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Artist: John Jude Palencar by Gayle Surrette
Review by Gayle Surrette
Date: 12 April 2007

Links: JJP Website / Illustrations /

Nominated this year for a 2007 Hugo, artist John Jude Palencar's work is spellbinding. Its combination of realism, surrealism, and glowing ethereal beauty is immediately recognizable to those who love his art work. Every piece seems totally realistic except for that twist that makes it more a dreamscape or nightmare -- yet there's the wonderful use of color that makes every piece seem to glow with an inner light.

Cover of The Art of John Jude Palencar

SFRevu: Did you originally start out doing genre illustrations and art or has that just become what most of us associate with your work?

John Jude Palencar: At nineteen I was hired by the American Greetings Card Company. During my brief stint there I created a lot of disgusting seasonal cards. The sweetness of these cards would make any artist gag! Since this was a summer job between my freshman and sophomore years at art school, I had time to think about what direction I wanted my career to take. I also worked for a commercial art studio in Dayton, Ohio during another summer break while building my freelance client list. In both of these "real" job experiences I knew that I didn't want to do this type of work... it was overly commercial and filled with compromise. So I set out to create the type of work I wanted to do. I needed to create something that was more imaginative and had wings. The genres of fantasy, sci-fi and horror fit the bill. Ultimately the response to my new work came in my last year in art school... I won an art scholarship to the "Illustrators Workshop" held in Paris, France and was contacted by Byron Preiss, a book packager from NYC. Byron had seen my work at the Society of Illustrators Student Show and hired me for an upcoming project. His project was a Sci-Fi anthology called, Distant Stars by Samuel Delany. By the time I officially entered / graduated from art school I was in the genre. The following months brought additional assignments from various publishers in NYC and I was on my way.

Cover image from Moonlight & Vines by Charles de Lint

SFRevu: Do you think artists in the SF/fantasy area get enough recognition for the work that they do? If not, what could be done to rectify that?

John: Yes, I think that the artists in the genre do get recognition... more is always better. I use to think that no one paid any attention to the covers. Then you find out that there are groups of people who really value the artist's interpretation or visual approach. That appreciation does make us folks that create these covers feel that we have a hand in inspiring future artists and the general public. To increase the awareness of the cover artist's contribution I think we need higher visibility in regard to additional marketing avenues for our work. The publishing industry should consider additional premiums for the reader/ book buyer... Posters of the cover art and other merchandising and licensed products could enhance the overall sales for a particular novel. Artists would also benefit from additional revenues generated from these licensed products.

Cover image for The Black Tattoo 
by Sam Enthoven

SFRevu: I'm not sure how to ask this question, so I'll blurt it out. I've heard that 'illustrators' are not turning out 'real art'. But, I've thought that the best illustrations also evoke feelings in the viewer and that is what real art is...a medium that cause a reaction in the viewer. Perhaps I'm just channeling my 'artsy' friends from college. Is there a distinction between illustration and art?

John: Well... I think the answer to that question depends upon the specific painting you are viewing. There is a lot of "real art" that isn't real "art" either. The criteria for "real art" is somewhat subjective. The reason for the painting's original creation and existence has to be considered. However a good piece of illustration art can often transcend its original intended goal.

In fact some "real art" is just as exploitative as any illustration and not all illustrations are exploitative. As long as you are creating truthfully from the heart I see no difference between the approaches. Even the most innocent viewer can sense authenticity and passion in a work of art, be it an illustration or a personal fine art work. Making sure that the painting can stand on its own merits, without words, is the key.

Creativity is what matters. The underlying element is that the art speaks to the viewer on different levels in a qualitative way. This is a continual challenge for me. I have failed in this respect on numerous paintings and covers but have also succeeded on a few paintings over the years. Personally I have been on both sides of this artistic fence - I've done commissioned illustration for many years and have shown and sold my personal work in galleries on both coasts and abroad. From my observations "real artists" are just as apt to latch onto a motif, political cause or personal issue to further their art. In a way they are illustrating and exploiting their viewpoint. The origin and reason of this viewpoint is the only difference between illustration and fine art.

An illustrator can inject a lot of personal opinion into a cover illustration while still addressing the book's content... it's a bit sneaky, but it can be done. It bothers me to see a self-indulgent display of politically correct visual whining in a fine art painting. We as illustrators are just as guilty of perpetuating clichés in our work to the nth degree. The illustrators cannot be held entirely accountable for that... the authors, publishers, sales reps, booksellers and the general public share in what approaches ultimately appear on book covers etc...

This is not unlike a fine artist painting for his audience, critics or collectors. I'm not saying that we should all paint pretty pictures devoid of a message or concept but we need to be authentic in our visual statements and sensibilities in a qualitative way. Both camps, fine art and illustration need to be more accepting of each others efforts and simply celebrate their abilities to create good meaningful works of "art" in whatever venue they appear.

Cover image from Widdershins by Charles de Lint

SFRevu: I find your artwork extremely inspiring but whose work inspires you?

John: There are many artists that have inspired me over the years. My earliest influences would be Salvador Dali and Andrew Wyeth. Later on - Bosch, Bruegel, DaVinci, the symbolist painters, William Blake, Giovanni Segantini, Jasper Johns, Robert Motherwell, Lucian Freud and many others.

SFRevu: What's the favorite piece of your own work and why?

John: I really don't have a favorite piece. My thinking is to move on to the next one. There are times when I refer to an older painting because of a certain mood or presence that I've managed to achieve. But to say you have a favorite piece tends to make one live in the past. I tend to repeat myself too much anyway.

SFRevu: Do you always work for assignment or do get to work on your own projects?

John: I do both...This depends on my assignment schedule. I'm always in good spirits when I have a few secret personal paintings underway, These personal paintings always seem to help bolster the quality and content of the commissioned covers rather than hinder them. To further develop my personal painting I am occasionally invited to be an "artist in residence" at the Cill Rialaig Project. It's an international artists retreat in County Kerry, Ireland. Everyone invited stays for free. My family and I usually go for a month at a time. My paintings that are sold or auctioned there help support and build additional studios and eventually a gallery/museum. I've been one of hundreds of artists that have participated in this venture founded by Noelle Campbell-Sharp.

SFRevu: How do you relax? What are the last 5 books you've read? The last 5 movies you saw?

John: To relax ( kind of ) I love to compose music and soundscapes on my arsenal of vintage synthesizers, samplers and flutes. Since I don't write music professionally it's a way to create with complete freedom. I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't read a complete book in months. Although I always have a stack of manuscripts in the studio, I can only read a few chapters or short stories before I have to move on to create the cover art. I do read a lot of material online... scientific articles, news and whatever research an illustration needs to help enhance it. I do enjoy reading Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft when I get a break in my schedule. In fact I still have three Stephen King manuscripts (which I've read) with his side notes packed safely away. (I've done a few of his covers over the years.)

As far as movies go... I keep a collection of my favorite movies so I am always watching one of them or waiting for new releases to view. Usually everything I go to see has a fantasy, sci-fi or horror theme with a few good comedies thrown in.

Most of my free time however is spent battling an army of chipmunks that have taken over our property! It's early summer... time for the "shock & awe" campaign to begin!

SFRevu: Thanks for taking the time to answer.

Our Readers Respond

From: Atokstets
Beautiful .. Amazing .. , thank you for sharing...

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