Alien Worlds & Lost Worlds: Christian Danton from ‘Une Image En Plus’ Interviews Shaun G Smith

C.D

What gave you the idea to do an exhibition in Prague?

S.G.S

            I have been living in Prague for more than four years.  I thought it was time to do an exhibition of work.  Finding a venue to exhibit was not easy.  I found it very difficult to get my work displayed anywhere in the city.  I eventually found The Napa Bar & Gallery in Malá Strana.  They exhibit work by various people in the city so I managed to convince them to let me exhibit my work too.

C.D

How is your work different to the other artists that display there?

S.G.S

          I think it is very obvious that we come from very different cultural backgrounds and our approach to art is very different for many reasons.

C.D

        You are English?

S.G.S

No, I’m Irish.  I lived in England a long time though.

C.D

        What is the main difference?

S.G.S

           I think it is very obvious that my main approach is very illustrative, it does not veer into anything abstract.  My objective is not to paint anything with a topical or political theme.  Not even a subtle reference in any way.  I am not obsessed with being overly realistic.  I like to use my imagination as much as possible.

C.D

        Was this the reason why you chose to do an exhibition based on Science Fiction/Fantasy themes?

S.G.S

          I had to sell a lot of my books last year to help pay the rent (laughs) and this upset me a bit.  My friend Ian introduced me to Calibre which is a site where you can download books for free.  I initially started to download the books I sold, but then I found all of these books that I hadn’t read since I was a teenager; Edgar Rice Burroughs Pellucidar books, Carson Of Venus; Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles; Gullivar Of Mars by Edwin Lester Arnold.  The Lost World By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  I was doing work as an Extra on a film set last October (2015) which was a ruse to try and get work doing story boards or poster work.  I brought down a portfolio of my work and showed it to the Assistant Producer.  She suggested I had at least one Exhibition under my belt.  I decided to paint something in keeping with what I had been reading.  If I had been reading Homer then it would probably have been based on Ancient Greek themes.

C.D

Do you have a particular interest in Science Fiction/Fantasy Art?

S.G.S

          I think it was very easy in the 1970’s to be exposed to a variety of illustrative work.  Childrens books in the libraries were still carrying pictures by N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle.  There was a surge in Science Fiction Magazines particularly in the aftermath of Star Wars.  Warren Magazines were widely available where I was living and I was immediately drawn to their cover art.  Then there were the Science Fiction book covers.  I used to have dozens of paperbacks with Frank Frazetta covers.  Most of the time the covers were better than the books.  I think it was impossible to be unaware of Science Fiction/Fantasy art.  I was aware of that before I was aware of Impressionism or the Pre Raphaelites.

C.D 

You mention Frank Frazetta.  He is regarded as one of the finest Fantasy artists of the 20th Century.  Who else do you admire?

S.G.S 

          I think Frazetta was the main reason why I wanted to be an artist.  I loved his work.  I just wanted to inhabit those worlds.  But it is pointless trying to be a clone of someone else.  Frazetta’s advice was that we should all find our own way and we should do that by not copying him.  Before Frazetta there had already been a swathe of decent Fantasy artists such as J. Allen St. John, Frank Schoonover and Dorothy Brundage.  By the 1970’s Manuel Sanjulian, Esteban Maroto and Enrique Torres were also turning out wonderful work.  I like Richard Corben’s work a great deal.

C.D

       I really loved this painting, ‘Cosmic Envelopment’.  Can you tell me a bit about it?

photo 13

S.G.S

           This was painted on canvas with Acrylic paint.  I wanted something that would look like a book cover or magazine cover.  I remember some of the great covers that Earl Norem used to do and I wanted something with that sort of feel.  The idea came very quickly.  I didn’t want the figures in symmetrical poses.  I wanted them lost in some form of meditation or concentration.  I remember seeing ballerinas in these types of poses and I always thought it looked very graceful.  I think that the large planet in the background is a staple of fantasy art, there has to be planets and they have to look strange and mystical.  These sort of planets were a big feature of 1950’s Science Fiction work.  You will see them in the work of Joe Orlando, Wallace Wood or Al Feldstein.

C.D

All E.C. artists.

S.G.S

          That’s right, they were.  I loved the E.C. comics.  They were as much an essential part of 1950’s Science Fiction as The Twilight Zone or The Forbidden Planet.

C.D

       What about this painting, The Lost City.  What inspired this?

photo 14

S.G.S 

          I had been reading some Edgar Rice Burroughs books.  I always liked the character of Dian in the Pellucidar series.  I think there is something about primitive women with spears.  On the one hand they can be sexy and feminine and on the other they can be the most dangerous creatures on two feet.  I had also been reading another Burroughs book called The Land Of Hidden Men.  That takes place in the jungles of Cambodia.  At the time when Burroughs wrote this, Cambodia was being re discovered.  French Explorers had been treking through the jungles for decades and were amazed to find all of these amazing Temples buried in the overgrowth of the jungle.  I just thought it made for an interesting composition.

C.D

       Do I detect an Impressionist influence in this one?

S.G.S

          If it is there I don’t think it happened consciously.  I am very interested in colour harmony.  There is a vagueness about a lot of this.  Sometimes I think suggestion is enough, without having to go into too much detail.

C.D

        Is it true you painted ‘The Jewel Thief’with a broken arm?

S.G.S 

          No, that isn’t true.  We had quite a bit of snow in Prague in January.  I was walking down a street one evening which i thought had been cleared of snow.  Some of the streets here are not very well lit at night.  There was some black ice on the pavement which I didn’t see and I slipped over.

C.D

       Were you hurt very badly?

S.G.S

           I had been walking quite fast so when I hit the ice I went over very heavily.  I landed on my right shoulder, that was what took the impact of the fall.  I knew something was wrong because I was in a lot of pain.  I wondered at the time if it was broken but actually I had torn the ligaments.  I am not sure if torn is the right word; all of the muscle was pulverised, but the bones weren’t broken.  At the time I was due to open the Exhibition the following week and I couldn’t move my arm above the elbow.  I needed another two paintings and I couldn’t paint.  Somehow I negotiated to postpone the exhibition for another three weeks.  It took me seven days before I could attempt to paint again.  I painted Dian’s World which was agony to do.  The following week I painted The Jewel Thief, which was still painful but I think I did a better job than on Dian’s World.

C.D

We can compare them.  I don’t think a first look at Dian’s World makes it obvious you were in pain .

S.G.S 

          I was in agony.  I think if I painted it now I could do it better.  But, I only had six finished paintings and I needed eight for the exhibition, I just had to swallow some pain killers and do the best I could.  It had taken me a long time to find anywhere that would exhibit my work.  I had already done the rounds of the galleries in the centre of Prague which normally sell art work and they had all rejected me.

C.D  

       Why was that?

S.G.S

       The story I got from most of them was that they only sell the work of Czech Artists.  There was no chance for me to get into that market so I had to look for another one.  It seemed a cruel twist of fate to have got so close and then to lose it all because of an injury.

Dian’s World

Jewel Thief

C.D    

        What inspired Jewel Thief?

S.G.S    

         I’m not sure, maybe a few things.  I think Kirk Douglas in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea may have been part of it.  I just liked the idea of someone who has found all of this treasure, he picks up the first handful and a pair of enormous green hands come up and grab his legs.  Then more of these green creatures appear.  I think once again it was inspired by the E.C. genre.  It was fun to do.

C.D   

       What about Gaudi Planet?

S.G.S

          Gaudi Planet was inspired by the architect Antonin Gaudi.  There was something in his shapes and designs which I thought looked like they may have come from another planet.  It was fun to do.

gaudi

C.D

I like it very much.  I think the next two are my favourites.  The first one is 5C1F1CZ.  What does this mean?

S.G.S

         After being rejected by so many places in Prague I wanted a painting that could really grab the imagination of the Czech people.  I wanted to do something different.  I wanted it to be fun.  It is not a political statement in any sense.

5C1F1CZ

C.D.

       I really like the colour on this one.  Did it take long to do?

S.G.S

           I had a very clear idea in my head of how I wanted it to look.  Once again I think I took my cue from the E.C. artists of the 1950’s.  I just put a twist to it.  Rather than put another American flag on a planet why not a Czech one.  This was for the Czech people.  They have arrived on Planet Science Fiction/Fantasy Art.

C.D 

       Finally we have The Flying Reptiles.

S.G.S

          Or Pterodactyl Terror.

Pterodactyl Terror

C.D

Once again the orange colour is very prominant.  Why is this?  Any particular reason.

S.G.S

           I had already decided that I wanted the colours of these paintings to be bright and lively.  I primed every canvas, well, nearly every canvas with a coat of Cadmium Yellow.  This made all of the colours very lively, particularly the orange colours.  They came out very warm.  It was fun to develop these colours, to see how much i could tweak them.  I always prime the canvas with some colour; Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna etc.  It harmonises the other colours.  The problemI I always found about painting on a plain white canvas, or any plain white surface for that matter is that white is not the most harmonious colour, that is, if it really is a colour in the first place.  I think it is easier to maintain a colour balance by priming with an earth colour.  Cadmium Yellow work well for me though.

C.D

       So what projects do you have lined up for the future?

S.G.S

I have been back doing portraits again recently and actually getting paid for them, which makes a change.  I want to start painting in Oils next.  I am happy with the results with Acrylics but Oils place a totally different challenge and I would like to see what comes out of that.

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