Non-Fiction Graphic Review


(2004) Chris Achilleos, Titan Books, £14.99, pbk, 128pp, ISBN 1-84023-893-3

It's 16 years since Chris Achilleos' last art collection, (Medusa, 1988), and hopefully, after his nightmare experiences with Dragon's World, this marks the beginning of a much more rewarding partnership with Titan Books.

There's a long tradition in the fantasy/SF world of well-produced volumes of artwork by popular artists, and Titan have risen admirably to the challenge. Virtually every page is packed with high quality colour, the design and layout are excellent, and the text is well thought out and edited. In a book devoted largely to a celebration of the female form by a 'red-blooded male', it's interesting that the only typesetting error I've found involves Chris admitting to using waterpoof inks.

I can heartily recommend this book as an excellent collection of Chris' more recent work, showcasing his skill in capturing the beauty of the female form in paint, something he does with great success and almost monotonous regularity. The few niggles I have are purely matters of personal taste, and have little bearing on the overall high standard of Chris' work.

The biography at the beginning is brief but comprehensive, and contains a selection of early work stretching back to the '60s. The ups and downs of his career make interesting reading - the Dragon's World saga is dealt with factually and dispassionately - but the text deals mainly with the development of Chris' talents, and his growing reputation.

The rest of the book consists almost entirely of works produced after Medusa, and is arranged into three sections, Amazons, Fantasy and Glamour, although the categories are somewhat loosely interpreted.

As always in Chris' books, every picture is accompanied by full details including date, size and media, plus satisfyingly informative "sound-bites" - all manner of interesting anecdotes about the paintings, even comments on his models. (No phone-numbers though. Sorry!)

I suspect Chris' fan-base is predominantly male, and this book contains plenty of exhibits, mainly of the young nubile female variety, as evidence to support this theory. Chris' girls may be scantily clothed and usually voluptuously built, but they're rarely coy or tacky in the 'Page 3' (newspaper pin-up) sense. His Amazons in particular exude a wholesome confidence, comfortable both with their femininity and with the weapons and armour Chris has devised for them. Hopefully, they're not placing too much confidence in the armour's protective value.

In contrast to the Amazons, who all take their jobs very seriously, the glamour section includes a number of light-hearted images, along with several "fetish girls", and a variety of takes on the genre. One or two struck me as a little dated or clichéed, but then 'glamour' is almost an anachronism in this explicit age.

Accompanying the girls is a wide selection of finely portrayed wildlife - many big cats, several raptors, some very fluffy wolves (looking as if they've been groomed for Crufts!), and my favourite, an iguana. There are also a number of dragons providing escort services. An Achilleos staple, Chris' dragons are always in a class of their own for baroque embellishment fused with convincingly functional anatomy.

The Fantasy section includes several examples of Chris' trademark armies of evil "hobgoblinesque" warriors pitted against the more photogenic good guys. There are classic heroes and metal monsters, conflicts both historical and futuristic. Chris' blend of warriors, women and beasts often evokes memories of Frazetta, one of Chris' own heroes. Appropriately, one particular painting for a Robert E. Howard cover seems to be a deliberate homage to the great man.

Chris' natural feel for design - the reason so many of his images are popular in tattoo-parlours - leads to some very striking compositions. Some pictures are reduced to just a couple of powerful but perfectly balanced elements and the often intense colour schemes add to the impact. Just once or twice his palette is a little garish - too hot for my taste!

Chris' images capture a slightly stylised reality, avoiding the photographic hyper-realism that a lot of fantasy artists aim for, and this lends a freshness, almost an innocence to his work. Even in his recent 'fetish-orientated' pictures, Chris steers clear of the darker undercurrents. His intentions are benign, and his Goths and fetish females fascinate rather than disturb. In fact the most disturbing image in the whole book is probably a giant duck - the stuff of nightmares!

One interesting trend in recent years is Chris' increasing use of oils. Throughout his career, Chris' professional reputation has been largely based on his skill with an airbrush, not just his distinctive and imaginative subjects. This is quite a brave step for the "King of the Airbrush" to take. Roger Dean tried oils and admitted giving up in disgust, but Chris seems to have taken to the classic artists' medium with great success. Some of his portraits in oils, 'Black Tears' and 'Nuria' for example - one gothic, the other a goth - display a painterly quality that lifts them way above run of the mill glamour studies, and there are many other examples of Chris' competence with oils throughout the book.

It's clear from the text that Chris enjoys his work, lavishing his talents on subjects which he delights in painting, and he comes over as quite modest about it all. As he himself says, "I'm painting for myself, and if others find them beautiful, then all the better."

Let's leave him to indulge himself, and just enjoy the end-product.

Jim Porter

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