Book Review: The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi
Dinosaurs, Sabre-tooths and Beyond
by Julius Csotonyi and Steve White
Titan Books, 2014
New from Titan Books is a glorious hardcover collection of the “paleo art” of celebrated artist and muralist Julius Csotonyi. The book has Foreward by David Evans, Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum and a short introductory note by famous dinosaur hunter (and author of The Dinosaur Heresies) Robert Bakker, who writes that “We museum folks, fossil-hunters and artists alike, are on the front line of the battle to defend science … Art and paleontology combine to teach kids and adults how to use their scientific imagination to solve mysteries of evolution.”
As Bakker points out, there’s a great deal of scientific imagination informing Csotonyi’s artwork; his pictures tend to capture moments of action and tableaux poised with tension, dozens of little details read backwards from the fossil record. In the book’s generous interviews with Csotonyi, he makes it clear that he’s entirely aware of the objections that fossil record raises in some quarters:
To me, it naturally follows that my paleontological artwork would reflect evolution, which is the only scientifically supported model of the history of life on Earth. Artwork is a great way to celebrate the wonder of scientific discovery and to disseminate it to a wider audience, and this is the main driving force behind most of my work.
Wonder is certainly the main defining characteristic of these bright, lively pieces of artwork; readers get page after page of vivid action-scenes and poignant moments ranging through many ages in the history of life on Earth, from the heyday of the dinosaurs to the much later era of exotic extinct mammals (and, peeking out from the corners of all these paintings, kinds of animals that succeeded in not going extinct, from sharks to turtles to furtive early mammals). The book’s producers for some mysterious reason opted for a font-size in the captions of the pictures that’s too small to be read with the unaided eye, so readers not coming to the book armed with a magnifier of some kind will miss out on a great deal of the explanatory text provided by Csotonyi and his co-writer Steve White.
I myself didn’t hunt down a magnifying glass, so I was left to my own devices when confronting the pictures, and it’s amazing and rather joyous how little ancillary explanation is actually needed. When he shows us the rather improbable scene of a gigantic megalodon about to eat a dog-paddling platybelodon, for instance, we can revel in the drama of the moment without planting our face against the page and squinting to read the explanation. Likewise a beautiful image of a towering brachiosaurus caught in a quiet moment of slanting light: there’s a block of micro-type below it, but the picture itself says all it needs to say.
It ends up being a fun, vibrant volume, something no dinosaur aficionado should be without – whether or not they have Kryptonian vision.