excess of 300 commissioned illustrations for various novels and magazines including Time, Life and Newsweek.  He’d also release a line of calendars, models, art trading cards, and graphic novels, as well as a line of popular coffee-table-book illustration collections - among them Expedition (pub. 1991 - a “natural history” journey to another world),  An Alphabet Of Dinosaurs (’95), the art retrospective The Alien Life Of Wayne Barlowe (also ’95),  Barlowe’s Guide To Fantasy (’96), and most notably Barlowe’s Inferno (’99) - a hellishly gorgeous collection of artistic impressions based on Dante Alighieri’s epic 14th century poem Divine Comedy.

                                                                                                                                                              TITAN A.E. (2000)

     Among Barlowe’s growing fan base at this time was a generation of film makers (many  illustrators themselves) who would become some of the most popular directors of the next two decades.  Long inspired by his imagery, writer/producer J. Michael Stracyznski contracted Barlowe as conceptual designer of the “Artifact”, aliens and alien homeworld for the BABYLON 5 tv movie THIRDSPACE (1998).  Animators Don Bluth & Gary Goldman (THE SECRET OF NIMH, AN AMERICAN TAIL, ANASTASIA) similarly hired him as character designer on TITAN A.E. (2000).  Illustrator/director Guillermo del Toro would call upon Barlowe's imagination for creature work on BLADE II,  HELLBOY, and HELLBOY II:THE GOLDEN ARMY.  And while not officially commissioned on del Toro’s PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006), the film's denizens - particularly the "Pale Man", were greatly inspired by the Barlowe aesthetic. 


    The late great makeup movie maestro Stan Winston (THE TERMINATOR, PREDATOR, JURASSIC PARK) would bring Barlowe aboard the comic sci fi adventure GALAXY QUEST.   His surreal character imagery would find a home in two HARRY POTTER films - THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN and THE GOBLET OF FIRE, as well as on 2008’s THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL remake, Disney’s JOHN CARTER,  R.I.P.D. (2012) with Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon and Jeff Bridges; PACIFIC RIM; and Peter Jackon’s THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012). 

     THE HOBBIT’s original director, Guillermo del Toro, brought Barlowe in during the film’s pre-production phase, but himself had to bow out when the production start date was pushed back indefinitely because of studio MGM's financial difficulty at the time.   When production finally did recommence under director Peter Jackson (also a huge Barlowe fan - many of his THE LORD OF THE RINGS characters inspired by the illustrator’s work), the film maker would continue with the famed painter on as a chief conceptual designer at the New Zealand based WETA special effects facility.  

     While enjoying all his film assignments, Barlowe acknowledges the most all around rewarding to be the months of early concept work he did, with writer/director James Cameron and co-desigers Neville Page and Kelton Cram, on AVATAR (2009), creating the world of Pandora and it's inhabitants.  He’d state in a 2010 interview:

AVATAR (2009)  

     “The HARRY POTTER movies and the HELLBOY shows were all extraordinarily fun. But, I would have to say that working on AVATAR was the creative high-water mark for me. Jim's vision was so complete and compelling that I found it to be the most intense and engaging of the assignments I have undertaken.  And nothing, for me, beats helping to develop a new world's entire ecosystem”.

     Long accustomed to people being disturbed by his work, he was asked in the same interview if there was a most impressive or scary piece of concept art he’d ever seen:

     “Hmmm, this one is tough. I have seen some pretty awesome work, especially down in NZ at Weta. I was on AVATAR so early that I never really got to see the bulk of that developmental work with my own eyes. So, rather than cite a specific piece I would say that, collectively the work I saw for THE HOBBIT was truly remarkable. Kinda a hedge, I know”. 


     2008 saw the publication of his first novel GOD'S DEMON (about a Brigadier-General in Lucifer's army who, after the war in heaven and expulsion, eventually decides to rebel against Satan in order to redeem himself).  It was so popular Tor Publishers asked for a sequel novel - the soon to be published THE HEART OF HELL.  He is also presently at work on a screenplay as well as concept illustrations for his own film. 

     For those unfamiliar with Mr. Wayne Barlowe, we at the GullCottage invite you to experience a mini-gallery we’ve assembled consisting of some of his most strikingly (even shockingly) impressive imagery.  As a bonus we've also included a 10 min. video interview from 2009, which we've also recently posted to YouTube, that others might become more aware of the one-of-a-kind experience that is Wayne Barlowe. 

     Prepare yourself.

                                                                                  CEJ - April 2012

PACIFIC RIM (2013)                                                                         

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