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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Star Wars Art

George Lucas, may the creative Force be with you.
It was not your typical art show. Yes, there were over fifty pieces of framed art on display, spread over five-thousand square feet of exhibit space. Over one million people saw it following the exhibition's opening at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, in October of 1997. And it's quite likely at least that many more saw the show as it traveled around the country over the next several months. What kind of art show was it? Well, if this is any clue, it didn't open at the National Gallery in Washington but next door at the Air and Space museum, and it was not about old masters but Jedi masters. It featured the art work of Ralph McGuarrie, the artists in charge of giving visual form to George Lucas' wildest imaginings. It was modern art like no other modern art ever seen before, unless you're a Star Wars fan, in which case this showcase of props, costumes, sets, special effects, video clips, and a few old fashioned paintings of new fashioned science fiction was still pretty impressive.
The show eventually made it to London
where it left the British equally enthralled.

Those attending who expected to find any kind of traditional art gallery were either disappointed or stunned beyond words. Upon entering, the viewer went down a hallway straight to the Death Star and the disembodied voice of James Earl Jones as Darth Vader. At the end of the hall was a wall-size mural of a galaxy far, far away. Just beyond was Jabba the Hut, a gigantic slug on a rug, and not far away, a Wampa Ice Creature, one of the additions Lucas made in special effects form to the updated re-release of The Empire Strikes Back.  It was all rather overwhelming as all around came a bombarded of sights and sounds from the four movies the exhibit celebrated at the time. Music and video clips were interactively available at every turn. Never before had it been so dramatically underlined the interrelatedness of the arts as they are drawn together by the movie industry that today can make "real" what a generation ago couldn't even be imagined. Make that two generations ago, as the Star Wars saga made its mark on an audience that wasn't even born when it first hit the silver screen twenty-two years earlier.

Star Wars conceptualist and illustrator, Ralph McGuarrie,
took George Lucas' complex visions to the next level.
Anyone who has ever dealt with the creative minds of young people, regardless of their age, struggling to make their first marks in art, can tell you, the science fiction genre is a major source of ideas and inspirations for these aspiring artists. Whether it's dogfights between X-wing fighters and Federation interceptors, or seductive depictions of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, "teenagers" of all ages have claimed sci-fi art as their own. The Star Wars exhibit boasted some 30 mannequins, 35 production models, and numerous set pieces giving one the feeling of moving back and forth between museum and sound stage--the present and long, long ago. And lingering over it all was the aura of classical mythology, of good versus evil, which Lucas borrowed from any number of ancient cultures and beliefs. And for those wanting to take some "art" home with them, there was the ever-present mega-marketing gift shop just beyond the last star-trooper.
Several of the Star Wars figures as originally conceived by McGuarrie

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