Welcome to The Jewels of Aptor, a biweekly column about the intersection of art and the fantastic. Never heard of French artist Stephan Martiniere? Well, you've definitely heard of the projects he's been involved with: Star Wars II and III, The Astronaut's Wife, Red Planet, I, Robot, Virus, and several other SF movies. That's in addition to creative work on videogames, animated projects, TV, and book covers. Even better, he's helped design theme parks like Fantastik Pukoland in Japan (and check out the TVLand theme park production paintings in the gallery below). His credits might be glitzy, but we love Martiniere's art because of its organic feel, the sense of the future being as much biological as mechanical—a trait he shares with French genius Moebius.
He also evokes classic SF themes in an updated context, the best example being his sketch for a Star Wars droid that bears more than a passing resemblance to the alien machines in H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds.
But, in SF terms, that's not the only reason Martiniere has been so successful. Lou Anders, editorial director for Pyr, has used Martiniere for more than a dozen covers, including spectacular novels by Kay Kenyon and Ian MacDonald (the former cover a Chelsey Award winner). He keeps using Martiniere because he believes the artist, more than any other currently working, "seems to take that abstract and elusive 'sens-a-wunder' that is always being touted as the hallmark quality of science fiction's Golden Age and distill its essence into imagery that speaks directly to that sense of cosmic scope and scale...Stephan takes that breathless moment that we all remember from our teens, the first time we encountered the notions of and behind Ringworld or Rama or Dune, when one literally has to put the book one is reading down and come up for air—and he freezes that moment in time."
Anders also notes another element we love about Martiniere's work, that it "owes nothing to the grosser and more lurid pulp excesses, yet always celebrates and never rejects its genre heart." Pulp influences are great, but Martiniere's art seems to indicate you can be moved to excellence as much from the art in great SF and fantasy movies as by past traditions in book cover art.
Indeed, in addition to classical art and illustration masters, Martiniere cites the influence of movies such as 2001, Alien, Blade Runner, and Dark Crystal. Martiniere's skill at composition and his understanding of mise en scene definitely reflect that influence. Almost all of his paintings, composed digitally, have that quality of the best screen stills—capturing a perfectly framed moment. And, in his excellent work for video games like Myst and Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, Martiniere has mastered use of space, creating haunting images and situations that require restraint and a subtle touch. This subtlety is reflected in the grotesque delicacy of such recent work as the Neemaster and Creature paintings in the gallery below.
Who knows what Martiniere will turn his hand to next, but we think you can be sure that it'll be of intense interest to fans of fine art and science fiction alike.
Stephan Martiniere [Artist's Site]