Sunday, March 13, 2011

Imagineers: Erol Otus

Imagineers is a series of posts about the art that inspired me throughout my gaming experiences -- dedicated to Jenny & Tom

I'll be honest. At some point in my gaming career -- after I had 'graduated' from dungeon crawls to wilderness and city adventures, after I had left D&D and begun exploring systems like Traveller and Champions (before it became the Hero System) and Mekton II and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, after the sudden dominance of cynical, style-over-substance, cybersubtle art and Tragically Hip worlds of darkness with dark, brooding imagery -- I didn't hold the art of Erol Otus in very high esteem.

Not knowing much about art and the necessary techniques needed to achieve textures, contrast, composition, and other things that I'm now slightly more aware of -- I was more drawn to more photorealistic fantasy art.

In retrospect, I feel that part of that is the feeling of replusiveness that his art evokes. And I feel that part of that repulsiveness, I think, stems from fear -- fear of the unknown, and the unknowable.
Amazing piece from B2: Keep on the Borderlands that manages to communicate a variety of wilderland textures
through pen & ink techniques -- cross-hatching, thin and thick lines, and skillful use of negative space. I
especially love the obscured image of the mad hermit, whose tenuous humanity is always suspect.

This is of course quite understandable given some of his work on monsters. In his interpretations and creations of monstrous creatures, I find discomfort in looking at them. There is a wrongness, a mysterious air about them, and a creeping sense that their internal workings may not be fathomable by science or modern knowledge. And yet there a rightness, and a certainty as well -- a quiet confidence that tells the viewer: you may not understand how, but this thing is dangerous.

It's a testament to the skill of the artist that I remember this in color!

But what is fascinating (and more appreciated now by an older, more mature me) is how he manages to achieve this in his human creations. There is a subtle subtext to his character work that suggests that there are hidden depths and unfathomable motivations in these people -- and indeed in all people we know.

Are wizards dividing spoils subtle and quick to anger?
I'm quite delighted that his art once again graces the pages of D&D / OSR works, and will probably put together a post on that ("Eight from Erol"? "One from Otus"?).

In the meantime, for more Erol Otus goodness, visit JRients's Erol Otus Shrine.

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