Seeking higher recognition, Fantastic Art show comes to Bartle Hall - Kansas City, MO
Seeking higher recognition, Fantastic Art show comes to Bartle Hall
By JON NICCUM
The term “fantasy art” used to conjure images of muscled warriors wielding swords and riding unicorns, often viewed on the side of a Chevy Van.
But the inaugural Spectrum Fantastic Art Live! event this weekend offers further proof that stereotype is bogus.
“Fantasy art is often looked down upon by the more ‘serious’ art communities. That’s something we’re trying to change because this stuff is amazing. It’s difficult and interesting. It deserves to be recognized as such,” says Shena Wolf, a co-organizer of the event.
Spectrum Fantastic runs Friday through Sunday at the Grand Ballroom of Bartle Hall. It features more than 200 art exhibitors, panel discussions, lectures and painting demonstrations.
“It’s not just one art style, and it’s not just one medium,” Wolf says. “This show encompasses more than that. It’s devoted to anything that has a whimsical or otherworldly element.”
But the main hook of this international art fair is the quality of guests appearing in Kansas City for a fledgling event.
“It’s going to bring under one roof some of the most accomplished creators of this type of artwork,” Spectrum founder Arnie Fenner says. “It’s sort of mind-boggling some of the talent that’s going to be here.”
Featured guests include:
• Mike Mignola, creator of the comic book “Hellboy,” which has spawned two Hollywood blockbusters.
• Iain McCaig, an illustrator and storyboard artist responsible for designing Darth Maul and Padme Amidala in the “Star Wars” series.
• Andrew Jones, a concept artist well known for his work with Nintendo and in feature films.
• Phil Hale, a figurative illustrator and creator of the comic book character Johnny Badhair.
• Gerald Brom, an illustrator and artist best known for fantasy role-playing games such as “Magic: The Gathering.”
Spectrum Fantastic will also feature scores of local artists.
“Considering all of the talent, guests and panels slated, this show has the potential to stand shoulder to shoulder with the other national conventions and elevate Kansas City as a major convention destination,” artist Nathan Fox says.
Fox is a Kansas City Art Institute graduate whose illustrations have appeared in GQ and Esquire. He reluctantly describes his own style as “full of movement and energy.” He is currently the monthly artist for the Todd McFarlane/Robert Kirkman comic book series “Haunt.” As a comic book artist, he has had to defend against the perceptions of those who deem the genre an inferior medium.
“There are some truly evolutionary and mind-blowing works being created, just as there is in the contemporary fine art world,” Fox says. “There is value, cultural relevance and artistic voice in comics. Ask Lichtenstein, Warhol, Koons, Dubuffet, Hokusai, Ferguson and others in the higher arts — you have but to pick up and read comics to know their value.”
The impetus for Spectrum Fantastic began decades ago. Fenner and his wife, Cathy, began their careers in the 1980s as artists. After attending a paperback art show in New York, they realized no documentation existed to commemorate the gathering. This led the Fenners to create “Spectrum Annual,” a compendium that showcases standout work within the genre.
Thousands of submissions are gathered each year, and a juried competition narrows it down to several hundred inclusions for the book.
“Our idea was to do an annual devoted to this type of artwork and to create a history that people could reference. They could see who was doing what and how the trends were changing,” says Fenner, who has contributed cover art to heavyweight authors such as Stephen King (“Insomnia,” for example) and served as art director on Harlan Ellison projects such as “Shatterday” and “Slippage.”
Fenner says the difference between the ’90s editions of “Spectrum Annual” and the latest ones is how the level of skill has increased as more artists have entered the marketplace.
“One of the most interesting things we’ve seen develop is the pervasiveness of computer-generated artwork,” he adds. “In the first ‘Spectrum Annual’ in 1992-93, there were maybe one or two computer-generated pieces. Now there are half.”
The organizers say Spectrum Fantastic Art Live! is a natural extension of the print product — albeit a rather ambitious one.
“What we’re getting to now in entertainment, there’s a more mainstream reach to where everybody is interacting with this type of art,” Wolf says. She became involved with the “Spectrum Annual” after meeting Arnie and Cathy Fenner at a party during the San Diego Comic-Con and has since served on the jury for “Spectrum 18.”
Wolf expects 5,000 to 7,000 people to attend. And she knows of folks coming in from as far away as France and New Zealand.
Unlike Comic-Con or Atlanta’s Dragon*Con, the event is designed to exhibit the artists more than the fans.
“People will find that even if they don’t think they’re fans of this type of genre, they’ll come away from it with a better appreciation of the craft,” says Fenner, who is a senior art director at Andrews McMeel Publishing. “It’s really part of the culture. For instance, you want to see a great fantasy painting? Come to the Nelson and take a look at Thomas Hart Benton’s ‘Persephone.’ ”