martedì 31 ottobre 2017

Fantasy Visuals: Rodney Matthews

After Roger Dean, the next big name in Fantasy Art in UK was without any doubt Rodney Matthews. Just one year younger than Dean, Matthews was born on 6th July 1945 in Paulton, North Somerset. Like many other authors, he attended an art school (West of England College of Art) and after it he proceeded to find a job in advertising.

It was in 1970 that he decided to leave his job to become a freelance and draw what he liked, but it took some time before he made a name of himself. Using acrylic on board, his primary inspiration at this time were Rackham and the other illustrators of his time, whose influence is clear in the sketchy characters, goblins and elves with slanted eyes and pointed hats, and in the gnarled and twisted shapes of trees. Matthews was, at this time, already a fan of fantasy fiction and Tolkien was his main literary inspiration, so that his first paintings are tributes to the Professor's works. The depth of Matthew's knowledge of Tolkien's books is noteworthy: while the Hobbit and the Lord of Rings were popular with artists, few even knew about the Silmarillion, published in 1977: that same year, our author was already drawing scenes from it.
1973 Gollum in the Dead Marshes

1977 The People of the Pines - a reference to the Elves of Dorthonion
1979 A view over Isengard

The Dwarves of Belegost
Soon, however, Matthews' style developed with two, even greater, influences. The first was the work of Roger Dean, which we already mentioned - one year older, Dean was already very famous and at some point Matthews started to draw heavily from his style, setting his scenes in surrealistic landscapes with atmospheric lights. This didn't suit well Dean, who considered Matthews a shameless plagiarist.
1981 Mirador
1987 Stronghold
1970s Inverted Landscapes
1970s Freyja's ca... no wait, this is "Tanelorn"
True or not (you decide), around this time Matthews started to get commissions for album covers, and soon made a name in the industry, at first working for prog bands (including Asia, Dean's best client) but later becoming iconic for heavy metal ones.
1978 No mean city - Nazareth
1981 Time tells no lies - Praying Mantis
1981 Time to turn - Eloy (UK issue)
1995 Arena - Asia

The other inspiration was a writer, Michael Moorcock, who was just at this time receiving his first recognitions. Matthews and Moorcock became friends and actively cooperated, with the first illustrating the second's stories, especially those about Elric of Melniboné.

Chequered Floor
Obsidian Castle
The Dragon Lord
1981 - Encore at the End of Time
From the 80s on, Rodney Matthews became a well established author doing a lot of works also based on other books, and his style became more stable. He did many book covers, calendars and more albums, plus in the 1990s he opened his own web store where he sells art prints, mugs and other merchandising.

1978 Estcarp Five - Matthews illustrated many covers from the Witch World cycle
The Duke to the Rescue - this is from F. Herbert's Dune
The sack of Zodanga - from E. Rice Burrough's Mars cycle
In 1998 Matthews worked with Gerry Anderson on the children animated series Lavender Castle.

In the same year he worked with Psygnosis supplying conceptual designs for the game Shadow Master and again in 2002 for Haven: Call of the King by Midway.

Still active at the time of this post, Rodney Matthews is a difficult artist to frame. On one side, he borrowed extensively (shamelessly, one would say) from other artists both visually and conceptually (but then, also Led Zeppelin did, didn't they?). On the other, he has created outstanding art whose influence on sci-fi, steampunk and fantasy can not be in any way downplayed.

Talking about influences, Matthews's style could be described as Proto-Hammer: all the early artists at Games Workshop were directly or indirectly referencing his works. You can glimpse it in John Blanche's reddish or yellowish landscapes and crooked tree-shapes, or in Tony Ackland's demons with long, flat, skullish heads and overlong claws; in Jes Goodwin's Elves with pointed hats, long, thin faces and slanted eyes, or again in Gary Chalk's exaggerated traits in Goblins and monsters. Perhaps Warhammer as we know it would not exist without Rodney Matthews.

Think of that! And while you do, take a look at a gallery of my favourites:

1978 - Drum Boogie
1979 - Dragon Colony (from Elric at the End of Time)
Ilian of Garathorm

1985 - The Heavy Metal Hero
1992 - Lament for the Weary

2008 - Immortal

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