Book Review: The Art of John Harris: Beyond The Horizon

The Art of John Harris: Beyond The HorizonThe Art of John Harris: Beyond The Horizon
Foreword by John Scalzi

Titan Books (2014), 160pp h/back, £24.99
Reviewed by Alex Bardy [@mangozoid]

I have always been a fan of art books, but it feels like I’ve spent the latter part of this year falling in love with them all over again thanks to some excellent releases from Titan Books. I covered Jim Burns’ Hyperluminal here, Greg Spalenka’s Visions From The Mind’s Eye here, and am pleased as punch to be able to add John Harris’ truly gorgeous Beyond The Horizon to the list…

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John Harris’ style generally carries a distinctive ‘clouds’n’oil’ look and feel that has remained largely unchanged throughout the years. His work has adorned the covers of a great many genre movers and shakers of the past incl. Asimov, Clarke, Haldeman, Blish, Pohl, Vance, and Samuel R. Delaney, and continues to do so with cover art for the likes of Ben Bova, John Scalzi, Jack McDevitt, Orson Scott Card, and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice in more recent years. Also, being a teen myself back in the 80s, I was pleasantly surprised to discover John Harris was also the artist for the cover of the ZX81 Basic Programming Manual and various ZX Spectrum Manuals all those years ago (’81 and ’83 respectively)— he’s certainly been around, in the nicest sense of the word…

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A gripe I have had with some of these beautiful Titan art productions, is the lack of a proper contents and index page, so I’m pleased to say that Beyond The Horizon at least gets the latter right, although —unlike Spalenka’s Visions From The Mind’s Eye— not all of the credited images have dates or years attached, which evidently presents a few issues for anyone hoping to determine some form of underlying progression over the years.

That said, this book is neatly split into helpfully descriptive sections within which the artist has plenty to say about his guiding influences, some thought and reflection on his work and so forth — Floating Mass, Dust To Dust, Towers In Starlight, The Ruination Of Things, Return To Earth, Hidden Suns and The City of Fire, The Abandoned Lands and The Plain of Suns, Beyond The Horizon, etc. and there’s even a handy Works by Author section. Again, as great and helpful as this was it would’ve been nice to see a Contents list of sorts just to help refer back to things…

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The sense of scale that comes across throughout is genuine and real — the majority of images included in this collection bring forth visions and a conceptual feeling of inadequacy… here be huge mega-machines, mega-spaceships, mega-planets, mega-landscapes, indeed mega-everything, so much so that one feels immediately dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of all that is being portrayed.

John Harris also spends a hefty portion of the book talking about a personal, conceptually driven project of his own from which stems a whole heap of ideas including but not limited to an ancient alien race, nomadic rites of passage, religious iconography, active volcanic mountain cities, stupendously huge ducts and sinks to manage lava flow, etc. and so on and so forth, and it even includes a small cast — all truly amazing inspirational stuff, and unlikely to appear anywhere else anytime soon.

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As a final note, John was also commissioned by NASA to attend a launch and produce a painting to mark the event, something which has now become part of the Smithsonian Collection and hangs inside the Kennedy Space Centre — the first British artist to do so…

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Personally, I really loved seeing some of the artwork from MASS all over again included herein (a John Harris art book released by Paper Tiger back in 2000: click here), and would dearly love to see this re-released if it’s remotely possible. C’mon Titan, please make it so!

All in all, this is another great release, and a genuine visual feast and tour de force, especially if you like your space art to depict a sense of the incomprehensibly vast and “megaloptical” (my term)… another fine addition to this excellent stable of art celebration.

* This review originally appeared on the BSFA website here

CLICK HERE to find The Art of John Harris on Amazon.co.uk

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