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V I N C E N T    D I    F A T E :
The Art of the Future

(excerpted from Locus Magazine, February 1998)
Vincent Di Fate
    Photo by Beth Gwinn

Vincent Di Fate has been a popular and well-regarded artist in the fields of SF, astronomical art, and aerospace illustration for three decades. His work appears in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum and the New Britain Museum of American Art. He has won the Hugo and Frank R. Paul Awards, among others. He published an early book on illustration, Di Fate's Catalog of Science Fiction Hardware (1980), and was the Artist Guest of Honor at the 1992 World Science Fiction Convention. His current book is Infinite Worlds: The Fantastic Visions of Science Fiction Art, a history of the field.

''There's no question that science fiction has really been absorbed into the American mainstream in ways that those of us who love the genre, and have known it before many of these things became realities, are aware of, but so many people have absolutely no conception these things existed there. But they know the iconography. They know what a robot is, and a spaceship, all these things. In the last couple of years, there have been small pockets of activity where some of the icons of science fiction have been coming to the surface in 'fine art' exhibits.''

''The problem with doing any kind of book about a whole field is that it becomes a massive effort. With Infinite Worlds, you're talking about a 320-page book with about 360,000 words of text and 800 pictures, and obviously it's not going to have every artist who ever worked in the genre represented. So I had to set some sort of parameters so I could at least do some kind of a respectable job. Since I have been working as a science fiction illustrator, and since I have a passion for illustration within the genre, I decided that rather than dealing with allied fields that use fantastic art, I would limit myself strictly to commercial illustration.''

''The idea of fine-tuning this book is to keep open the possibility of doing sequels. We are, in fact, planning to do a book on supernatural horror, and a book on fantasy. Fantasy is a huge field, enormously involved. It extends to children's books, to the fantasy magazines that have come and gone over the decades. It would be an enormous undertaking, which is why I'm not rushing into it right away. But I felt that it was important to narrow the parameters of each book. Otherwise, it becomes too all-encompassing.''

''I really see four prime movers that are responsible for the evolution of the genre, and those people are, in chronological order: J. Allen St. John, Frank R. Paul, Chesley Bonestell, and Richard Powers.''

''The illustrators who influenced me were illustrators who were influenced by what was going on in mainstream illustration in the pulp magazines. Since most contemporary science fiction illustrators probably don't read but do watch television, that's where their background is. I'm kind of a hybrid, because a lot of early science fiction films influenced me. My first real science fiction experience was going to see Rocketship X-M. I was four, and it impacted on me unforgettably. But I quickly learned that the literature was vastly more entertaining.''

''A while ago, I was asked, 'Has the imagery of science fiction films influenced science fiction art?' It's really the other way around! Filmmakers have just liberally helped themselves to the abundance of images that are out there. Motion pictures are proving themselves to be a derivative medium. That used to be the defense for television every time television exploited motion pictures and got sued, their answer was, 'Well, television is a derivative medium.' What's happening is, the generation of filmmakers who are now out there in Hollywood are making films that are based on things they've seen before. For one thing, it's a closed shop. Rather than going to the artists in the genre and commissioning them to go into the film industry to create a vision for them, they would rather use their own people, go to the bookstores, shuck the covers off of books, pin them up on their bulletin boards, take bits and pieces, and extrapolate something else. And by regurgitating that stuff, they're simply recycling things that have existed before.

''There are a few exceptions there's Giger (Alien), there's Syd Mead (Bladerunner, etc). But those are the only two. I can't tell you the number of movies I've sat through where I've seen my imagery flash on the screen without so much as a thank-you. This is the nature of the film industry. If you look at Infinite Worlds, you see an abundance of images that were appropriated by Star Wars and other films. There's a wonderful Earle Bergey painting similar to a scene in Men in Black, where the woman is cradling in her arms the dead alien from the crashed spaceship in the background. The alien happens to look like the alien that Will Smith is bringing into the world in a taxicab. I see films as really a dead end.''

''Science fiction illustration is still in the paperbacks. The physicality of the book is never going to be extinct. In the Renaissance and before, people had to go to a painting in order to see it, go to a cathedral or to the castle of some wealthy landowner. The printed page changed that, and the printed page became the gallery for the world, and people were introduced to magnificent artwork on the pages of books and magazines. But now, with plummeting book sales, it's becoming abundantly clear that people are always going to want their own books but not the mass consumer. What's happening is, the images of the world are being absorbed into cyberspace: the computer screen, and whatever supplants that.''

''In the very near future, definitely in the next five years, illustrators are going to have to become conversant with manipulating images on the computer. So anyone in art school today should be knocking himself out to learn how to use a computer. It's more than just a tool. It's not like the airbrush. Artists who are used to the old methodology of applying paint with a brush dismiss computers on the absurd assumption that it's just another tool. It's not just another tool. It can take an incompetent draughtsman and suddenly make him a Rembrandt. It's the compositional elements, the more esoteric elements of picture making that are lacking in a lot of computer art, that need to be fortified. So the concentration in art schools should move more toward the idea of grounding students in narrative picture making and learning the function of structural picture making so these ideas immediately communicate their messages.''

© 1998 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.