Bruce Pennington

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Citadel of the Autarch

Citadel of the Autarch cover by Bruce Pennington (detail)

In the 1970s two cover artists stood out among the piles of books in the little science fiction corner at W. H. Smiths Harrogate – Chris Foss and Bruce Pennington. While Chris Foss’s titanic ultra-realistic spaceships have had a massive influence on illustrators and film makers over the past 40 years, Bruce Pennington is less well known. It’s a shame because his depictions of alien landscapes, barbarian kings and demons from the end of time carried as much evocative power as his contemporary’s space art. Pennington specialised in bizarre dreamscapes painted in bold colours, sometimes bordering on the abstract or surreal. His imagery was lush, baroque and the worlds he depicted seemed lost in a perpetual fin de siècle twilight. He was the perfect choice for the paperback editions of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, as well as various collections of Clark Ashton Smith’s weird tales. Sometimes he struggled with the human figure, but in many cases this added to the overall sense of atmospheric foreboding in his visions of distant worlds and crumbling empires. One of his last major works was Eschatus,  a visualisation of the prophecies of Nostradamus. Whatever you think of the source material (i.e. a load of twaddle) the images that Pennington conjured up haunt you long after you’ve put the book down.

Sadly Pennington no longer paints book covers and his art collections, Eschatus and Ultraterraneum, are out of print. His website has loads of covers and some interesting bio information. He recently held his first ever art exhibition at the Atlantis Bookshop in London. If I had the money and a time machine he would be the perfect artist for Thumb.

Children of Dune cover by Bruce Pennington

Children of Dune cover by Bruce Pennington

3 Comments

  1. Mike Montesa says:

    Chris Foss’s art was such a huge influence on me back then. Pennington’s name is not immediately familiar to me, but his style is. Is anyone working in that style still these days?

  2. John Collick says:

    Chris Foss had a lot of imitators and his paintings influenced movie spaceship design from Star Wars onwards. Pennington was less influential – fantasy painting was dominated by Frank Frazetta and, later, Boris Vallejo. Pennington’s Canaletto-influenced images were probably too abstract and quirky (and lacking in large bosomed scantily clad women) to compete. Interestingly enough Foss also seemed to have difficulty with the human figures in his SF pictures, which is odd as he illustrated the Joy of Sex, which was nothing but the human body in all its beardy splendour. I’m not aware of anyone working in the School of Pennington these days.

  3. John Collick says:

    Actually Stephen Fabian is another artist who painted in a similar style to Pennington. I’m not sure how active he is now but I’ve put a link to his website in the links bar. He did a number of wonderful illustrations to the Donald Grant edition of The Night Land (aka The Dream of X).

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