Brillhart, Ralph

Tagged: Art

(1924-2007). American artist. Although virtually nothing is known about this artist, there is a 2007 obituary for a Ralph Winton Brillhart of Great Neck, Long Island, identifying the man as a former Marine and "commercial illustrator", and one can reasonably assume that he was the Ralph Brillhart who painted a number of sf book covers for New York publishers during the 1960s and early 1980s. During the first phase of his career, Brillhart sometimes employed a realistic style that could appear childish, although he had a flair for crafting unusual Aliens; the cover of Russ Winterbotham's The Red Planet (1962), for example, foregrounded lizard-like creatures with strange growths on their backs, while his cover for Poul Anderson's After Doomsday (December 1961-January 1962 Galaxy; 1962) featured a spacesuited alien with multiple eyes on long tentacles. He was more impressive when he produced abstract images in the manner of Richard M Powers: his cover for Jerome Bixby's Space by the Tale (coll 1964) showed a tiny spaceman next to a jagged, treelike structure, while his cover for Ivan Howard's anthology Masters of Science Fiction (anth 1964), a portrait of a one-eyed alien blob suspended within filaments functioning as stilts, was deemed so striking that the same painting was reused as the cover of Theodore Cogswell's The Third Eye (coll 1968). Another unusual cover, for L Sprague de Camp's The Reluctant Shaman and Other Fantastic Tales (coll 1970), intriguingly featured a face recalling a Greek mask atop a pale globe supported by a flower.

The world may never know how Brillhart kept himself busy during the 1970s, but he definitely improved as an artist, for when he returned to sf art in the early 1980s, he seemed in some ways a different artist, displaying a maturity and mastery of detail not observed in his earlier covers. The Brillhart of the 1960s, for example, would not have been capable of the subdued rendering of a tree-lined road leading to a shining city that graced the cover of Paul O Williams's The Ends of the Circle (1981), or the intricate, boxlike computer suspended in the witness's chair of a courtroom that he painted for Charles L Harness's The Venetian Court (30 March 1981 Analog; 1982). But the later Brillhart could still create strange Aliens, like the triangular, eight-legged creatures engaged in a swordfight on the cover of L Neil Smith's Their Majesties' Bucketeers (1981). Overall, there are too few memorable covers to justify a compilation of Brillhart's artwork, but it merits some attention nonetheless. [GW]

Ralph Brillhart

born Oakland, California: 1 July 1924

died Great Neck, Long Island, New York: 23 October 2007

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