by William Stout; Ray Harryhausen Print book
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Artful Science   (2009-03-25)
Bill Stout himself provides the best critical statement about his own murals in this statement from Prehistoric Murals. “Most paleoartists tend to produce two kinds of paleoart: Lousy paintings abundant with good science, or good paintings with inadequate science.” The 17 murals painted by Stout shown in this book provide compelling evidence that his work falls into that very rare category of paleoart that satisfies the most creative aesthetic, while at the same time attaining a scholarly accuracy that is technically demanding.
An artist such as Stout must not only be able to paint masterfully, but constantly learn from his scientific advisors and be creative about ways to perfect the details of these large-scale works. At one point in his very relaxed, conversational narrative, Stout mentions that he was struggling with the background painting of his Cretaceous mural of dinosaurs in the San Diego region, when he left for a previously scheduled fishing trip in Alaska. During this trip, viewing that vast landscape first-hand with his muralist’s eye enabled him to come home and resolve his ongoing problems with the background in a matter of hours. He gives numerous examples of how he had to be flexible about correcting or eliminating specific elements in the murals upon the advice of paleontologists, no matter how committed he might have been to the role that particular element played in his composition.
Stout’s book fascinates the reader with its emphasis on the painstaking process and refinement of the murals, from their inception in pencil sketches all the way through to the final, majestic product. Obviously, one must see the murals in person, in their truly grand scale to appreciate them; his largest mural depicted in the book covers a stunning 14 feet by 34 feet of wall space at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Yet the reproductions in this book allow one to appreciate the beauty of the composition, the sumptuous palette, the atmosphere conveyed in the painting, while gaining huge insight into the complex process that resulted in the final product.
Peppered with references to his artistic predecessors and muses, including Charles R. Knight, N.C. Wyeth, Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt, Stout’s book shows us step-by-step how his work is able to quite literally transport us; we can never see these ancient worlds in real-life, but gazing at his murals, we happily inhabit them in our imagination.
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