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Monday, January 11, 2016

Dragon Art

The phoenix, the dragon, and the snake--quality art at an affordable price.
We seldom think about them today outside of the realm of fantasy art or gaming, but one of the oldest content figures in art, especially painting, is that of the dragon. Back in the 1970s, before computer games overtook the genre, Dungeons and Dragons was one of the most popular games around for teens and young adults. I was never able to quite grasp all the rules, levels, and intricacies of the game but my high school students (mostly the boys) seem to have had a pretty good handle on the tactics and strategies. I was especially conscious of this in that elements of the game had a tendency to show up in their art as well. Today, of course such art shows up on their Xboxes, PlayStations, PCs, and Nintendos...all this and in 3D too, no less. Add to these media the popularity of dragons in motion pictures and illustrated novels (comic books) and one would have to say they are more popular now than ever before. In short, the monsters have come out from under our children's beds.

Notice that by de Chirico's time, St. George and the dragon became
merely a sideshow to the nude damsel in distress (sort of).
The Bible speaks of what is termed "the behemoth" in a latter chapter of Job. Theologians disagree as to whether this refers to dinosaurs, sea monsters, or simply Nile crocodiles, all of which fit the scriptural description to varying degrees. Ancient theologians simply called it a dragon. Then, along came St. George and killed the damned thing (whatever it was). In any case, down through the ages, artists from Raphael to Von Aachen to de Chirico have had a high old time down depicting the event (above), which probably never even occurred in the first place.

A typical Chinese dragon. Gentle? Friendly? Okay, maybe wiser than it looks.
Almost as ancient as the ambiguous biblical references are images of dragons and their frequent appearance in Chinese art. Though they may appear quite ferocious, unlike dragons found in the western culture, Chinese dragons are said to be gentle, friendly and wise. Anyone born in the "Year of the Dragon," please excuse my skepticism in this regard. This sympathetic view of dragons coincides with that of the story of the Norse folklore ala DreamWorks and How to Train Your Dragon (below). This animated story takes the position that while some dragons can be rather obnoxious, a few can be "trained" to become friendly, helpful aviating pets. Pardon me if I'm still skeptical.

I'd swear I've seen some of these dudes under my bed when I was a kid.
Some artists have made a career of painting dragons. In general, they fit under the classification of Fantasy artist (let's hope they're just fantasies), who specialize in monsters, some of which fit the description of dragons, which we would define as legendary creatures, typically with serpentine or reptilian traits. The gorgeous illustration at the top depicts three slightly different incarnations of such creatures. Bob Eggleton tends to favor a dinosaur-like creature in his many dragon depictions (below). From Godzilla to Jormungand, Eggleton probably keeps a few of these monsters under his bed for quick and easy reference. His depictions are easily the most ferocious and frightening coming from any artist's easel today.

Bob Eggleton--dragons are his specialty.
Although dragons take on many different forms from the biblical to Puff (the magic dragon) to Barney and his lovely shade of purple, by far the most lasting (not to mention lucrative) dragon has to be the Japanese-minted Godzilla. Godzilla was born into the world of Japanese cinema in 1954. It is based upon King Kong, created in the U.S. in the 1930s, though they look nothing alike and aren't even of the same species. Since its creation, Godzilla has appeared in more than thirty movies destroying almost that many cities and probably more than thirty different monsters of similar size and pugnacious disposition. It was not until 1976 that this giant being made its debut in American comics and in the film comic adaption Godzilla vs Megalon. The early Godzilla movies were a hoot to watch, the purist definition of kitsch. The more recent ones tend to be long on CGI and short on plot, which, allowing for various subplots, all seem to be much the same in any case. how you've grown! Some of his cinematic foes can be seen at top-right.
In more recent years (mostly since the Internet came to be) there has developed an erotic element having to do with dragons. De Chirico's St. George, dating from 1940, with its graphically nude figure, was only the beginning. Although the male nude is sometimes depicted, usually battling the mighty beast (clothes appear to be something of a nuisance when fighting dragons) more often than not it's the female heroic figure we see in various states of undress from the merely overexposed to the pornographic. Why some artists and others thing dragons and sex go together I'll never know. Though not overtly sexual, Beauty and the Beast (below) is one such example. Boris Vallejo, and Julie Bell with their motorcycle dragon (bottom) manage to unite dragons with all sorts of sexual imagery into a single painting.

Beauty and the Beast. Disney it's not. It does seem to be well trained, though.
Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell, Motorcycle Dragon

Is that a pterosaurs or just an ordinary dragon?


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