September 28, 2021
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Galactic Alarm by Chris Foss
If you like, study or practice art in any shape or form, then undoubtedly there will be a piece of art that you will keep coming back to. It could be the technique, composition, subject or colour palette. Regardless, the work has a gravity and you keep being drawn to it over the years, regardless of its age.
I’ve been flipping through my book collection of late, more to clear the mind than for divine inspiration or reference. As always, almost by default if I have to be honest, Chris Foss’ books get pulled out; as I read somewhere, can you ever have too much Foss? Probably not would be my answer, at least not if you’re into science fiction illustration. If you’re familiar with his work, then you’ll know that apart from being the master of science fiction on a grand scale, he was also prolific; there are images I am still finding that I have not seen before, and I’ve seen a lot. But it was not until my recent bout of page flipping that I realised that there was one image, more than any other, that is my Foss gravity well…
I first came across Galactic Alarm as a kid, some crazy German friends of my parents were trying to build a ‘mad as a hatter’ amusement ride and had Foss’ ‘21st Century Foss’ book as inspiration. They kindly loaned me the book and I poured over it’s pages for as long as I had it. One image though stood out. It’s hard to say why but in amongst a book full of amazing imagery, this one just had a magnetic quality, and I’ve kept coming back to it ever since.
‘Galactic Alarm’ was that image and whenever I go through my Foss books, it’s one of the few that I dwell on for just that little bit longer (the other is the much later ‘The Trouble Twister’). Used as the cover of ‘Perry Rhodan 3: Galactic Alarm by Kurt Mahr and W. W. Shols’, dated 1974, it’s one of Foss’ earlier pieces, and like many of that period, has that slightly raw quality, that slowly left his work, as Foss’ use of airbrush increased and his hardware took on a more polished look. I don’t like saying ‘I like your old work better than your new work’, and certainly not when it comes to Foss’, but there is a certain something in his earlier work…
‘The Trouble Twister’ Poul Angerson, 1983.
Without wanting to take a deep dive into the image and sound like some sort of art toss pot, I still find everything about the image intriguing. The near empty canvas, the colours and the way the uniquely Foss vehicle is struggling with the… sand? The small feint hint of the space craft in the sky above, combined with the composition, gives the image an easy sense of scale that so much became a trademark of Foss’s work. The vehicle itself, the focal point, asks a lot of questions – it’s balloon wheels, the egg shape and, after you notice the small ship above it, its size. What is it, why is it there and where is it going? The image is without context, and it’s that lack of context that makes it so interesting.
Watching Foss work and reading interviews where he talks about his work, he likes to say that his images just happen, and what he does, he does because it seems interesting. But where a successful artists’ skill is the accumulation of observation, study and probably, most importantly, the innate ability to see or visualise scenarios, Galactic Alarm expresses Foss’ skill in spades. It’s more than a nice science fiction illustration, it’s a scenario that has the viewer asking questions about what’s going on.
And to me, that’s what makes it such a great piece of work, one that keeps me returning to it, to loose myself in its questions.