Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Jurrassic Landscapes

Znedek Burian's Jurrasic landscape: When I first saw this picture I could hear the wind in those trees and the cracking of falling dried wood. What did it mean? 

I have in my possession a book called "Prehistoric Reptiles and Birds" which I received as a school prize at the age of 11. It was written by paleontologist Josef Augusta and illustrated by Zdenek Burian. The text was perhaps a little dry for an 11 year old, but the illustrations by Burian fired my imagination. Burian is justifiably well known for his pictures depicting prehistoric animals. To my eye Burian's pictures are wonderfully impressionistic; although not meticulously detailed they convey a sense of life, animation, realism and above all prehistoric atmosphere. Somehow Burian's pictures take me back in time. One might expect that a boy of 11 was inspired by the pictures of prehistoric birds - and I was - but surprisingly it was Burian's Jurassic landscapes that had an even greater effect on me.
Burian: landscapes with a sense of depth

These landscape pictures made me feel as though I was actually looking through a window in  time at the actual thing.  The light, the atmosphere, the mood and the sense of a wilderness absent of the management of man became very real when I looked at Burian's pictures. Those landscapes receded into a misty background blur that I knew spoke of huge wild unmanaged spaces beyond. Those spaces were inhabited by monstrous roaming beasts uncontrolled by human interference and organisation. This was a very alien world that left me with nagging questions that I never shook off: What did it all mean? Why were there huge tracts of time absent of human presence? 

Ironically this was a spiritual experience: Unlike some for whom the questions of meaning eventually abate to be replaced by nihilistic resignation, for me the quest for meaning would incessantly nag. It was as if I was being shown a landscape and a still small voice whispered: "Look at this; what do you think it means?". In an effort to get closer to that question, if not to answer it, seven years later I attempted my own pencil depiction of a Jurassic landscape (See below). Not of Burian standard, of course, but it got the need to express something off my chest. In fact today I'm reminded of those scenes in Close Encounters of alien contactees who obsessively groped for meaning in the enigmatic picture of Devil's mountain that had been impressed on their minds.

And the obsession continues: If I ever come across a landscape that reminds me of Burian's pictures I photograph it. In fact here is an example I snapped in the early spring of this year: 

A modern Jurassic looking landscape.

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