Paul Tobin, Editor (ISBN 978-1-86950-824-1 & 978-0-47321-504-0)
White Cloud Worlds (volumes I & II) are anthologies of science fiction and fantasy art from New Zealand illustrators. The ‘white cloud’ in the title is from Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand, which means ‘Land of the Long White cloud’.
A number of things are striking about this art book. The first volume was originally tied to an exhibition of fantasy and science fiction art that toured New Zealand public gallery spaces back in 2012 or so. I caught the exhibition in the Hamilton Museum at the time. Then as now, I’d find it hard to believe that serious Australian public galleries would show an exhibition of pop culture illustration. That seems a pity. Illustration has always been the poor cousin to fine art, at least in its own lifetime. Given time the illustrations of Goya or Beardsley or Rackham might come to be considered genuine art but it seems that the art establishment needs about a hundred years or so to swallow imagination.
White Cloud Worlds also allows the artists about half a page of their own ramblings and thoughts in amongst their artwork and these blurbs seem to have been left largely to the artists themselves. The result is an eclectic range of bio-blurbs ranging from the purely autobiographical, through to the thoughtful, fun, inspirational or just plain weird. The personalities of the individual artists glow through the pages not just through their artwork alone.
Finally, this is a damned fine set of art books. The reproductions are high quality, as we’d expect, and the artwork is a well curated mixture of styles and themes. Because the theme of this book is not simply ‘only robots need apply’ or ‘just dragons and lots more dragons’ the artwork spans a range from straightforward SFF illustration through to some stunning pop-art pieces that would not be out of place at Melbourne’s Outre. I also found myself appreciating that the relative dearth of female illustrators in Volume I was at least in part compensated for in Volume II where some effort seems to have been made to include many more working woman artists.
Finally, it is worth noting that White Cloud Worlds appears to be growing into something more than just a book series. The website has a link for workshops as well as future events and exhibitions (although the workshops are under construction it seems). If this works, it could be a model that would be applicable elsewhere. I’ve spent some time pondering ways that Australia might be able to nurture and encourage the pop-culture end of creative arts and White Cloud Worlds does seem to present one possible model for doing so.