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Brian Froud's World of Faerie {book review}

I always look foreword to new offerings from Brian Froud, and World of Faerie is no exception. Overall, I was pleased with this collection of words and images, and my reaction to this, his first major faery-dedicated book in numerous years, is composed more of commentary rather than any real criticism. The original Faeries will always be the pinnacle of his work, in my opinion, but this is not to suggest that his artistic growth in the past 25 years since its publication is not valuable; it is just that Faeries had such a profound influence on my own artwork and worldview from a very early age that it's difficult to supplant something so personally significant. (I also have to take into consideration that 'Faeries' was a collaboration with an equally-gifted artist, Alan Lee, and I do believe that 'Faeries' contains more enchantment than the sum of the talents of both artists.)

This book is something of a compilation and its contents span the course of Froud's thirty-year eldritch journey. There are familiar and well-loved images in its pages — paintings recognizable from Faeries, The Faerie Oracle, The Runes of Elfland, Good Faeries/Bad Faeries, work that has made fleeting appearances on his website over the years, etc. In addition, it includes numerous pieces which were created to accompany Terri Windling's lovely mythopoetic novel The Wood Wife. While these images have appeared online on the Endicott Studio website, I believe this may be the first time they are widely available in print. For die-hard Froudians, there are a few never-before (publicly) seen paintings and drawings scattered throughout. The Unicorn Women are richly-detailed, symbol-laden pieces which are brand new.

Observant fans of Froud's work will also find not just familiar pieces within its pages, but also familiar faces. To my knowledge, Froud often uses his own photographs of friends and acquaintances who pose for him as reference for his artwork, and one can note the features of his favorite muses (including, of course, his preeminent muse Wendy Froud to whom the book is dedicated) reflected throughout. For example, the male faery in the drawing on page 121 is obviously based on the same model for the painting on page 128. The gorgeous olive-skinned fay on page 39 also appears in sketch form on page 8. One of my only criticisms though might be that there are a handful of paintings in which virtually the same exact pose and/or composition is replicated. There is a painting of a faery called "Lilu" in Good Faeries/Bad Faeries whose visage also appears in World of Faery on page 44 along with other members of the Unseelie Court. For some reason this is especially the case with his depictions of Frog Women. I would love to see Brian take a slightly new perspective on these beautiful creatures who are some of my favorite of the fae who visit his studio.

Taking a presentational cue from the Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy series, this book also incorporates three smaller booklets: one in memory of a late friend and composer, one of Froud's digital/photomanipulated art, and one relating to Greenmen and other arboreal fay. There is also a poster tucked away on the inside of the back cover featuring a poem by Neil Gaiman. Froud mentions in his introduction that an alternate title for World of Faerie is "Brian Froud's Book on How to Paint and Draw Faeries," and Gaiman's Instructions is definitely in the spirit of a genuine approach to creating mythic art, infinitely more so than the slew of previously published books which claim to teach one to do so.

The conscious role of World of Faerie as a catalyst to (hopefully) initiate a shifting towards more soulful faery art in the face of the overly-commercialized facet of the genre is only indirectly derived from Froud's own words — the explicit statements to this affect are outlined in Ari Berk's foreword. Berk is an author/artist/scholar after my own heart, and I am pleased to see concerns and sentiments that I have been writing about for years1 expressed in such a broadly dispersed, printed form.

I wholeheartedly agree with David Riche's statements in his review regarding this book as a powerful touchstone to counter the onslaught of superficial "fairy art" which has become popular in recent years:
A major publication from Brian Froud his `World of Faerie' and his image of faeries scythes through popular fairy art and Disney type fairies.[...]It seeks maturity in the tide of current commercial perception of fairy, on this point alone Froud will continue to be revered.[...][H]is work may be seen as mad and incomprehensible especially to those influenced by lack of folklore knowledge and vision, yet energy bursts artistically from every page with detailed explanation. His timing to publish on the current wave of juvenile images and enthusiasm such a volume is a brave and welcome lesson for adolescent artists to reach maturity he will undoubtedly be regarded with awe and devotion.2
I feel it is also important to explicate that the juvenility which is cited in Riche's comments as well as being implied in Berk's foreword should not be bounded by biological age. In my experience, some of the more juvenile visual approaches to depicting Faery (please note that a visual approach is not necessarily synonymous with artistic skill level and one may be independent from the other) come from older individuals while there are younger artists whose work resonates more with the "knowledge of the past, sacrifice, and dedication" which Berk rightfully highlights as paramount in the creation of mythic faery art. With all due respect to Riche, however, I feel that this book (specifically Berk's foreword) is intended to counter much of the content that is presented in Riche's own roster of fairy art books and products, which he has been kind enough to list below his review. In my own personal opinion, his books have greatly helped to encourage the perception of faeries which Froud and Berk seek to dispel with their own artistic endeavors: "[W]ith wings thrown in to add mere difference, we are shown fairies with attitude but little verisimilitude; little symbolic meaning or resonance; little learning or lore or experience behind their depiction; no depth." Perhaps though Riche's review is a testament to the truly transformative power of Froud's new book, in which case a wonderful change has been wrought, and I can only hope that World of Faery will have a similar effect upon other readers.

Another thoughtful review of this book was written by Brenda Sutton for the Mythic Imagination Institute.

Footnotes and Bibliography

1) For example, see my essay A Personal Philosophy of Faery Art which was written in September of 2004. The major points I present in that essay as well as in my numerous writings addressing the issue here and on my website are mirrored in Ari Berk's foreword quite closely. I do wonder if Berk has read that essay or if we just happen to be on the same wavelength.

Update 10/15/07: A short while ago I was contacted by one of Dr. Berk's students who mentioned that Dr. Berk recommended my Livejournal to him (see the comment dated from September 26th). So obviously Dr. Berk is familiar with at least some of my art and writing.

2) David J. Riche, "Fairy Godfather." Energy bursts artistically from every page. September 6, 2007. http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A37GSFJ5J01N88/ref=cm_cr_auth/102-4002391-8706502?ie=UTF8&sort%5Fby=MostRecentReview
Tags: art, books, faery, reviews

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