Believing in Art of the Impossible; What If Humans and Dinosaurs Lived Together and in Perfect Harmony? Artist James Gurney Tells David Whetstone about His Fantasy Land, Dinotopia

The Journal (Newcastle, England), July 30, 2009 | Go to article overview

Believing in Art of the Impossible; What If Humans and Dinosaurs Lived Together and in Perfect Harmony? Artist James Gurney Tells David Whetstone about His Fantasy Land, Dinotopia


FACTS are fascinating but sometimes they need a little embellishment - particularly if they stand in the way of a really good idea.

A lot of really good ideas in the world of fiction, whether realised on page or film, concern dinosaurs.

They are so large, so fierce, and if your hero has fought a lion or a whale, they are the next logical step.

But there's that inconvenient truth - they died out long before humans came along (and that stuff about chickens really being little dinosaurs with feathers really doesn't compensate for the fact).

What purveyors of fiction tend to do is overlook the chronology. It certainly hasn't done James Gurney any harm. He is the creator of Dinotopia, a remote island inhabited by shipwrecked humans and dinosaurs who have learned to co-exist.

There have been the books (the latest, Dinotopia: Journey To Chandara, came out in 2007) which have appeared in some 18 languages.

These have spawned films, a TV series and a video game - and 55 Dinotopia paintings are on display at the Life Science Centre in Newcastle.

James Gurney was born in 1958 in California, the youngest of five children. He is an affable fellow who seems to have planted a foot in each of the art and science camps without upsetting either.

"I majored in archaeology and went on to study art at art school," he tells me.

"Then I put the two together to work for National Geographic magazine, illustrating stories that reconstructed the ancient world."

He remembers enjoying art at school but being particularly interested in observation, in looking at something and recording it faithfully - much as the Victorian naturalists did. He refuses to accept that art and science are different. "A lot of scientists I've met like to draw," he says.

On www.dinotopia.com, he explains: "Ever since my parents first set me in a sandbox, it has been my dream to create a world.

"I wasn't interested in just a pretty looking castle, but a whole world, complete in every detail - so real I could step across some magic threshold and disappear into it.

"For me, Dinotopia is the answer to that dream. I don't think of it as a fantasy world to escape to, but rather as a real world to participate in."

For most of the time James was illustrating articles for National Geographic he was also providing illustrations for fantasy and science fiction paperbacks. …

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