I've just received my advance copy of Steampunk Graphics from Graffito. It's a beautifully art directed and edited book full of new Steampunk art from many of the movements well known artists. I had the honor of being invited to write the forward in the book as well as having a number of my pieces of art featured. Here's the cover art and below I've posted the forward. I hope some of you will pick it up and enjoy its content.
|Cover of Steampunk Graphics|
The book's forward:
There is no past that lies beyond the reach of steampunk’s capacity to create alternative histories that reveal tomorrow’s possibilities, shaped by the rogue maker within us all.”
Steampunk... the word conjures up fine gentlemen and cultured ladies, captains of the air,
rascally rogues and streetwise waifs, adorned in Victorian or Western garb, outfitted with all manner of Jules Vernesque contraptions. Gears abound, steam hisses, technology
that may be part paranormal, part science-fiction, lies embedded in brass and leather right alongside pistols, swords and walking sticks.
For the general public, discovering steampunk may feel like a fresh concept, but the truth of the matter is that steampunk has long since arrived. What began as a movement in speculative literary fiction has now established itself as a broad, persistent, artistic subculture, regularly feeding and inspiring worldwide creative participation. For decades now, its mechanical, neo- Victorian, sometimes post-apocalyptic aesthetic has heavily influenced major motion pictures such as Sherlock Holmes, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Hellboy, and has seen a generation of gamers grow up on retro-futuristic classics like the Final Fantasy and Bioshock series.
Steampunk has its own legions of followers and participants ranging from the curious to the joyously committed makers and movers of the movement for whom grand adventure and artistic freedom is to be found in reimagining things that others have discarded – gadgets, technologies, ideas. If you’ve ever attended a steampunk event you’ll have found individuals of every type and from every walk of life you might imagine – all greeting each other in crinolines and goggles of their own design, toting their own hand-crafted ray guns and clockwork contraptions.These steampunks are deeply engaged in their own personal expression of a living narrative and delighted by the pure inventiveness swirling around them. It’s Cosplay meets Maker Faire, yet so much more.
Perhaps it’s this flurry of creativity and imagination that has caused designers like Prada to jump on the steampunk bandwagon, and catapult its aesthetic into the stratosphere of high fashion, and, by extension, the global mass market. For some, there is concern that IBM’s 2014 announcement that steampunk would be the world’s Next Big Trend may have sounded the brassy death knell for a beloved subculture, taking its ticking heart and cheapening it through mass market usage with little meaning or commitment to its underlying ethos.
As with any artistic movement born on the fringes, authenticity is critical. However, steampunk’s strength and armour lies in the siren song it sings to the maker within us all.
That call is the promise of the power of continually shifting artistic remix and, by definition, its soul belongs to each individual artist, not to a school or organization. It borders on being an ideology, not a format or defined rule-set. Steampunk is far more resilient and indestructible as a result. For those of us who have found that promise to be true, steampunk is not about an aesthetic subculture that needs protecting from posers, hipsters, bad movies and memes. It’s about the next possibility: ideas and outcomes that our creativity brings to life, often leap- frogging on the shoulders of work others are contributing to the movement, as well as up- cycling what mass culture contributes, rather than being diluted by its participation.
Steampunk’s graphic art is an excellent example of this constant evolution that is baked into the DNA of the movement, demonstrating the genre’s expanding scope through innumerable, newly imagined worlds.This is graphic art which more often than not has a visual and conceptual mechanicity. Infused into steampunk’s nature is an industrial quality brought to life by industrious minds. Its affinity for the Victorian era is not accidental. The late 1800s was a time when men’s minds thrilled with the notion that the unknown was knowable, and theories modelled on emerging industrial knowledge imagined the universe, large and small, to have a clockwork nature. Today, we have smooth boxes that don’t reveal their workings and in a sense, steampunk contains a rebellion against hidden function and agendas. In a digital age, it delights in exposing the mechanisms that run our world, or the world that may have been, based on our imaginings of a different future for our past.
With so many living edges to the art and ideas that are called ‘steampunk’, there’s often robust and passionate debate within the community over what is steampunk and what isn’t. Is ‘real’ steampunk strictly neo-Victorian, and all other notions of alternate histories faded copies? Or is steampunk an artistic recombinant superpower, free to be evolved and redefined on an individual basis? Across all the various formats, and categories of expression, it is within the world of fantasy art that steampunk’s expansion is perhaps the most nuanced and self-aware. Originally, the ‘punk’ in steampunk was meant to identify a group of writers or ‘punks’ who were generally creating the steam-era speculative fiction that became the energy and ideas that drove the movement. Now, the term ‘punk’ has evolved to become an alternative technology modifier, applied to ages or genres of art and fiction, limited only by the imagination of the artist. Dieselpunk, saddlepunk, vampunk, cinopunk – on and on. Some of these explorations have brief moments of interest and then fade into the background of the bubbling explorations of the broader steampunk movement. Others, dieselpunk for example, stabilize and come to represent a growing and distinct variation on the original movement’s core.
It is steampunk, though, that continues to undergo constant expansion and metamorphosis, like a visual meme being altered and co-opted over and over through the connected sociosphere. What began as a movement in speculative fiction has enthusiastically grown and expanded into virtually every major form of creative expression, with constantly changing sub-genres appearing almost monthly. The artists in Steampunk Graphics reveal the sheer wealth of aesthetics that the visual arts aspects of the movement today encompass, yet all, somehow, remain viscerally connected to steampunk’s core.
Kevin Mowrer, Providence, Rhode Island.