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Stephen Hickman is an American Hugo award winning artist and illustrator. He works mostly in the genre of science fiction and fantasy, producing oil paintings.
Empyrean: The Art of Stephen Hickman (144 pages) is designed to show off a range of Hickman's art and the various styles he uses. One of the things which you come away with is that Hickman is more interested in the central idea of a painting rather than restraining himself to a particular style. That said, most of the pictures on show are oil paintings.
This large and luxurious book has an introduction from American science fiction author Dave Drake as well as a forward by Rick Berry, who I presume is the artist who has recently worked with Amanda Palmer. Both provide some insights into the world of the artist.
The book is divided up into different subject matters, Fantasy, Pharazar, Tolkien, Science Fiction and Classics. The last section ‘The Secret Art of Painting’ is a prose piece with Hickman offering up some technical advice on painting.
Overall, it is difficult to gauge the success of individual pieces, over and above their obvious technical excellence, art being a particularly subjective matter. This is not helped by Hickman, who is able to produce many differing oil paintings which are stylistically different. The best thing that you can say about this, as a body of work, is that there is a vein of romanticism which runs through Hickman’s work, whether he is dealing with dragons, damsels or spaceships. By far I mostly enjoyed his landscapes and his use of light, rather than the traditional large breasted ladies.
The book, as befits an art book, is wonderfully produced. The thick, shiny paper allows for the paintings to be reproduced in great detail, in some you can make out the underlying pattern of the canvas and it is particularly fine at reproducing the light effects which are so important in these paintings.
Each painting has a single or two page spread, often the original charcoal sketches are included. Most, but not all of the paintings, have an explanation from Hickman about the painting's inspiration or which aspect of it he felt the most interesting. The larger pieces are accompanied with technical notes which let you know exactly how the painting was made.
I admit that I did not like all the paintings, but given the range of styles this was always going to be a problem. That is not to say that the book is not worth picking up. Hickman is a talented painter who has something to offer to most tastes.