Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Minotaur

Recently working on a concept project for a client I have been exploring the art and the myth of the Minotaur. At first glance we are all familiar with the fantasy monster of half man -  half bull that lurks in the bowels of ancient labyrinths. This has been a staple of gaming and stories for decades and I myself have faced innumerable minotaurs in cavernous hallways, dispatching them with sword and magic in everything from Dungeons & Dragons to World of Warcraft.

My research into the mythos of the minotaur uncovered a great deal more. When doing a simple Google search for “Minotaur” I was confronted with what seemed a vastly divergent representation of the monster. Everything from classical urns to contemporary game concept art and an unsettling number of erotic hentai depictions of the beast. I came to realize however that all of these are intimately related, and what I thought was a straight forward two-dimensional monster, has revealed centuries of psycho-sexual development.

The original version of the Minotaur story begins in ancient Greece. The monster that is half man half bull is also the half son of King Minos of Crete, born to queen Pasiphae who indulged in bestiality with a bull. Minos imprisoned the monster in an elaborate labyrinth designed by Daedelus. Every year seven youths are sent into the labyrinth to be sacrificed to the Minotaur. The hero Theseus famously brings a spool of thread which he unwinds behind him, and once slaying the monster, follows the thread backward to escape the labyrinth.
The Minotaur GF Watts 1885
But, I’m more interested in the character of the Minotaur himself as an archetypal figure. He has the intellect of a man and the violent virility of a beast. In classical philosophy this was known as the Dionysian/Apollonian Dialectic. The discourse among philosophers such as Socrates as to whether Man was an intellectual creature or a physical creature. Dionysus being the god of hedonism and physical pleasure while Apollo was the God of the arts and science. The Minotaur was a physical manifestation that Man had aspects of both. The cannibalistic devourer of human flesh (figuratively and literally) and conceived by the lustful infidelity of the queen with a bull. This hideous offspring is unwanted and unloved by both his parents and locked away as an embarrassment, while his sister Ariadne is beautiful and adored by everyone. The motif of the labyrinth or maze is universal throughout many cultures as representing the twisting and turning of the path of life, adding to the complex symbolisms of the Minotaur myth.

By the time of The Age of Reason in the 18th century philosophers such as Descartes and Hobbes began to further explore the Duality of Man, later explored by Mary Shelly in Frankenstein (1818) and then Freidrich Nietzsche in Birth of Tragedy (1891). Was Man an animal with the mind of a god? or a god trapped in the body of an animal? and in what combination did these two aspects of the human condition struggle with each other?
Minotautomachy Pablo Picasso 1934
In the 20th century the advent of psychoanalysis began to codify this duality into a science. Freud’s theory of the Id versus the Ego and Yung’s development of the concept of Archetypes became the leading theories of the day. The most notorious of artists to explore this theme of the Minotaur was Pablo Picasso. Having spent much of his adult life in dramatic and destructive relationships with a series of women Picasso explored the theme of the Minotaur in a series of drawings and engravings to try to better understand his own subconscious, that of the lecherous, adulterous man who devoured women, in conflict with the intellectual artist who created paintings.
Alien Concept Design. H.R. Giger
Today as I explore the infinite realms of the internet I find that depictions of the Minotaur are more common than perhaps anytime in history. In 1979 Ridley Scott produced a sci-fi reimagining of the Minotaur story with Alien, where a group of sacrificial space-miners are hunted in a labyrinth of hallways and access tubes to either be devoured or impregnated by a horrific monster. When concepting the Alien, artist H.R. Giger was noted to have said that he gave the Alien a decisively phallic shape, because that people are equally terrified of sex and death.  Most recently, I think the character of Tyrian Lannister in the story The Game of Thrones, is a literate metaphor of the Minotaur Complex. Finally, there are the crude and pornographic illustrations made by young artists in the form of what is called “hentai”. (I will not display any of these images or link to any sites), but what I at first found disturbing I realized was the same conflict within the minds of young “artists” to try to come to terms with their developing sexualities and intellects. The same dramatic dichotomy that has faced generations of people regarding nascent sexual urges in stark conflict with their intellectual understanding of gender roles, sexuality and societal standards. Viewed from a purely clinical point of view, these outwardly disturbing images are an interesting insight of what originally intrigued the ancient classical poets and artists. Man as sexual and violent animal, versus Man as intellectual and thoughtful citizen. This duality still rages today, and the Minotaur is there uncomfortably in our subconscious thrashing in the labyrinth of our minds threatening to escape.

Enjoy: Go Forth and Learn.

Stephen Diamond. Phd

A Gallery of Minotaur Art: 

Theseus Slaying Minotaur Bayre 1845

Pablo Picasso

Minotaur Greek Urn

Karn the Minotaur

Minotaur D&D 1st ed. 1976

©text William O'Connor 2014. All images used for educational and editorial purposes as per the Copyright Code of Fair Use.

Friday, March 14, 2014

SmallCon, Big Weekend!

Boston, Ma Waterfront
I attended and displayed in my first science fiction-fantasy art show at the 1992 World Fantasy Convention in Atlanta.  Since then I regularly began attending about five shows a year all over the United States.  That makes over 100 art shows in my career that I have been to.  Some as large as San Diego Comic Con with 150,000 visitors and some as small as NeCon with less than 500. 

Both large and small have there advantages.  As the fantasy business becomes more mainstream with video games and films, comics and cosplay the venues have all melded into massive geek-themed South by SouthWest festivals.  Show promoters and the cities that host these shows make a lot of money, as do the artists that attend them.  Over the past decade I have noticed that with demands on my time, I will now do only one or two shows a year at huge convention center venues where I can make more in one weekend than I could at a half dozen small shows.  This is just good business.

But, what about those smaller regional and local shows?  Are they still around, do people still attend, and why as an artist would you want to do one?  That's what this blog is about.

Intimate Venue.  The best part of a small regional show is that it is small.  The atmosphere is very casual and relaxed.  It is possible to sit and spend a lot of time getting to know the fans, the attendees, other artists, and to attend and take part in panels and demonstrations. Most of these small shows are organized by local or regional Science Fiction Clubs so the management is voluntary and they are doing the show for the pure love of the genre. These shows are great times to arrange meetings and dinners with local friends and clients.

Display and Dash.  For me, the best part of a small show is the ability to display and dash.  You arrive on a Friday, set up your display in 30 minutes, and you have until Sunday afternoon to chill out.  You don't have to sit in a booth for ten hours a day.  You don't have to handle money or haggle prices or process credit cards and juggle inventory.  You have a whole weekend to do whatever you want.  This free time is invaluable in business and life.  Some of the best relationships and friends I've made over the past twenty years is with art directors and artists at these small shows.

I recall a World Science Fiction Convention in Boston.  With so much free time I chatted up the senior editor of Doubleday Books, and we ended up having lunch together on a bench in the Boston commons watching the ducks and working on the NY Times crossword.  In 1999 I attended the World Fantasy Convention in Providence RI.  The Senior Creative Director of D&D and I spent Saturday afternoon walking through the galleries of the RISD art museum.  At Lunacon in NY a group of art friends and myself decided to take advantage of the warm spring weather and walked around the sculpture gardens at the nearby PepsiCo campus, and in Saratoga Springs I visited museums, galleries, battlefields and the best Irish bar in the country with my art friends.

These are just a few examples, but encounters like this are impossible if you are stuck behind a table in a booth signing Magic Cards and selling prints to fans.  It may not seem to pay dividends in immediate cash, but in value as an artist its priceless.

Big Fish, Small Pond:  Your average regional show may have 1500 attendees and a dozen artists.  Of those artists there are perhaps four or five full time professionals.  Even though the attendance is small the odds of selling an original work go up substantially at small shows, and winning an award is almost assured.  Small shows have smaller overhead, so merely selling one piece can cover your expenses.

Destination Venues:  I have attended GenCon Indy in Indianapolis more than ten times and I have never been outside of the convention center and a small three block radius of bars and restaurants, even though there is an art museum and parks within walking distance.  My favorite part of doing small display shows is that it gets you outside to visit the cities you're in.   Museums, parks, historic sites etc, are all available if you have your weekend to yourself.  These days I have a wife and two children with a very busy schedule and vacation time at a premium.  To compromise we will often decide where we want to go, and then see if there is a show in that city, so that I can do an art show and we can all have a vacation.  There are some great, fun and beautiful cities and they all have sci-fi shows, and its all a tax write-off!

Here are some small display shows where you don't have to man a booth in some great cities on the American East Coast.  I'd love to hear your recommendations and experiences for similar shows on the West Coast.
I'm rating each from one to five stars based on Quality of Venue, Quality of the Art Show, and Quality of the City. The cost of the Art Show I'm basing on buying a full three panel bay and membership.

Boskone.  Boston, MA. February (New England Science Fiction Association NESFA)
Rating: *****
Artshow: 30 artists, 8-10 FT professionals.
Cost: Artshow and Membership $200 Hotel: $150/day.
Venue: Boston Westin Waterfront
Attendance: 2000
What to do: Boston is an amazing town, even in February, and the venue is right in the middle of it in a beautiful new Westin Hotel.  The show is well run and attended by fans and artists.  Sales are generally reliable. The Boston Art Museum, The Public Library, The Freedom Trail, Boston Commons, The Aquarium and great food, shopping and bars makes this a must-do show for me and my family every year.

Lunacon. Rye, NY. March (New York Science Fiction Association)
Artshow: 20 artists.  4-6 FT professionals
Cost: Membership and Artshow: $150 Hotel $120/day
Venue: Ryebrook NY Hilton
Attendance: 800
What to do: Lunacon was the must-attend artshow every year when I was starting out.  It was the show for all the Art Directors and Artists that lived in and around Manhattan, showcasing 100 artists with 15-20 FT professionals and about 3000 attendees. With competition from Illuxcon and Spectrum Live artists from the region have stopped coming, and with NY Comic Con the fans have stopped coming as well.  The venue is about 20 min. north of Manhattan by train.  If you are looking for an excuse to make a trip to NYC this is the best opportunity for a Destination Venue for the greatest museums and restaurants in the country, and perhaps drop off some portfolios at the publishing houses.

Balticon. Baltimore, MD. May
Rating: (I haven't attended recently enough to rate it.)
Venue: Hunt Valley Inn. Hunt Valley MD.
What to Do:  Edgar Allen Poe's Gravesite, the Waterfront, Camden Yard Baseball, The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Aquarium and a day trip to Hersey Park make this a fun trip for families.  Always held for four days over Memorial Day Weekend.

Philcon. Philadelphia, PA (Cherry Hill, NJ). November
Artshow: 20 artists. 4-6 FT professionals
Cost: Membership and Artshow: $150 Hotel: $120/day
Venue: Crowne Plaza Hotel
Attendance: 1000
What to do: Although the venue is just over the river into NJ, Philadelphia is a beautiful destination city that's worth seeing.  The Philadelphia Acadamy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia Art Museum, The Rodin Museum, The Philadelphia Zoo, Liberty Park, and Terminal Market make it a great family trip  or for any serious artist. 

World Fantasy Convention. October
Artshow: 50 artists.  10-20 FT professionals.
Cost: Membership and Artshow: $500 Hotel: varies.
Venue: varies.
Attendance: 1500
What to do: I have had some of the best times in my career at the "World" shows.  Every one takes place in a new city each year, so I pick and choose by what city I want to go to.  I never fly or travel internationally with my art, ( its cost prohibitive) so that leaves  me attending these about once every four years.  Baltimore, Boston, Providence, Madison, Columbus, Chicago, Atlanta and Saratoga Springs (my favorite)  were all great shows, generally attended by serious fans and professional artists and art directors resulting in good contacts, good sales and a great time.
 This years show is in Washington DC!  The National Gallery, The Smithsonian, The Air and Space Museum, National Arboretum and the restaurants in Georgetown alone will make it worth the trip!

World Science Fiction Convention. August
Artshow: 50 artists.  10-20 FT professionals.
Cost: Membership and Artshow: $500 Hotel: varies.
Venue: varies.
Attendance: 1500
What to do: The World Science Fiction Convention is like the Sci-Fi Oscars, where the Hugo Awards are given out each year. Every one takes place in a new city each year, so I pick and choose by what city I want to go to.  Generally attended by serious fans and professional artists and art directors resulting in good contacts, good sales and a great time.  Similar audience to World Fantasy.