Art Evolution turns twenty, and in so doing fades from this prestigious stage provided by Black Gate, but as the name contends, art is ever changing, and so I will never say never where the process and these articles are concerned. Still, if you’ve missed any of these wonderful works, the journey’s beginning can be found here.
After the addition of last week’s ‘Demented Lyssa’, I’ll take a step back to the place where the true power of this article first struck me.
In late 2009 I’d just signed Larry Elmore and Wayne Reynolds, my spirits flying high as I spent my nights searching the web for artwork that might also apply to art evolution. It was during this process that a distinct sorrow assailed me in regards to the passing of Keith Parkinson.
To me, Keith represented my youth, so many of his images galvanized in my mind along the way it was difficult to think of this article without him. For the first time I regarded this journey as a thing not involving me, but instead the artists, and the lives they’d touched along the way.
Having heard so much about Keith from his fellows, I couldn’t help but feel that it would be selfish not to include him in the article because he couldn’t do a rendition of Lyssa. Lyssa was secondary to the art, after all, and the mission statement I now followed pushed for a thing greater than my ego.
Steeled with this epiphany, I went to a website dedicated to Keith and found a place where you could send an email. I had no idea where the email went, but I placed a note anyway saying that I was doing an article on RPG art and that I’d like to be able to say a few words concerning Keith because of his impact on his friends, peers, and the industry who loved him.
A few days later I got a message from Donna Parkinson, Keith’s widow, who stated that she’d spoken to Larry Elmore about this article and that she believed Keith would be very proud to be considered with the company I’d collected. She also asked what was required for inclusion.
At this point I was kind of overcome, and I’m sure my response was a bit jumbled as I ended up sending her the very same basic tenants I gave all the other artists: young female wizardress, black hair, who always wears white trimmed in gold.
Months passed and as 2010 came my thoughts moved forward as more evolution artists came into the fold, but always in the back of my mind I thought about Keith and Donna and what might become of her questions concerning participation.
In February, I got a note from Donna that she and Nick, Keith’s eldest son, had found a piece Keith had done simply for himself, something extremely rare in the world of a professional full-time artist. As there was no other reason than the artist’s desire to create for this piece’s existence, it sat waiting until my requirement came in, and as I looked at it a feeling of profound fate swept over me.
There stood Lyssa, the young female wizardress with her black hair and garbed in white trimmed in gold. Somehow, five years after he’d left the company of his fellows, he rejoined them again for a final shared project. I remember crying when I saw it, thinking of pictures and stories concerning Keith’s smile, his love of life and friends, the stories of amazingly intricate joke plots against fellow pit artists, nights drinking and throwing darts, and the strong sense of camaraderie he felt with all those he worked with. Keith had done it, he’d found a way, as though he somehow knew, so that he could ride one last time in the light with those he called friends.
I wasn’t worthy of this, but I had to carry the torch nonetheless, the cause of Art Evolution now a kind of sacred tribute to the extended family that helped create this piece. However, I’m not the one to tell anyone about Keith as a person, and to that I’ll close this piece with something Timothy Truman, a fellow TSR pit alumni, wrote to me concerning Keith, something that I think gives another testament to a great artist and man.
“Keith’s desk was right beside mine. We were the tag team from hell. We were opposites in many ways: I was a country boy, Keith was from the city. I was grungy, Parkinson was clean-cut. I was really moody and reactive, ‘Keef’ was easy-going and even-tempered. I drew from my “gut” without much planning, Keith was very methodical and precise. I was a lefty-socialist, he was a conservative. I’m not a morning person, but Keith was always bright-eyed and ready to go when he’d get to work. Despite that, we became very close– he was one of the very best friends a guy could have. We shared an almost samurai-like devotion to the illustrator’s path. AND we shared a very bizarre, whacked out sense of humor! Whenever I’d get pissed off by some shenanigans that one of the TSR honchos pulled, Keith would laugh me out of it in 10 minutes. We were the Mutt and Jeff of the crew. Our families got very close. We spent tons of time together. Yep, I really miss the guy. I still catch myself wanting to call him up and see how things are going with him.”
Lyssa, by Keith Parkinson
Click image for larger version.
Parkinson was no stranger to acrylic but he primarily worked in oil throughout his career in a style he self titled ‘realism painted with a brush’. Yes, he was an ‘Oil Master’, one of the four originals who came into the revamped 1980’s TSR pit under the cause of taking out the comic book and putting in a truism to RPGs.
He was a Dungeons & Dragons player himself, his love of the genre stemming from his deep appreciation for fantasy literature with names like Tolkien, Heinlein, and Herbert his favorites. In tribute to them, he spent his career building worlds to match the wordy passions of these literary masters.
Keith plumbs a new depth in creation, his art taking shape around weight and texture. His paintings draw your hand to reach out and touch them, his exacting adherence to detail rising from the canvas in layered beauty. His armor is heavy, his clothing rich and tactile, and his landscapes jagged, course, or sinuous in the extreme.
As Keith’s skill increased, so did his scope, and smaller pieces turned to larger works, the trademarks of his art revolving around three eye-catching subjects; magnificent gnarled trees, Hellenistic women, and vibrant dragons. Although adept in both fantasy and science fiction art, Keith is best recognized in his ability to capture worlds in unchallenged images of reality.
In his various works, Keith might not have been given the chance to define a genre as did his contemporaries, but his individual contributions stand out like shining beacons among an otherwise black and white universe. His rider on the cover of the Forgotten Realms boxed set makes threat of a horde approaching in the mists, while Star Frontiers transforms to something greater than space opera in our minds with the cover of Zebulon’s Guide to Frontier Space. I personally see the mutant wolverine-cyborg and rider on Gamma World’s 3rd edition box as a kind of transcendence, almost screaming ‘this is the future, and you’d better grab your children’. All of these hold the viewer and demand we take note of the pages beneath.
We believe in Parkinson’s creations, the sadness in the eyes of his ladies, the nobility and sly intelligence of his dragons, and the powerful roots of his forests. Keith created conviction. He mastered an artistic style above and beyond the pure fantasy of his peers. Keith may be gone, yet I believe his fans within the industry will forever remember him with pride for all he endeavored to create for them. His work transcends, it sings, and it is a lasting reminder to the unparalleled talent of the man who made it.