“Barry Moser’s illustrations are exquisite beyond the telling. He soars at an altitude where only such wondrous birds of passage as Lynd Ward and Rockwell Kent have tasted the wind. The passion, craft and imagination of Moser’s work have an impact that leaves the viewer speechless.” Harlan Ellison, the brilliant, maverick writer of the fantastic, on one of my favourite arists, Barry Moser.
For me his engravings follow a powerful, meandering historical line that takes in Gustave Doré, Fuseli, William Blake, William Morris and, yes, Virgil Finlay, P. Craig Russell, Barrie Windsor Smith and Bernie Wrightson. In terms of sensibility, I’d also include the ink and pencil drawings of Roy J Krenkel, Jeffrey Catherine Jones and the exquisite art of Michael Wm Kaluta. Moser’s particular skill is wood engraving but to the observer it’s the impact of those fierce lines and blocks of black ink that occupy the mind, however they were created.
I have a number of his works, the monumental King James Bible, a fabulous box set of Alice’s Adventures’ in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, also Moby Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Frankenstein and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. For me the Alice books in particular add a peculiar darkness that teases out the hidden desires and sub-consicous rantings of a male dominated Victorian society but all of Moser’s work exhibits a singular vision that engages and challenges. His art connects with the shadows in the corners of our lives, strikes at the the uncertainties and offers us a deeper insight. I’m not a religious person, but a life-long passion for mythology, ancient civilisations and storytelling has taught me that there’s so much still to learn. Moser dandles this in front of us and forces us to explore the inner narratives of humanity.
Moser is one of a number of contemporary artists whose work exists in a pure space. Whatever the other personal choices made, these artists are driven to create a body of work that exists beyond the immediacy of their lives as a superior achievement, an artistic legacy that is truly admirable because of the combination of skill and dedication. Some of these artists have earned their livings through commercial illustration, others by raising money through patrons, others by selling their own work, often a mix of all three. It is impossible for a true artist to guarantee to live in a time that truly appreciate their work, for every Picasso (that wiley old goat), there are many Van Goghs whose visions overwhelm the pragmatic choices of daily life. An artist is an artist, good or bad: driven, inarticulate, cantankerous, impervious and for those who are truly gifted the rewards are erratic, and directed mainly at the hereafter.
Barry Moser’s Pennyroyal Press has created a magnificent series of publications that highlight his work, but it is a struggle. Recently I discovered some engravings made for a book of Cowboy stories. As ever the mood is focused hard on the upper half of the bodies, often the face, with very little landscape. The observer has to reach hard into the black spaces, and the distinct absences of darkness, to find the meaning, the shadows, and spirit of an enigmatic sensibility.
Moser’s own website highlights his achievements and showcases many of his great works of art, illustration, design and typography.
Here’s a selection of images, from The Wizard of Oz, Moby Dick, Frankenstein, the King James Holy Bible, Through the Looking Glass (above) and Sony Brewer’s dark mystery, The Widow and the Tree.