Parkinson, Keith

Tagged: Art

(1958-2005) American artist. He received artistic training at the University of Michigan and the Kendall School of Design before beginning his career in advertising. Along with Clyde Caldwell, Jeff Easley, and Larry D Elmore, Parkinson then went to work for TSR and, during the next five years, produced numerous illustrations for the company's books, magazines, calendars, and Games. While such assignments naturally involved a focus on Fantasy, Parkinson also showed that he could handle the tropes of Hard SF with his two early covers for Amazing Stories, including an evocative rendering of a spacecraft near an eclipsed star for the cover of the May 1985 issue. Still, after leaving TSR to work as a freelance artist, Parkinson naturally gravitated toward fantasy, with varied results: while some covers, like his very ordinary dwarfs on his cover for Arthur W Saha's The Year's Best Fantasy Stories 14 (anth 1988), suggested TSR's lingering, and baleful, influence, others signalled more artistic ambition, like his misty rendering of two travellers on horseback approaching a castle for Kenneth C Flint's Isle of Destiny (1988) or the female ghost haunting two bedraggled wanderers for C J Cherryh's Rusalka (1989). Both this latter cover, and the one for its successor Chernovog (1990), earned Parkinson Chesley Awards, suggesting how rapidly he was earning recognition as a major fantasy illustrator, one being entrusted with assignments to illustrate works by major authors like Terry Brooks, Orson Scott Card, David Eddings, and Anne McCaffrey. In 1990 he received the Jack Gaughan Award for Best Emerging Artist.

Surveying his work during the next decade, however, one could legitimately question whether Parkinson had lived up to his early promise. True, he had continued to produce book covers for major publishers and enjoyed success with gaming-related art; his work had been celebrated in three compilations; and he had more than demonstrated his ability to handle all of the tropes of fantasy, with a special flair for painting dragons and other exotic creatures. But one searches hard to find any paintings that seemed truly extraordinary; only one of his later covers received a Chesley Award nomination, a moody painting of tiny figures in black robes amidst odd rock formations for Terry Goodkind's The Pillars of Creation (2001). Perhaps the leukemia that would eventually claim his life in 2005 was already beginning to take its toll. Still, when the upcoming release of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit (2012) prompted Tor Books to republish Martin H Greenberg's anthology After the King: Stories in Honor of J R R Tolkien (anth 1992), they could find no better cover than Parkinson's original effort, a subdued portrayal of a mist-enshrouded town observed from a forest that could be said to represent the best qualities of his work. [GW]

Keith Parkinson

born West Covina, California: 22 October 1958

died San Diego, California: 26 October 2005

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