Deviantart Showcase November 2016: ‘Exploring’

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In the bright and often garish and trivial world of Mass Effect fanart, Shalizeh’s beautiful painting both stands out … and sticks around, long after others are forgotten.  Here is no climactic moment, no, nor moment of passion or triumph.  It is a quiet moment.  The type of moment which could be easily forgotten in an hour’s time by some, but treasured forever by others.  It’s very quietness is part of its beauty.  Amidst the great deeds and high passions of the futuristic epic, the beauty and glory of the story world itself is sometimes overlooked – not by the story, to be sure, but by those who experience it.  But artwork like this pierces deeper into it, draws us further into that glory, than the story initially did itself, not only for it’s own beauty, but that it reminds us (or at any rate, reminds me) to do the same myself.  Paintings like this Explore the wonders of the story itself, just as the characters within it explore world.

And simply as a portrayal of the theme ‘exploration’ it is magnificent.  It is very wisely that Shalizeh has laced the bright world in mist, now revealing, now concealing in brightness the unknown world before them, now dropping it away into the shadow entirely.  Yet far from being a meaningless haze, the bright glimpses are sharp and clear behind their veils.  The closer one looks, the more real the distant hillsides seem to be.  A harsh world, true.  Not a world of men.  The living creatures hide behind their life-saving masks, not exposing their faces to the hostile wind which drifts the sand across their boots.  And yet a bright and glorious world all the same.  They do not stand huddled together, nor facing onward with dogged displeasure.  Wrex stares out across the valley.  Tali meanders almost dreamily towards the rising sun (for rising it looks as though it must be).  We cannot see what Shepard is looking at, but she gazes forward with her head held high, looking out on the vistas beyond out view.  It is not a world of men, but it doesn’t have to be.  Most of the universe is not.  For how many millennia have the sands drifted across that slope and never once been touched by a living foot till now?  How many times has that sun risen, and never once been seen by living eyes?

As one looks out into the valley and across the rugged foothills beyond, tracing their ridges and gullies up to the peaks and the bright sky beyond (and indeed, one could do this for a while) one notices numerous small imperfections almost, across the land and sky.  Is that a twin planet?  Or a moon?  Or is it much nearer, between us and the sky?  I don’t know whether it was intended or not – but when I gaze at the picture long enough I seem to be looking through a mask, as though I too were standing there on that alien hillside with them.  And I wonder whose eyes I looking through.

Though I don’t know whether this was meant or not, I find it a most pleasing way to look into the picture.  The only difficulty is that one then feels one should be able to turn one’s head.  And of course, one can’t.

In the blaze of the light one scarcely sees them at first, but above are the stars from which they came, still visible though the thin atmosphere in the low morning light.  Even in the brightness of the sunlight the vast cold heights of space seem very near.  And so they are.  In a short time, these explorers will be gone again, back into space.  And this distant valley will be as it was before.

In all, this is one of the richest and subtlest Mass Effect works it has been my pleasure to see.  Thank-you, Shalizeh, for sharing it with us.

Fan-art Criticism by Charlotte Ann Kent
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Deviantart Showcase, October 2016: ‘Break Through’

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Was this taken on Earth?
Well, of course it was.  What could say Earth more clearly than such a picture? But it hardly seems to be the mundane earth we trod through so carelessly every day.  Glorfindel should ride round that corner.  Who knows what might be found dancing amongst those trees.  Here is such laughing splendor of gold and green.  Here is such a profusion of life and glory of light and and rich suggestion of earthy depth below.  Some other world – not in the sense people often use that term, not a lesser, littler, wispier world, but a greater deeper, richer world.  It is one of the greatest things art can do to remind us that our ‘mundane earth’ is in fact that rich and glorious world. (And perhaps to wake our minds to a world deeper yet … but that’s beyond the scope of this piece.)  ‘Break Through’, by Nelleke – for me at any rate – does this beautifully.
There are a great many ‘forest’ photographs on Deviantart, many of which are marvelous.  But I do not know that any have quite such rich resplendence of life or such light – at once glorious and subtle – as Nelleke’s photographs do.  When looking through her gallery, one scarcely knows where to turn, for not just the beautiful – but the exquisite lies on every hand.

The primary note that her gallery leaves me with is the lush verdancy of summer woods, half-hidden clearings and sheltered lanes. But there is in truth great variety in her work, even – in contrast to ‘Break Through’ – some which capture chillingly wide-windswept bleakness, with its own kind of stark beauty.

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    ‘Scottish Reflections’ chief feature seems to me to be the great expanse of open air.  The trees and the scarf of fog are far away.  It sits almost strangely in the gallery, far less inviting than the woodlands which surround it.  Yet it is stunning.  One seems to draw a deep breath of cool air when one looks into it; it seems so present.  It seems like one could skim across that lake, towards those valleys, the distance seems so real.

She also has some amazing ‘conceptual’ works often containing little more than a hand in light.  Yet somehow, they too burst with the fantastical.  (She doesn’t sell prints on deviantart, but she does sell some on a separate website🙂

    When all is said and done, I believe her main note is also the best; perhaps simply because no cityscape, no bleak moor can compete in beauty or richness with the woodland. Though more of us now live in cities than woods, the woods are in some ways more our place than the environments we have made ourselves.  ‘Break Through’ may not be Nelleke’s best work, but I believe it is one of the best works on Deviantart.  I want to run down that road, and I want to linger amongst the ferns in that shaft of golden light.
(This showcase is also featured on The Art Spot.)
Art Criticism by Charlotte Ann Kent

Deviantart Showcase – September 2016: ‘In the End…’

Planetaryjunction’s gorgeous render is not only one of the best ‘after the war’ pieces out there, it is – in my opinion – among the very loveliest works of Mass Effect fanart ever to be released on the internet.  The sweet subtlety of the light; its dusky shadows half concealing the ferns and their hands in the grass, the warm, soft, contented glow which suffuses and over-arches the whole image.  The simple, perfect composition of the two lovers amongst the leaves.  The beautiful treatment of the two characters themselves – there is none of the unwieldiness which so often plague such pieces; they look not only natural, but truly like themselves.  I see the quiet poise of Liara, and the relaxed self-possession of Shepard.

I think it a great pity that this is one of but two Mass Effect images that Planetaryjuction placed on deviantart.  The other ‘Wish me Luck’ is also a Shepard and Liara picture – a farewell on Ilium.

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This – though in my opinion far the inferior of the two – would in itself have placed Planetaryjuction in the very highest level of unofficial Mass Effect artists.  I’m sorry that these were the only we saw from him.  But!  I’m all for quality over quantity, and that certainly is the case here.

‘Wish me luck’ is taken from the middle of the Saga, with all the worst yet to come.  It seems to me that the uncertainty and the looming darkness are well conveyed in the cold color of the light and the distant, dark, separate nature of the surrounding structures.  The couple is pressed tight together, cut off from the hard, unfriendly world around them.

How different are the warm tones and the friendly closeness between the people and the world in ‘In the End…’.  Here the couple is not only relaxed in, but also a part of, the world around them.  Their fingers twine in the grass and the gentle leaves brush them.  The light does not come coldly from a distance, but surrounds and bathes both them and the friendly, embracing world.

It is titled, ‘In the End…’, and subtitled ‘My End’.  And that is exactly what it is.  Not only does the whole thing breathe of the content, the unafraid, the renewed life after the dark, the sweet maturity of the story that blossomed between these two … belonging on at the end.  But this is a particular end.  The end that belongs to one Shepard, an end that not all would choose – that not all could reach even if they did choose.

It seems to be a common fear that since the ‘end’ of the game cut off so soon – the story too was ended thus.  The artist himself seems to fear this, and from the manner in which he presented this one almost gathers he put it forward in quiet defiance of the inexcusable ending of such a story.  And he was quite right to do so.  To view that tale as simply over at the end is unthinkable. And yet …. even within the context of the game, the story does not truly ‘end’.  The game ends true – but it ends with a beginning.  And though we are not shown much of what it is that has begun, it may very well have been this.  It is no contradiction of the story, but rather a forging forward into it.  Since ‘Mass Effect’ did not tell us the specifics of the new it showed beginning, who but each of us individually may say what happened next … in our end.

And few endings could be more beautiful than this.
Fan-art criticism by Charlotte Ann Kent