Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #16: Amazona by Chris Achilleos

There's no reason why taste in art should follow national borders, particularly if we're talking about popular art, designed as packaging for consumer goods. And yet there's a definite style to British SFF cover art -- more pronounced in the 1960s through '80s when the UK and US were clearly separate markets -- which is noticeably different to the American styles of the same era.

So it's not that I don't like the paintings of Christos Achilleos. It's that he works in an idiom and a milieu that I'm not attuned to; that he's spent a long career pleasing and delighting an audience that I was never part of. I appreciate his work, but I've never really seen a painting of his that I loved. (Unlike a lot of his American counterparts, from Eggleton and Whelan to Maitz and Dos Santos and Picacio.)

But I do find that difference fascinating, particularly when it's embodied in someone really skilled and passionate about his work, as Achilleos is. He's a really good maker of art, both commercially successful and willing to move away from the just commercial to make pictures the way he wants to, for vague commissions or his own purposes.

I tend to appreciate Achilleos's tighter paintings best: he works on-and-off in airbrush, and some of his work has a really tight finish and sheen, particularly for human skin. (And, like many fantasy artists, he has more than his share of paintings showing a lot of human skin, mostly female and always attractive.) That's the opposite of how I feel about some American SFF painters, particularly Bob Eggleton -- Eggleton, to me, as at his best when he's loosest, and you can see the globs of paint on the canvas. For Achiellos, though, his work always feels static to me, even the action scenes -- so the ones that are obviously posed and still work best for me, as they fit the feeling his paintings give me.

I figured out that what I like best in Achilleos's paintings are the single figures, highly detailed, frozen in a moment of contemplation or preparation. Others will have different preferences; he's worked in a number of styles and varies the tightness of his painting to suit a particular project.

So, when I realized this week that I had a book of his -- it's from 2004, and I think I've had it since then, metaphorically under a barrel, until my Book-A-Day rummagings turned it up -- I jumped right on it. And still didn't love it. But that's just the way it is.

The book is Amazona, and it collects mostly art that wasn't in his 80s-era books Medusa and Sirens because he made it since then. (Funny how that works.) It opens with a long foreword explaining Achilleos's career to date (well, as of a decade ago), including some details about his disagreements with his former publisher, Dragon's World, and how that led to the sixteen-year gap between books. (In my publishing career, I worked somewhat regularly with agents for Dragon's World in the US, but I was always on the opposite side of the table to them -- I represented someone who was paying them, while Achilleos was looking to get paid by them. The details here basically match murmurings I'd heard at the time and afterward from other artists.)

The bulk of the book is divided into three long sections: Amazons, Fantasy, and Glamor. Two of the three, as you might guess, are primarily pictures of attractive ladies wearing not very much, but what they are wearing is exotic and strange in various ways. (Fantasy art has been about the female for a large proportion of the time for decades now.) Amazons is the fantasy art, and some personal work, along with some mostly historical paintings that can function as fantasy covers. Fantasy, right in the middle, is the work that isn't mostly about the female form -- battle scenes, and a few mightily-thewed warriors, and the like -- but that doesn't mean it's entirely devoid of corseted women. And then the Glamor section has paintings Achilleos did for fetish magazines and nightclubs and some private commissions. In this section, he talks about his models a lot more, and the point of many of the paintings is to depict a particular model, because was then a moderately famous nightlife personality or just particularly striking.

I'm still not a huge fan of Achilleos, but he's very good at what he does, and has continually worked on his craft and passions over a thirty-plus year career. And who ever said I was ever the arbiter for anything?

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