Most people will never go to space, or time travel into the future, or be sucked through a wormhole into a parallel universe. Most people will never come face to face with an interdimensional cyborg who’s trying to destroy a futuristic planet with alien technology. However, the genre of science fiction allows us to play out these outlandish scenarios in our minds and push the boundaries of our imaginations into far-off planets and alternate realities.
If you’ve ever read the works of Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, H. P. Lovecraft, you probably know the distances that sci-fi media can take you. These pioneers of the genre conceptualized realities in their literature that are nothing short of mind-boggling, transporting readers to places where people have psychic powers, where firemen are used to burn books and brainwash the population, or where an ancient monster known as Cthulhu is threatening the existence of our world.
While the writings of these classic sci-fi authors are filled with thought-provoking concepts and beautiful prose and are definitely worth a read, there is another medium that has played a major part in forwarding the sci-fi genre: visual art. While sci-fi artists aren’t typically lauded in the way that, say, Pablo Picasso or Salvador Dali have been, these extremely talented artists deserve their fair share of praise too.
These artists have created a visual language that many of us associate with the sci-fi genre, and which shapes the way we think about the future and alternate dimensions and aliens. And while the great sci-fi novelists are able to transport their readers to these far-away places with however many words, these artists take their viewers there with just a single image.
What Is Sci-Fi Art?
The genre of sci-fi art is characterized by highly imaginative and often futuristic concepts. Many times, too, there is some political or social commentary happening within the image, perhaps a warning about what might come in the future if our societies should continue on a certain trajectory. Some of the most common themes in sci-fi art (and the science fiction genre as a whole) include time travel, extraterrestrial lifeforms, robots, futuristic science and technology, parallel universes, space travel, and interdimensional beings.
Nothing is off the table for sci-fi artists. In the future, or in an alternate dimension, anything is possible. Oftentimes sci-fi art will feature dramatic landscapes that defy all laws of physics and human logic. Sometimes you’ll see a lifeform that is loosely based on an earthly animal but has been reimagined with characteristics from another reality. Throughout the entire canon of sci-fi art, viewers are pushed to expand their imaginations to their greatest bounds and consider what life might be like beyond our small scope of present-day Earth.
The Founding Fathers of Sci-Fi Art
While there are plenty of talented sci-fi artists out there in the world today, there are certain individuals whose works really came to define the genre. Many of their works may even appear in your mind when you think about certain sci-fi concepts, or perhaps you’ve seen their art on the cover of a classic sci-fi novel. If you’re interested in knowing who’s on the Mount Rushmore of sci-fi art, here they are:
Chris Moore was born in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England in 1947. He went on to study at Doncaster Art School, Maidstone College of Art, and the Royal College of Art. During his studies, he focused mainly on illustration and graphic design and honed the skills that would turn him into one of the world’s most sought-after visual artists in the world.
Moore went on to design album covers for Rod Stewart’s The Vintage Years and Fleetwood Mac’s Penguin, among many other recording artists. At this point in his career, though, Moore didn’t have much association with the sci-fi genre. In the words of Moore, “I was barely aware of science fiction. I’d seen 2001, and that was about all.”
However, once Peter Bennett at Associated Book Publishers suggested that Moore start working in the sci-fi genre, he dove in head-first. His works have appeared on the covers of some of the biggest names in sci-fi literature including Kurt Vonnegut, Frederick Pohl, Arthur C. Clarke, and Philip K. Dick. Perhaps his greatest claim to fame, though, was his tie-in wallpaper for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, which has graced the bedrooms of sci-fi fans all over the world.
H. R. Giger
H. R. Giger is perhaps the most famous and well-renowned sci-fi artist to ever live. He created a style that is instantly recognizable, especially for anyone who’s ever seen one of the Alien movies. Giger was born in Chur, Switzerland in 1940. He enjoyed making art all his life, but his father regarded art as a “breadless profession” and pushed him to get a career in pharmaceuticals. Instead, Giger began studying architecture and industrial design, and his studies during that period would shape his artistic style forever.
Giger worked with ink and oil paint primarily in the early stages of his career; however, the discovery of airbrushing really allowed his artistic style to come into its own. His most famous book Necronomicon, and particularly the painting Necronom IV, served as the inspiration for Ridley Scott’s famous sci-fi film Alien. His work on Alien earned him an Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects, and he has since worked on every other movie in the Alien series.
The influence of his education in industrial design is clearly seen in Giger’s works, as they often feature highly mechanized landscapes as well as biomechanical beings, or humans and machines connected through biomechanical mechanisms.
Jim Burns was born in Cardiff, Wales in 1948. He joined the Royal Air Force in the year 1966 but left shortly after to attend the Newport School of Art for one year. After that, he attended Saint Martin’s School of Art in London, during which he got his first public commission in 1972.
After graduating, Burns went on to secure contracts for book covers. Some of his more famous covers include Infinity’s Shore by David Brin, Upland Outlaws by Dave Duncan, and the many book covers he did for the novels of Peter F. Hamilton. He also designed the cover to a board game released in 1987 called The Fury of Dracula.
Burns also worked with Ridley Scott on the 1982 film Blade Runner and with David Twohy on the 2004 film The Chronicles of Riddick. Burns’s artistic style is highly futuristic with elements of fantasy mixed in, with hybrid creatures and dramatic landscapes often prominently featured.
Chris Foss was born in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands under the British Crown, in 1946. His career as an artist started as a teen when he was designing signage for local businesses around Guernsey. From there, he went on to attend Magdalene College in Cambridge where he began doing magazine commissions. One of his commissions for Penthouse magazine, which he made when he was 17 years old, was later essentially copied and then sold at auction for $5.7 million.
Foss then went on to start doing paperback book covers for notable sci-fi authors such as Isaac Asimov and E. E. Smith. However, while Chris Foss is hailed as one of the greatest science fiction artists of all time, he actually didn’t enjoy reading sci-fi books, and often didn’t read the books he was illustrating for. Foss also created the black-and-white illustrations for a 1972 British sex manual called The Joys of Sex.
Later on, Foss started working on several films. He created some designs for Alien (which didn’t end up getting used) and some of his illustrations were used for set design for the 1978 film Superman. Years later, he published a book called Diary of a Spaceperson, which was a collection of the many works from his career.