Tuesday, 12 May 2009

John Blanche or the I Know Nothing About Art But I Know What I Like Post

I doubt I'd ever want to hang a Blanche painting upon my wall but his overly ornate Durer-influenced style works wonderfully well for the Warhammer world as it was in the 1980s - modern day Games Workshop artwork is all too clean, too designed and approved by committee to actually work well in my eyes.

Why does the Blanchitsu stuff work?

Blanche's work always seems to mix two different stylised themes. The first is to be found in the nice graphic design of the little touches. On the picture of the Dwarven army note the up-turned toes on the armour of the Dwarf in the bottom right, the nice banners, the almost-cartoony faces. Intricate little armour details. All Blanche's works reward careful searching for all the "little bits". You'll probably have to click each image and see the full-size to get the full impression.

The composition of the painting is interesting in that it comprises three distinct layers each with their own limited palettes, and unusually, forces the eye of the Westerner used to reading left-to-right into starting on the "wrong" side and traveling leftwards. There is the yellow and black of the army, then the red-brown and dirty white of the building and finally the dark grey of the mountain range and by the time you get to the left face of the mountains the "mirrored" form and resulting travel has created a sense of tension.

It's the mountain range that makes this work for me and want to show it to players as a "This Is What You See" handout. The airbrush mist and the birds give an impression of scale. But have you ever seen mountains that just appear out of nowhere and that steep?

No of course not.

Why not?

Because they are amazingly unrealistic. But it works. It says "this is not our World". Even the natural landscape is different to our World. Look at Blanche illustrations of the Warhammer World (and for matter, his illos for the Sorcery! series of gamebooks) and realise that on this fantastic world polluted by the raw material of Chaos-stuff not even the mountains and forests look quite right. They look slightly unsettling and this is good. This is an alien world, despite it's similar climate and geography and the laws of physical geography are different. Different geological processes occurred here, different laws of the natural world hold sway.

We can see more of Blanche's subtle use of surreal physical geography in the following two pics. In the undead pic, Blanche has painted "just" a box cover for some plastic Citadel skeletons. But that tree belongs to an alien world and a grim one at that with the hanging corpse. Again, Blanche puts more tension into the painting with surreal composition - the skeletal horde is upright, the tree is upright but the world beyond is seriously on the cock by being slanted to about 30 degrees off horizontal. It's dream-like and it's drug-like.

The final illo I've posted here is of a Knights Panther from the Warhammer World. Lovely intricate armour and equipment but forget the central figure for a moment and look at the background. Alien sky. Alien foreground. Alien rock formations in the background. Alien low crescent moon. Alien and unsettling angle of the landscape.

How could that ever be mistaken for a copy of mediaeval Europe but with orcs and wizards?


  1. I was always a fan of John Blanche's work for 80s-era GW, especially of his B&W work on Rogue Trader. His later, more painterly stuff (like the WH40K concept sketchings), less so...

    I suppose it's a prejudice of mine that more detailed/precise = better.

  2. John Blanche and Ian Miller were principal influences on the the way I envision a 'fantasy world'. The first edition of WHFRP is still the most gorgeous RPG book in my collection.

  3. WFRP is a beautiful book, especially the early hardback printing that contains the colour prints.

    A few years back I went to one of the Partizan wargames shows in Newark and Tony Ackland was on the door collecting the money. I knew he was a member of that wargames club but had I known I'd hand £2 over to him at the entrance I'd have taken my hardback WFRP up and asked him to sign one of his illos.

  4. John Blanche is a fantastic artist :-)
    One of the best out there.

    His work for Rogue Trader and the second edition of WH40K are great.

    Speaking of another great but less know GW artist, there was in Rogue Trader a lot of illustrations of a guy whose signature is WILL.

    He illustrated Shadows Over Bogenhafen too, and not a lot of other things.

    His style was one of the best but I cannot find any information in the Internet about him. Anyone knows?
    If so just add a comment there it will be emailed to me, thanks ;-)

  5. V, that would have been Wil Rees who did a lot of the full-page illos in Rogue Trader with heavy use of cross-hatching. Signed his work WIL (note the single l). I couldn't find my copy of Bogenhafen out but I do remember the Rees illos you are refering to.

  6. Coopdevil, you're utterly right.
    Wil Rees is the name.

    It seems he is working for Hollywood now ... He got a page on IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0715968/

    Too bad for us amateur of good fantasy art :-(

  7. Like a lot of people, I crave for John Blanche's works. This is so fantastic. But the fact is that the guy is not considered outside of the specific gw-inspired fantasy art scene. And so nobody cares to analyse its work. What you have done in this little blog article is one of the first tentative I have readen. This is very nice and very true. It is very hard to put words on the John Blanche Experience, and what you have written here is a good start.