by Luis Ortiz
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Most books which provide a retrospective on an artist’s career are heavily illustrated and relatively short on text. This is not a problem with Luis Ortiz’s Emshwiller: InfinityX2, which is a look at the art and life of science fiction artist and avant garde filmmaker Ed Emshwiller. Ortiz spares no words in tracking Emshwiller’s life and work. To add to the mix, he also follows the life and career of Emshwiller’s wife, Carol, not just from their meeting, but from her own birth. Nevertheless, InfinityX2 is about Ed Emshwiller more than about Carol Emshwiller.
Too often attention is paid to the authors and artists are left as vague figures behind the work. Ortiz rectifies this, although the vast majority of the biography focuses on Emshwiller’s work. When Emshwiller shifted his focus from painting to film-making, however, Ortiz loses some of his comfort and it almost appears that Emshwiller went from being a amateur to a sought-after amateur without any real connections being made.
Ortiz is not interested in airing the Emshwiller’s dirty laundry, which is refreshing. The couple is shown as supportive within the confines of the time in which they lived. When Carol began her writing career, Ed was able to feel happy for her, although there is the feeling that he viewed it as of lesser importance than her role as homemaker. At other times, Ortiz hints at marital strife, but that is all that is included in the book, hints, for if there were problems in their domestic life, it was not, and is not, a matter of concern to the general public of the fans of either Emshwiller’s work.
One of the problems with InfinityX2 is in layout. Every page has illustrations, sometimes in color, more frequently in black and white. However, invariably when the text specifically refers to a piece of art that is also included in the book, the art is located several pages away, requiring the reader to flip throughout the book. Since the art seems to be laid out in a random manner, neither thematically or chronologically, the reader is left wondering why appropriate paintings couldn’t have been placed with the properly accompanying text.
The introduction and the captions were written by Alex Eisenstein, a Chicago area fan who has an enormous collection of Emshwiller’s artwork (as well as other art). Eisenstein’s captioning is often as insightful as Ortiz’s text, detailing the background of various paintings, although all too often it seems that the captions are merely the title and place of original publication for a specific piece of art.The art is reproduced clearly, with bright colors when appropriate, and clean lines. As with the text, the only place the art reproduction falls short is when looking at Emshwiller’s film work, although film is a kinetic art and can’t be reproduced properly on a page. Furthermore, it may be the nature of Emshwiller’s cinematic work that makes it appear dark in its reproduction. Ortiz notes that much of Emshwiller’s film was shown initially at science fiction conventions, and it would be interesting to see a resurgence of these films in that venue.
The problems with InfinityX2 are minor and the book provides an excellent introduction and insight into the artist's life and artistic style. The copious reproductions allow readers who are only tangentially aware of his specific pieces of art to have a full understanding and appreciation for his art, whether sketches, paintings, or cinematic. This book offers a great deal more than most artist retrospectives by putting Emshwiller's work into an historical and personal context.
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