Who doesn’t want another coffee table book filled with very pretty palaeoart printed on good quality paper? Mesozoic Art is the spiritual successor to Dinosaur Art and Dinosaur Art II, both published by Titan Books in 2012 and 2017, respectively. As Bloomsbury has published this one, it can’t be a sequel in the literal sense, even if the front cover is very, very strongly suggestive of it being so. It also (in spite of the cover design) departs from its predecessors in a few important ways, for better and worse. If nothing else, it makes it clear just how far we’ve come in the last decade.
The original Dinosaur Art was full of Paulian dinosaurs. Greg Paul had a chapter to himself, of course, but even outside of that, the other artists inhabited a Paulian world; John Conway (whose work featured) said as much in our recent interview with him. This had changed quite dramatically even by the time of Dinosaur Art II, but in Mesozoic Art, styles have diversified and shifted much further still. This is, of course, greatly aided by the decision to try and showcase up-and-coming palaeoartists, rather than established names. Those old geezers Conway and Mark Witton may still feature, but we’re also treated to work by the likes of Midiaou Diallo, Joschua Knüppe, Jed Taylor, and the superbly named Corbin Rainbolt. These are artists who are increasingly receiving commissions for books, museum exhibits and the like, but aren’t well-established members of the Old Guard like Paul, Sibbick, Henderson, and the rest.
The latest generation of palaeoartists, as highlighted by this book, have adopted an ultra-naturalistic style of their own that feels like a natural evolution of the old Paulian, er, paradigm (sorry) – this is a book that encapsulates a ‘Dinosaur Enlightenment’, exactly as Darren and Steve posit in their introduction. That’s not to say they’re entirely uniform – while there’s always a danger that artists will drop one pervasive style, only to adopt another one, the work in this book runs a stylistic gamut from photo-realism (as seen in the work of Joanna Kobierska), to impressionistic and even quite surreal artworks. There’s room for Emiliano Troco’s gorgeously moody and evocative Apatosaurus piece alongside the vibrant colours of Raven Amos’ work, Lucas Attwell’s occasional flights of psychedelic whimsy, and whatever John was trying to do with that Magic Eye hadrosaur. It’s all here.
It’s worth noting, too, that in spite of the bulk of the work in this book being digital, the clumsy attempts at pasting illustrations or model photography onto photographic backgrounds that we occasionally saw in the old Dinosaur Art books have been consigned to history. Here, stylised digital art sits comfortably alongside art produced by more ‘traditional’ means, and all the artworks are equally as cohesive. In the past, we were critical of how high-quality printing could expose the flaws in digital palaeoart – here, it only enhances it.
Where this book is perhaps a little weaker than its predecessors is in the text, in that there’s far less of it. Darren’s stated that “Mesozoic Art is predominantly devoted to the art it contains,” which is quite right, and the production quality is impressive throughout. However, I do slightly miss the interview format of the Dinosaur Art books, or at the very least, I miss there being greater input from the artists themselves. There are short biographies of each artist, but I wouldn’t have minded a little more on their respective backgrounds, the reasons behind certain stylistic choices, and their thoughts on the genre, straight from the horses’ mouths. Granted, the co-ordination involved in getting this volume together was still quite arduous by all (Steve’s) accounts, but I was left wanting to hear more from the artists themselves.
Mind you, that’s surely a good sign – I was entranced by the work here, especially the fantastic pieces by the artists I was less familiar with (I must mention Emiliano Troco’s work again – just stunning). Darren and Steve’s captions also provide an effective, insightful commentary on what we’re looking at, so it’s not as if the reader is stranded in the Mesozoic (actual geological era may vary) without any context.
In spite of any minor quibbles I may have, this is obviously a must-have book for anyone interested in palaeoart, and one that more than succeeds in all of its aims. Being a bit out of the loop these days (it’s ‘cos I ditched Twitter some years back), I was grateful to be introduced to a number of superlative artists whose work I’ll definitely be seeking out in the future. It was also very pleasing to see artists whose work I was familiar with have their art showcased in such a gorgeous fashion. More than that, this feels like a definitive summation of where we’re up to in the world of palaeoart, committed to print to be perused for decades to come. What will we make of all this in 2032, when Mesozoic Art III is published? I look forward to finding out.