Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Book Review: Altered Visions by Vincent Chong

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"Vincent Chong burst onto the horror and fantasy scene several years ago with a sequence of incredible artworks. Since then he has gone on to provide cover artwork for authors such as Stephen King, and has worked with publishers all around the world, as well as providing illustration for record covers and websites. Now some of his incredible artwork is collected in Altered Visions."


In his brief and down-to-earth introduction, noted horror author Simon Clark - whose latest novella, Humpty's Bones, is adorned with an atmospheric collage of red brick and bloody bones originating from the pen of the subject of this gorgeous art-book - admits that he is not "fluent in the language of artistic techniques," deferring to his "emotional response as a human being to Vincent Chong's work." In this review, I mean to do the same. Whilst I can tell a pretty picture from a child's idle scribblings, The Speculative Scotsman is no high-falutin' art critic, and so I'll spare you from a woefully uninformed appraisal of what lies between the pages of Altered Visions - save to say that assuredly, you will not soon forget it.

It is difficult to reconcile how new Chong is to the proverbial game with the sophistication of his body of work. Having emerged from the murky depths of Manchester a mere six years ago, he has in that short time come to be near synonymous with some of the most memorable art in the medium: his efforts have graced the covers and interiors of exclusive limited editions of fiction by a veritable who's-who of genre authors, including the likes of Stephen King, John Scalzi, Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Joe Hill. Today, his work is not only highly sought-after, but surer than even to imprint itself upon your psyche, stealing, as Simon Clark testifies, "into your midnight dreams" and informing your impression of those stories to which a Chong cover is the only certain imagery.

Going from Altered Visions, Chong, it seems, is a man of few words. On his cover for the Subterranean Press edition of Richard K. Morgan's The Steel Remains, he remarks: "I wanted this image to be very simple and striking and for the figure to look imposing and have a statuesque quality about it." This on a piece that is perhaps the least remarkable of all the artwork brought together for this 48-page, A5 format hardcover collection - an iteration of that fantasy figure with a sword archetype made distinct only by a texture that puts me in mind of handmade paper.

When the occasion calls for it, however - and that piece aside, it does more often than not - Chong goes into greater detail on the inspiration behind his art, even detailing the practical aspects of the composition of a few covers. His talk of building plasticine Obin figures and lighting them for a piece published in John Scalzi's The Last Colony makes for a fascinating insight into Chong's process; as does the artist's admission of the inspiration frequent Neil Gaiman collaborator and Cages creator Dave McKean has been to him. Indeed, there are clear allusions to McKean's body of work throughout Altered Visions, most presciently in a revelatory interior for Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy, but Chong does not seem to imitate or ape the masters who inspire him, rather stitching from of the fabric of their art something wholly unique.

Altered Visions is a modest but gorgeous collection of the work of one of the most promising new artists to have arrived on the scene in recent memory. The work of Vincent Chong brought together herein functions both as an object of stark and often darkly fantastic beauty and as a high watermark for the artists of a fledgling tomorrow to measure themselves against.


Altered Visions
by Vincent Chong
April 2010, Telos Publishing

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from Telos Publishing

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