By Marty Mulrooney
Chris Foss is a British artist and illustrator whose groundbreaking artwork revolutionised science fiction book covers of the 1970s and 80s. His cover art often depicted looming mechanical spacecraft – the ‘hardware’ of this book’s title – superimposed over vast alien landscapes. Featuring book covers made for such prolific science fiction writers as Isaac Asimov, E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith, Arthur C. Clarke, A. E. Van Vogt and Philip K. Dick, as well as design work for film directors such as Ridley Scott and Stanley Kubrick, Hardware: The Definitive SF Works of Chris Foss offers a comprehensive retrospective of Foss’s career to date.
Within six short years, Chris Foss became a celebrity and one of the most sought-after sf illustrators in the industry. If you want to know why, just take a look at the art collected in this book. When he paints an army tank, it surges outward in a cloud of dust, menace exuding from every line of its structure. When he paints a ship, it emerges from a furious sea, its insolent hull defying the elements. His spaceships convince us of their own existence.
He is one of the best. Maybe the best, at least on this planet.
22nd CENTURY FOSS – Alejandro Jodorowsky
Hardware begins with an introduction by British graphic designer, illustrator and comics artist Rian Hughes (2000AD) where he details Chris Foss’s influence within the industry – a fascinating read – before going on to explain how for this book he has “tried to showcase as complete a selection of work as possible, to make this as far as is practical the definitive Foss volume.” This is followed an article presented as a conversation between Chris Foss and his daughter Imogene Foss, which delves deeper into his life, from his birth on Guernsey in the Channel Islands, to his successful career as a cover artist, to his design work on Dune, Alien and Superman – most of which was sadly never used.
There are then two forewords, the first by famed French comic artist Moebius recollecting their time together at the Dune studio – “His methodology was fascinating. Everything was important to Chris: the brush, how the paint was placed, the movement of the hand.” – the second by filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky – “The soft curves of his spaceships are broken up by antennas, solar panels and observation decks – his creations are real machines, not just an artist’s dreams. They combine the two elements so essential to science fiction: realism and a sense of wonder.”
These various introductions, articles, interviews and recollections are concluded by page 20, leaving the final 220 pages – Hardware is 240 pages long – to wordlessly showcase Foss’s career via his artwork alone. Early images show line drawings and film designs, before briefly showcasing aerial dogfights, tank battles and battered warships. Yet it is his awe-inspiring science fiction paintings that quite rightly take up the majority of the book. The 310 x 240 mm pages are printed on extremely high quality paper bringing each image to life. There are many single pages dedicated to one image and even some stunning two page spreads. Other pages contain several smaller images, but the balance always seems right. This is one of the most gorgeous art books I have ever seen.
Hardware: The Definitive SF Works of Chris Foss is an essential purchase for fans of science fiction art. Although many of these images have been shown before, they have never been presented so beautifully: it is amazing how much of Foss’s art the science fiction book covers of yesteryear missed out or covered up. The only real problem I have with Hardware is that, although for the most part the images speak for themselves, it would have sometimes been nice to have annotations made by Foss – many of his images were drawn without any connection to the books they covered and it would have been highly interesting to hear how he approached this situation. Still, pouring over Chris Foss’s art is like stepping into another galaxy: words simply cannot do these out-of-this-world images justice.
9.5 OUT OF 10
All Images © Chris Foss, ChrisFossArt.com