At the First Spectrum Fantastic Art Live Convention

This past weekend was the first Spectrum Fantastic Art Live convention (hopefully the first of many), held in Kansas City. For 19 years, Spectrum has been the premier art annual for fantasy and science fiction illustration, sculpture, concept art, and comics. Never one to rest on their laurels, the founders, Cathy and Arnie Fenner, have mounted two major New York exhibitions of selections from the annuals and, now, have created the largest gathering of genre artists and fans seen in the US. 

The first Spectrum Fantastic Art Live

Arnie and Cathy Fenner with Mark English

The Fenners state, “The purpose of SFAL is exactly the same as that of the Spectrum annual and the two Spectrum exhibits at the Museum of American Illustration: to raise the public’s awareness of and appreciation for fantastic art. Simple as that.” And boy did it show. It was a huge, classy event with a singular focus on art. 

Filmmaker Maria Cabardo

Filmmaker Maria Cabardo

The weekend started Thursday evening with the screening of the documentary Better Things: The Life and Choices and Jeff Jones at a downtown art-house theater. The filmmaker, Maria Cabardo, was on hand and anxiously waiting to view the movie for the first time with an audience that would be simultaneously more sympathetic and more demanding, as a number of people in the room were friends of Jones’ and everyone was a huge fan. It was a great way to start the weekend — a social event, not a marketing one, and the movie itself was a powerful testament to the power and complexity of art. 

Jean-Baptiste Monge demo

Jean-Baptiste Monge demo

On Friday morning, a few hundred artists began building their displays in the convention hall. Phil Hale, Michael Whelan, Mike Mignola, Julie Bell, Donato Giancola, Dan Dos Santos, Justin Sweet, Brom, Stephan Martiniere, Tim Bruckner….truly, the list goes on and on. By late afternoon, the doors opened to the public — collectors, art directors, and anyone with a deep, or passing, interest in art. The entry fee was kept small to be as inclusive as possible.

It was an insanely dense show — there wasn’t a single booth you wanted to skip over. I would say those first few hours were spent mostly in shock of the sheer volume of talent in the room. After the doors closed, there was a party on the veranda for all the exhibitors so they could get time to spend with each other (and away from their booths) followed by a massive late night drawing session.

Late night life drawing session

Late night life drawing session

Saturday featured panel discussions and a day-long portfolio review session where young artists were given the oportunity to sign up for one-on-one sessions with six different art directors, representing publishing, gamming, comics, and animation. (This is where I spent most of my day, scouting out new talent.) At the same time, more established artists were giving lectures on the main stage on the convention floor — this made it easy for people to wander in and eavesdrop on the lectures while browsing the exhibition.

James Gurney receives the Spectrum Grand Master Award

James Gurney receives the Spectrum Grand Master Award

I think everyone that attended Spectrum Live would agree that the Awards Gala on Saturday night was a highlight of the weekend. (I knew it was going to be a great night when a limo came and brought us to the art deco theater that was the venue for the evening, which just set the tone for the rest of the evening.) Spectrum has always had a silver and gold award for various categories in the annual and I was honored to present the award for the “Book” category.

Quixotic

Quixotic

The ceremony started with a dance performance with live digital painting by Andrew Jones and Phadroid, followed by the awards themselves. At the halfway point, the dance trope Quixotic performed with the aid of digital animated scenery. (Video of that performance here.)  The whole evening made each and every artist, medal winners or otherwise, feel important and empowered. (Award winners and finalists here.)

Andrew Jones and Phadroid

Andrew Jones and Phadroid

By Sunday there was a papable panic in the air — only a few more hours left. How to soak it all in (with so little sleep!?) There were painting demos, hurried sales, and a last minute attempt to be sure to hit every booth. 

Greg Manchess paints Ned Stark

Greg Manchess paints Ned Stark

Of course, each night was filled with great meals, better company, and long, delightful late night (early morning) hours hanging out at the hotel lounges.

Dinner outings

Dinner outings

Bravo to Cathy and Arnie Fenner for bringing us all togther. Huge thanks to their team for making so easy and enjoyable. And a special thanks to all the artists that got involved and took a chance on a new show. French sculptor Virginie Ropars summed up Spectrum Fantastic Art Live the best in her acceptance speech, “This is a giant cake of energy and creativity that I will take back and feed off for years to come.”

As will one sleepy art director….

Sneaky iPhone photo by Lauren Panepinto

Sneaky iPhone photo by Lauren Panepinto

 

Being an art festival, we’ve got even more photos than can fit! Here’s a sampling of more guests and events:

New Storytellers: Art as Narrative with Jon Schindhette, Nathan Fox, Mike Mignola, and Mark Chiarello

 

Arkady Rotman, Greg Manchess, Tara Chang looking at Eric Fortune's latest paintings.

 

Jean-Baptiste Monge demo.

 

Iain McCaig, the man who created Darth Maul.

Iain McCaig, the man who created Darth Maul.

 

Michael Whelan presenting the Lifetime Achievement award.

 

Medal winner and performer, Andrew Jones.

 

Outside the Midland Theater, after the awards gala.

 

Inside the Midland Theater

 

The work of Thomas Kuebler.

The work of Thomas Kuebler.

 

An art director with a Crowbot

Crowbot!

 

A couple of artists enjoying a quiet moment.


Irene Gallo is the Art Director of Tor Books.

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