EX|TERRA – review

Book Review

If I were to sum up EX|TERRA, Welsh artist Andy Frazer‘s compendium of his 2022 palaeo-output, in a single word, it would have to be: caruncles. Make no mistake – if you are at all perturbed by the extraneous fleshy appendages present on the necks and faces of turkeys (and various other birds), then you’d best stay a great distance away from this book. Frazer is avowedly a fan of ‘weird’ dinosaurs, and in this case, ‘weird’ would appear to mean an awful lot of folded flesh dotted with ever-so-slightly unsettling hairlike filaments. That said, even if you are the sort of person who felt quite sick at the sight of that Luis Rey Deinonychus all those years back, I’m sure you’ll still find plenty to enjoy here.

EXTERRA cover

In addition to providing “freelance palaeoart services to academics and publishers”, Frazer also illustrates plenty of dragons; that’s why he goes by ‘DragonsofWales’ in a number of places online. It’s only fitting, then, that EX|TERRA does – by the author’s own admission – contain an element of the fantastical. In fact, in the book’s introduction, Frazer notes that he didn’t really want to use the term ‘palaeoart’ at all, but couldn’t think of a better term. He goes on to note that

“You will find numerous depictions of prehistoric creatures in these pages that include features unsupported by the fossil record. In most instances such features fall within the bounds of what might be considered reasonable speculation, but there are a few that do not.”

Frazer goes on to mention the negative reactions that he has frequently received to such images. But I’m on board with him, for the most part, at least – and he can hardly be faulted for not being up-front about it. Admittedly, it does help that most of the art in this book isn’t especially outrageous by modern standards; we’re well over filamentously ornamented ornthischians at this point, and a number of artists have had a stab at crazily-wattled theropods, with varying degrees of success (and Frazer is definitely on the more successful side).

Velociraptor by Andy Frazer

Bootiful. This image totally stolen from Andy Frazer’s website.

Where I did balk at a reconstruction, I was at least intrigued by it. It prompted me to think what my problems were with it, and if it would actually be plausible, or if I was simply too closed-minded. (But no, you can’t have your beaked sauropods, I’m very sorry.) This wouldn’t be the case if Frazer was just some hack churning out pure fantasy dreck, or perhaps tracing over the Papo T. rex, but because he clearly does put great care into his reconstructions – even when they have fanciful embellishments – they do prompt the reader to pay attention, to ponder.

Besides which, the work in here is quite beautiful even when it isn’t outright gnarly (and occasionally, when it is). There are one or two instances of creations that are obviously based on extant birds, which can be a little tiresome, but other than that, one can’t help but applaud the degree of experimentation here. Naturally, Tyrannosaurus pops up multiple times, but it never looks the same twice. The Rexies here range from a rather ‘vanilla’, but still very beautifully painted, individual striding through the forest with a juvenile, to a facially disfigured punk-rock version, to others that have Frazer’s trademark warty growths all over their faces.

Tyrannosaurus by Andy Frazer

A more ‘regular’ Tyrannosaurus. From Frazer’s website.

There’s also a rather fabulously brightly-coloured individual wandering through a swamp, which could be filed alongside the Carnotaurus with peacock-like plumes on its arms. While such reconstructions do stretch incredulity, they very seldom feel like utterly pointless flights of fancy. I’m certainly not a fan of the theropods and hadrosaurs with warty growths where they would typically be depicted with keratinous horns, but then, as Frazer says in his introduction,

“…Such illustrations serve as a reminder that the lost world of our past was certainly more alien, more beautiful, yet also somehow more familiar than we can ever really know.”

There’s an awful lot to like in this book, and all from an artist that I wasn’t familiar with until David mentioned him recently (probably because I eschew most social media, for better or worse). It’s definitely worth a £16 purchase from Frazer’s Etsy shop – the quality of reproduction is excellent, and I would gladly have paid £20. I don’t think anyone will be a fan of everything in here (I’m not), but that it gave me so much to think about, and to talk about (with Agata, mostly) is very telling. Try it, you might like it.

Dilophosaurus by Andy Frazer

Dilophosaurus also appears in various guises – sometimes feathered, sometimes not, but always gorgeous. Love those keratinous layers. This image is a scan.

P.S. It amuses me no end that Frazer produced another book that quite literally represents what a commenter on here accused Jed Taylor of doing, years ago.

P.P.S. It would be wonderful to speak with the artist and learn more about what influences his work. (Hinty hint hint.)

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3 Comments

  • Reply
    Michael
    September 4, 2023 at 8:59 pm

    Great find, loved his work (and the waddles!) so much I just ordered a copy

  • Reply
    Ant Allan
    September 5, 2023 at 6:28 pm

    I love it. I have most of Andy’s books, & I’m backing his new Kickstarter! ????

  • Reply
    josep_zacarias
    September 6, 2023 at 2:48 am

    I happen to follow this gentleman on Instagram and I have to say that every single piece of art he posts there is just gorgeous, even if a few of them depict rather ugly creatures. But even those look great, and I am actually thankful that people dare to go that far in paleoart. I tend to be way more conservative when drawing dinosaurs and the like. And of course I don’t have a tenth of his talent.
    I may have to buy this. His Novosaurs project looks very interesting too.
    Thanks for the review!

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