THE CHESLEY AWARDS
Edited by John Grant
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In 1985, ASFA, the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists created an annual award, originally named the ASFA Awards, but named for artist Chesley Bonestell following his death the following year. With nearly twenty years worth of awards given, ASFA has elected to produce a retrospective of the awards, not only listing the winners, but also reproducing the winners and a selection of work from each year's grandmaster.
As with many of the awards given by different aspects of science fiction, the categories honored by the Chesleys have changed over the years, from the nine awards given in 1985 to the twelve presented in 2002. Nevertheless, there is an amazing consistency in the awards, and all of the awards given in the first year were also given in the most recent year, along with three additional awards. This makes it even easier for the reader to see the progression of science fiction art since categories can be compared over the years.
The book closes with biographical sketches of all the artists whose work is represented in the book and a very complete (although not entirely complete) listing of all the nominated works over the years. What the book is missing is a simple listing of the actual winners. Rather than provide that in an easy to reference table, the reader must browse through the book and make note of which pieces are represented. It would have been nice if the winners had been highlighted in the listing of the nominations.
One of the books strengths is that several of the pieces of art reproduced throughout its pages are accompanied by comments by the artists. These can range from the reasonably terse "Done just for fun and because my wife loves mermaids." as David A. Cherry describes "Tag, You're It" on page 77 to the multi-paragraph comments of Lisa Snellings for "Short Trip to October" (p.135). These comments, interspersed throughout the book, provide an interesting back story for the art and also insight into the artists' own minds in a way that the art alone cannot.
Because of the period of time the Chesleys cover, and the wide variety of artists who have won the award, even the most cursory glance through the book shows the broad range of styles which are used by speculative artists. On pages 104-105, the reader is treated to a color work by Stephen Hickman, a pencil drawing by Todd Lockwood, and a wooden sculpture by Barclay Shaw, all of which are very different in their tone and effect, and all of which can be seen as representing speculative art.
The color reproduction is vivid throughout the book and details show up well. The pictures are not always as large as one might hope, but their layout on the page is easy on the eye and allows the reader to compare the works, especially when examining the multiple pieces of art by the winners of the Artistic Achievement Award.
Just as the various volumes of the Spectrum series showcase some of the finest art in the SF world, so, too, does The Chesley Awards provide the reader with a chance to see much of the best of what SF artists have to offer, unhindered by the text which so frequently obscures portions of the artwork. The addition of artists' comments, as well as the standard title, material, size and publication information, makes these pieces, and the artists who created them, come to life.
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