Fantasy Art has always existed in one form or another in mythology over the millennia. From imaginary creatures to aliens to gods and goddesses to monsters, they have fired our imaginations in endless ways. While fantasy art has some origins in religion, it is largely shaped and influenced by mythology and folklore with parallel streams in every culture across the continents. From a dizzying combination of human and animal forms juxtaposed with cosmic mystery, this art form depicted a range of stories, emotions, remedies and deciphering of divine pronouncements.
The 15th century Dutch Master Hieronymus Bosch was known for his triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” The first panel depicts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the second shows a world of earthly delights, and the third renders hell, filled with sinners in imagined surrounds. Fantasy art saw an explosion in popularity in the twentieth century as photography made more traditional depictions, in some sense, obsolete, even as creative experimentation with trick photography continued. Where other movements began focusing on alternative ways of depicting images such as expressionism, cubism, and abstraction, fantasy artists would depict images that had a traditional aesthetic, but an impossible representation of perceived reality.
Serenading surrealism of the Dali genre, fantasy art spilled onto the silver-screen offering digitized backdrops to intricate planet-scape fantasy ecosystems and character renditions of blockbusters like Avatar. Fantasy art has the power to fire imagination, immerse and engage the mind in a different realm and unleash limitless possibilities of space, movement, light, color, and morphing of the muses.
Art historians and museum curators have not quite warmed up to this art form as it is often tainted with cliched imagery, use of digital air-brushes and an overtly elaborate palette of oft repeated fictional illustrations aiding cheap fictional works. Dubbed as skill without soul, fantasy art has struggled to find footing in the world of serious art even though, it has been steadily gaining popularity among a new generation of collectors and connoisseurs.
The Ellen Noel Art Museum of the Permian Basin has been in active collaboration with two local doctors Dr. Arun and Dr. Zeeba Mathews who have conceived an incredible series of fantasy characters representational of infectious diseases and their corresponding antibiotic treatments, assisted by an Odessa based young artist, working in conjunction with an international team of artists. From E.coli to Bacillus anthracis, these elements take on fantasy imagery as they battle a diagnostic dilemma of sorts with characters and creatures trying to curb their spread. An exhibition of fantasy art in medicine will open at the museum as a traveling exhibition of the Healing Blade in the coming months.
– George Jacob, Canadian Commonwealth Fellow, author of seminal books on the future of Museum Design and the Executive Director of the Ellen Noel Art Museum of the Permian Basin.