Art book review: The Art of Adrian Smith
Perusing the amazing and brutal artworks that embellished the many codices and rulebooks of Warhammer and Warhammer 40K for hours on end as a teenager is one of the reasons I am a professional artist today.
Adrian Smith could have been just one among many other prolific and talented artists, yet his illustrations certainly stood out and it is no surprise that Games Workshop’s own publishing company decided to compile his very best works in 2003 into one astonishing compendium.
Two decades after I painted my last Warhammer miniature I managed to track one copy down -for it has become highly sought-after, and Warhammer fans are not letting go of their copies. Let’s find out why.
Games Workshop has always been proud of their licensed artworks and have published many artbooks over decades, whether monographs or collections on a theme depicted by various artists. The amount of information provided with the artworks however, or lack thereof, is sometimes astonishing. We do get a year of completion and a project name under each image, which is already generous compared to other art books, and yet there are no other explanations, no nothing. What we have is a flavored introduction text that still doesn’t tell me anything about the artist that a peek at his artworks would have already revealed.
I would not be so picky for a collective book where a common theme would bind all the artworks together. This is different though, as we have a book specifically about Mr. Adrian Smith himself, as stated on the cover. Whoever purchased it back then was already familiar with the art and surely wished to learn more about what makes this artist stand out in an environment where the creator comes second to the intellectual property, i.e. the Games Workshop universe. At minimum, it would have been interesting to talk about what medium he uses! (Spoiler: acrylics on board, from what I gathered browsing the catalogue of a gallery in Paris selling many of his original works).
Indeed, my forehead might get a bit balder for writing this but for those of you who are in their early twenties or less, understand that the totality of the artworks are made in traditional medium.
The book shares two distinct periods: the early works (1990-1991) and the then-current period, 2001-2003. What happens in between is left unanswered.
Adrian Smith is a self-taught artist. He started working at Games Workshop in the early nineties only to be released back to nature two decades later. I am sure even he has lost count of how many illustrations he provided for the company. Oh, and he works a lot. Duh. And that’s about as much information we can get.
What’s your process like, Mr Smith? Detail by detail, says the introductory text. How is that even possible- how do you not lose track of the whole image? What were your influences? Do you do preparatory sketches? What music do you listen to? Can we see you in your nineties workspace? All unanswered.
One thing we can say is that the Paul Bonner influence is strong. Also a Games Workshop artist back then, Paul Bonner revels in excruciating details and an absolute mastery of textures and materials. In both cases the eye can wander far beyond the centre of interest of the piece and still find something to latch on- they reward the attentive viewer.
Many pictures were commissioned as black and white washes, a very common occurence in nineties Games workshop aesthetics. Artworks in that style can be confused with the works of fellow GW artists Alex Boyd and David Gallagher, yet a trained eye might notice that Smith still maintains a grittier edge.
We know that in the grimdark worlds of Warhammer and Warhammer 40K everything has to be sharp, deadly and pointy. Still, it’s funny to see that Adrian Smith was given almost all of the spikiest assignments- Chaos Space Marines and Tyranids are legion (joke intended). And that’s great, because I realized that most of my very favourite Tyranid pictures were indeed made by Mr. Smith.
The earlier stuff (1990-1991) are arguably more underground-looking but all of the elements of lunacy are already there, minus the colors.
The Art of Adrian Smith is a great mid-career milestone for this exceptionally talented workaholic. He is still active and kicking, working relentlessly on an unfathomable amount of quality work, including a whole personal universe elegantly called HATE – a world so ouchy and pointy you might want to get a couple of tetanos shots before delving in. In HATE the creature design is more freeform and has this Tortured Souls-era Clive Barker edge in their assymetry and ungodly amount of hooks that I just find irresistible, but that may boil down to individual taste.
The Art of Adrian Smith
Black Library, 2003
The books reviewed are from my personal collection and fully paid (too much) for.
- Posted by Paul Takahashi
- On June 22, 2020
- 0 Comments