- Arts and Design
Chris Foss - Legends of SF Art vol.2
Born in Devon, England in 1946, Chris Foss was one of the most important figures in science fiction art during the seventies, his artwork for SF paperback covers inspired a legion of imitators.
Foss studied architecture at Cambridge University, and has worked in SF illustration since 1970, primarily as a cover artist. His science fiction work is often a celebration of technology. Beautiful renditions of monstrous spacecraft, huge robots and other machines, rearing up over vast landscapes and skyscapes, often angular and blatantly asymmetrical, yet nevertheless a joy to behold.
Humanity itself is usually absent from Foss's paintings, but mans creations fill the skies. Foss uses his art to blend the practical with the sublime. His smooth, deft use of the airbrush appears to have been an important influence on the work of Jim Burns, who picked up the flag after Foss had begun to concentrate on other things and took over his place as Britain's leading practising SF illustrator.
“All I ever wanted to do was be an artist,” Foss recalls. Like parents the world over, the Fosses were sceptical about the value of an art school education. “They fought me tooth and nail,” recalls Chris. “Their argument was that once you have a degree, you can go and do your art stuff.” He adds: “My parents were struggling school teachers. Then mum bought a Picasso by accident in a drapers shop. She was terrific at rooting and ferreting.”
As the 60s started swinging he ended up in Cambridge studying architecture. This was a mistake though: “I went to two lectures in two years and by the end of the second was drawing cartoon strips for Penthouse.” “My first break was with erotic artwork,” he says. “Because that’s what they wanted at Bob Guccione’s new magazine, Penthouse.” And strangely, once you know of this ‘other side’ you can see that it somehow suffuses the SF images too. “For me a giant spaceship would have topless female stokers shovelling in nuclear nuts.”
Books featuring Foss cover art include the 70’s British paperback covers for Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, the Terran Trade Authority, several Edmund Cooper novels, and E. E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman series. Some art was specific to the stories and examples of this are the covers he did for the Grafton publications of the Demon Princes novels by Jack Vance in the late 1980s, Star King, The Killing Machine, The Palace of Love, The Face and The Book of Dreams
In the 70’s he worked on an aborted movie adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. He also worked as a concept artist on Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). During the last decade or so Foss has been relatively quiet within the SF genre. Nevertheless, he remains one of the major genre artists from the post-new wave period and his work helped to set the standard for many of his contemporaries, as well as for the next generation of cover artists.