Visitors to the Flint Institute of Arts in Michigan are used to a collection of classics and contemporary works. The museum is Michigan's second-largest, behind only the Detroit Institute of Arts, and is renowned for its more than 8,500-piece collection, encompassing everything from medieval tapestries to modern blown-glass art.
But as of last week, the FIA is also home to a considerable collection of fantasy art, featuring a number of artists with whom Magic: the Gathering players are familiar.
September 24 marked the opening of Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration.
Enchanted offers a thoughtful appraisal of how artists from long ago to the present have brought to life mythology and fairy tales, as well as modern epics like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. The exhibition includes themes such as children's tales, gods and monsters, knights in shining armor, and much more. For hundreds of years, artists have been inspired by the imaginative potential of fantasy. Unlike science fiction, which is based on fact, fantasy presents an impossible reality: a universe where dragons breathe fire, angels battle demons, and magicians weave spells. Enchanted traces the development of fantasy art from Golden Age illustrators, like Howard Pyle and N. C. Wyeth, to classic cover artists, like Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo, as well emerging talents, like Anna Dittmann and Victo Ngai.
It's a must-see for fans of Magic art. The exhibit features original works by several Magic veterans, including Tony DiTerlizzi, Donato Giancola, Mark Zug, Wesley Burt, Rebecca Guay, Omar Rayyan, Brom, Greg Hildebrandt, Tyler Jacobson, Lindsey Look, Miranda Meeks, Anthony Palumbo, Bob Eggleton, and Adam Rex. In addition, the exhibit contains several works from Dungeons and Dragons and other tabletop games.
Exhibition Curator Jesse Kowalski of the Norman Rockwell Museum wrote of the history of fantasy illustration and the impact of archetypes on the genre, as well as his process of compiling the most comprehensive presentation on the subject to date. Kowalski described the show as a "cross-section of artists" from throughout the history of the genre. "Though in a field as wide as fantasy illustration, there are countless artists who deserve recognition for their work," he said. "For all who have furthered the field of fantasy illustration, I express my adoration."
And with the vastness of fantasy illustration dating back centuries -- from interpretations of Arthurian myth to modern gaming illustrations -- Enchanted offers just a glimpse. "In compiling a history of fantasy illustration, I acknowledge that this is one interpretation of an extremely complex history, in which I focused on the evolution of fantasy art and its impact on American illustration," he said. "There are other areas to be explored: album cover art, poster design, graphic novels, and such international comic art as manga from Japan and bandes dessinées from France, among others."
The public is invited to a free one-day symposium on Oct. 22 that coincides with Enchanted, featuring Kowalski along with artists Alice A. Carter, Tony DiTerlizzi, and James Gurney. While Carter and Gurney are well-known in the world of fantasy illustration, DiTerlizzi's name is easily recognizable to Magic players as the artist credited for nearly 100 cards between Visions in 1997 to last year's showcase art on Adventures in the Forgotten Realms's . DiTerlizzi is perhaps best known to Commander players as the illustrator of a number of format staples in , , and .
When it comes to renowned museums hosting fantasy illustration exhibits like Enchanted, Tony DiTerlizzi said it's "a real honor" to see works in the genre celebrated. "Especially hanging alongside past 'masterpieces' portraying similar subject matter," he said. "I am especially excited that the younger generation of curator seem open and accepting to see this genre exhibited in a traditional art museum."
Beyond art for Magic, DiTerlizzi is a New York Times bestselling author and illustrator, finding success in the world of children's books. With Holly Black, he created the middle-grade series The Spiderwick Chronicles, which has sold over 20 million copies, been adapted into a feature film, and translated in over thirty countries. He's also teamed up with Lucasfilm to retell the original Star Wars trilogy as a picture book and has collaborated with celebrated author Mo Willems to create the bestseller The Story of Diva & Flea. DiTerlizzi said his planned talk during next month's symposium will provide insight on how aspiring illustrators can hone their craft. "My 'Never Abandon Imagination' talk focuses on the events that shaped me into becoming an artist and author," he said. "It is my attempt at de-mystifying my success by revealing the unlikely opportunities, luck, and hard work that I experienced throughout my formative years."
As the impact of fantasy illustration on the greater world of visual art becomes more documented and appreciated, it's likely exhibits similar to Enchanted become more common -- at least that's the hope. DiTerlizzi said he's experienced that increased attention on the genre firsthand with his own traveling retrospective, as well as several other shows to which he's loaned artwork. "Though exciting, I'm still hoping a major art museum will mount an exhibition which will really help change the perception of the public and gain more acceptance of this art genre," he said. "After all, humans have been rendering images of dragons, warriors, and monsters for centuries. It is us fantasy artists -- that illustrate games, books, or conceptual work for film and television -- that are keeping the imaginative spirit alive and well in the 21st century."
For more information on the upcoming symposium and to register, visit flintarts.org.