As most of you know by now, I love Steampunk so I was excited when the publisher gave me the opportunity to preview The Art of Steampunk: Extraordinary Devices and Ingenious Contraptions from the Leading Artists of the Steampunk Movement, by Art Donovan. I’m reviewing this non-fiction book because it was just too good and I had to share it with you.
Examples of Steampunk that you’ve undoubtedly run across in movies include The Wild, Wild West, Brazil, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to name just a few. In literature, think of authors like H.G. Wells, Jules Vern, and Mary Shelly. Who didn’t love 20,000 Leagues under the Sea or Frankenstein as books or movies?
“The ‘steam’ refers to steam power – as in the living fire-breathing machines of antique locomotion. The ‘punk’ is an important reference to an outsider attitude. In Steampunk, this attitude manifests itself in the form of the lone wolf artist, the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) craftsman, and the amateur engineer, who are not beholden to any contemporary style or ideology.” Introduction by Art Donovan, exhibition curator.
The creations featured in The Art of Steampunk come from the first ever exhibition of genuine Steampunk art, held at Oxford University’s Museum of the History of Science – a very fitting place for such an exhibition. It ran from October 2009 to February 2010 and featured renowned Steampunk artists from Japan, Canada, Belgium, Australia, Switzerland, Netherlands, United States and United Kingdom. Steampunk art, design and fashions – I would love to have seen that exhibit in person!
“A room through which the visitors exited contained original Victorian and Edwardian instruments and machines that exemplified the roots of Steampunk art… Instruments that would have been dismissed as beyond understanding were embraced for their sculptural and decorative qualities, they were enjoyed as relics of a past visual culture.” Forward by Jim Bennett, Museum director
The quote below by Art Donovan sums up a lot of what fascinates me about the Steampunk phenomenon. As I and many others have said, Steampunk isn’t a new thing – it’s just that someone finally put a label on what already existed. Donovan, like so many of us, discovered Steampunk on the Internet. He now designs Steampunk lighting fixtures, which are amazing.
“Steampunk creations may be mechanical, sculptural, or purely decorative. The designs may be practical or completely fanciful. Whatever the application, the art celebrates a time when new technology was produced, not by large corporations, but by talented and independent artisans and inventors.”
That is key, I believe, to one of the appealing things about Steampunk. It speaks to our desire to get away from mass production, from the homogenization of the world that has slowly crept over us all in the last 50+ years. We crave something unique and individual in our lives.
“In imagining a Victorian future that has not come to pass, Steampunk artists cast an oblique light on the present. But their unrealized ‘futures’ are more celebration than commentary. Steampunk revels in the ingenuity and absurdity of the mechanisms produced and the unqualified pleasure in creation.”
If you think Steampunk has nothing to do with your everyday life, think again. As Art Donovan says, “Steampunk has already influenced everything from product design to fine art and fashion.” As just one example, it’s easy to see how Amanda Scribner’s wearable art designs have influenced recent jewelry pieces I’ve seen in the Los Angeles area.
Examples of pieces I particularly loved, in addition to the ones shown, included:
1) The Weta Workshops ray gun, which looked like something straight out of Buck Rogers and the batwinged steam ornithopter. There were a wide variety of ray guns in the exhibition, all of which were wonderfully unique. There was even a Thunderbuss.
2) The brass mechanical spider gave me the creeps. If I saw that thing coming, I’d head for the hills. Montreal artist Daniel Proulx crafts mechanical bugs of all types that would fit very nicely into the Parasol Protectorate series. The reptilian eye mechanical tie tack was extremely clever.
3) Eric Freitas’ clockworks were beautiful and eerie at the same time.
4) I loved Haruo Suekichi’s rubber band gun, and his watches were really beautiful.
5) Ian Crichton, who creates models for Doctor Who, created a really beautiful ray gun and helmet but my favorites of his work were the camera, cellphone and MP3 player covers; and
6) Last but definitely not least, I crave one of Richard Nagy’s gorgeous handcrafted, working laptops and desktop computational engines.
All of the works included in this beautiful book are amazing and beautiful. The creativity just blew me away. If you love Steampunk, or just creative artwork, then I’d really recommend this just released book. It would also make a wonderful gift for someone who loves Steampunk.
Click on any link in the above right column to purchase The Art of Steampunk. I would strongly suggest purchasing this one as a hard-copy book because of the amazing photos. I know, it’s probably obvious but I don’t like to leave anything to chance.
We’d love to get your comments on Steampunk art, artifacts and fashion, including anything about this exhibit or others you might be aware of.
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