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 Michael Whelan  (1950 - )

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Lived/Active: Connecticut/New York/California      Known for: fantasy fiction book illustration and fine art painting

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Michael Whelan
An example of work by Michael Whelan
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from The io gallery:
Since 1975, Michael Whelan has been a fantasy and science fiction artist.  He is currently working full time on his fine art paintings, but in the past three decades he has created more than 350 book and album covers for authors and artists including Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffrey, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, the Jacksons, Sepultura, and MeatLoaf.  His clients have included many major U.S. book publishers in addition to such diverse companies as National Geographic, Roadrunner Records, and The Franklin Mint.  This year he had his fourth gallery show of new personal works, and he was the American Artist Guest of Honor for Nippon 2007, the first World Science Fiction Convention in Japan.

A graduate of San Jose State University with a BA in Painting and a President's Scholar, Michael Whelan went on to attend the Art Center College of Design, also in California, but he dropped out to accept his first book cover assignment.

Much honored in his field, Whelan has won 15 Hugo Awards (Science Fiction's Oscar), 3 World Fantasy Awards, and the SuperHugo as the Best Artist of the last 50 years.  The readers of LOCUS magazine (for Science Fiction insiders) have named him Best Professional Artist 26 times in their annual poll.  In addition to numerous Best of Show and Best Artist Awards from Science Fiction and Fantasy conventions and regional art shows, Michael was named a Grand Master by the Spectrum Annual of the Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art.  His other awards include a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators, a Vargas Award, and a Grumbacher Gold Medal.

Michael has had four art books published as well as numerous limited edition prints, posters, calendars, and licensed products such as greeting cards, t-shirts and sculptures.

He is a member of the Graphic Artists Guild and the Society of Illustrators in New York City, and he is an Advisor to the Masters in Fine Arts program at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Connecticut.  In 2003 he became a member of the inaugural Advisory Board of the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, Washington.

Artist Statement:
The dignity of the artist lies in his duty of keeping awake the sense of wonder in the world.

G.K. Chesterton

I have been interested in the imagery of fantasy since early childhood and all my artwork is, at its most fundamental level, about creating a "sense of wonder".  In my illustration, my primary concern has been to create a window into the themes and story elements of a particular book.  My non-commissioned work, on the other hand, is concerned with more personal themes.

Stylistically my art is best described as “Imaginative Realism”.  Most closely allied to the scope and feeling of what is referred to as contemporary "Visionary Art", my non-illustrative art is intentionally imbued with a strong sense of the mystical or dreamlike, and is suffused with symbolic content.  There is a deliberate attempt to invest the image with layers of meaning while having an immediate initial subjective or emotional impression.  The majority of my work falls into one or another series of related paintings, which share common themes and symbols.  In general terms, my “Faded Star” series deal with the struggle against despair and hopelessness, humanity’s instinctive striving against what Barbara Tuchman calls the “burdens of modern man”: loss of faith in religion, progress and the perfectibility of the human species.  My “Passage” series is concerned with a personal investigation into metaphysics, religion, and near death experiences.  My “Lumen” paintings are about the quest for inner revelation and meaning, of finding one’s true self, among other concerns.  Other series of works in progress (e.g., “Virtues”, “Meditations”, or “End of Nature” series) are about various other issues both subjective and objective.

In general, the images in my paintings come from a variety of sources: dreams, quiet times of reflection, reading about topics which interest me, current events, personal experiences and revelations, and more. All of these things have a part in the synthesis which gives rise to the images I see in my mind's eye.  It is by nature a mysterious and complex process, and not one I wish to put under close examination. It is enough to be aware of it, be thankful for it, and accept it as a gift---whatever it is.

At the core of my self awareness as an artist is my belief that it is my job to realize into existence those images which I have been given.  In that sense I feel I am working as a sort of channel or midwife for these images which come to me to be born.  I'm sorry if that sounds corny, and Campbell-esque, but I'm only trying to describe how it feels to me from my perspective.  It is singularly difficult to frame such a subjective process into terms which capture and communicate what I am sensing.

About Specific Paintings:

WAVE came about as a result of a dream I had in 1993. Dreams often give rise to paintings I have done, but the one which inspired WAVE had a sense of clarity which set it apart from most I've experienced.

In the dream, I walked into a gallery and turned to my left.  Beyond the entrance I saw a wall stretching out to the right, upon which several paintings were hanging. The one directly facing me caught all my attention, and it was WAVE. I gradually became aware of a figure standing just to the right of the painting., and he said, "Take a good look at it -- this is going to be your next large painting." Giving it all my attention I immediately understood what it was about and how it was painted, which colors were in the palette, and so on. After perceiving all this, I began to turn my head to the right so i could see the other paintings on the wall. But the figure lifted his hand and said, "You can't see the others until you get this one done." Upon hearing that, I awoke.

As I usually keep a notebook at my bedside I quickly picked it up and scribbled down the essential details of the painting, made notes about how it was to be executed, and then went back to sleep.  When I awoke I had a very clear remembrance of the dream, which has lasted until this day.  It took me three years to get around to doing the painting.  Since I finished it I have gone to bed on many nights wondering if I will get to revisit that dream gallery and view the rest of the artwork awaiting me.  So far it hasn't happened, and that may be just as well; I have so many ideas and projects already that I feel the last thing I need is more images to add to my mental waiting list! Still, one can't help but be curious...

THE END OF NATURE Vll :EON7 is one of my “End of Nature” series.  In all the paintings in that series people [representing humanity in general] are supported by the natural world, as represented by huge plant or trees.  The implication is simple enough: if the support gives way, either through neglect or willful destruction, we all fall down.

In EON7 I had originally thought of the figure as a person mislead by folly, wasting energy in a frivolous use of resources [a gasoline powered kite], while the world around her is slowly eroding.  But then I realized that one could say that she is, through the playful exploration of technology, finding the means for our deliverance. So it can be viewed either way, and I feel both interpretations are valid.

Biography from Tree's Place Gallery:
Michael Whelan, born 1950.  Whelan received a B.A. in painting as a President's Scholar from San Jose State University.  He identifies M.D. Stewart and Raymond Brose as his "primary mentors and influences" during his training.  Subsequently he attended the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles for a short period of time.

For the past two decades, Whelan has been known primarily as one of the world's top illustrators of speculative fiction.  In this field his hundreds of paintings have been the subject of four books, and have won him an unprecedented thirteen Hugo awards. However, he has increasingly turned his attention to his gallery art, in a visual exploration of our own interior space as human beings.  His figurative work is painted from life in the classical manner, working with his models from initial monochromatic studies to the final finished oils or acrylics.  Whelan’s work has been featured in museum, university, and commercial exhibitions in this country, Europe, and Australia. He paints and resides in Connecticut.

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