Thole, Karel

Tagged: Art

Working name of Dutch illustrator Carolus Adrianus Maria Thole (1914-2000), long resident in Milan. After artistic training in Amsterdam at the Rijksmuseum's State Drawing School, Thole worked in the Netherlands until 1958, when he and his family moved to Milan, Italy. There he began painting book covers for the Italian publishers Mondadori and Rizzoli, and by the 1970s, he was regarded as a dominant figure in European sf illustration, largely due to his widely admired covers for the Italian magazine Urania (and its book-format offshoots) and the German publisher Heyne. During this decade, he also began to receive assignments from the American publishers Ace Books and DAW Books, and the British sf imprint Orbit. Thole continued working until 1986, when problems with his vision forced him into retirement.

Overall, Thole's work may be the most sophisticatedly surreal in sf art, and it is not absurd to compare it with that of Max Ernst (1891-1976), Salvador Dali (1904-1989) or René Magritte (1898-1967), all of whom are visible influences. Symbolic and dreamlike, his covers can seem more evocative than the stories they illustrate, often juxtaposing large human faces, strange beings, and mysterious structures. It is hard to single out noteworthy examples, but considering his work for English-language publishers, one might note two striking covers for Daw's series of author anthologies: for The Book of A. E. van Vogt (1972), he painted a woman wearing sunglasses standing in a fantastic futuristic city, and for The Book of Philip K. Dick (1973), a little man standing on a table covered with enigmatic symbols. One might also praise his amazing cover for the 1973 translation of Paul van Herck's Sam, of de Pluterdag (1968; trans Danny De Laet and Willy Magiels as Where Were You Last Pluterday? 1973), combining a parade of little green men, a woman whose face is split into young and aged halves, a woman stepping into a calendar, a man holding and pointing at what looks like a tiny boat, and another brooding man adjacent to his mirror image.

Among other honours, Thole was given a Special Award at the 1973 Worldcon in Toronto and received three Locus Award nominations for Best Professional Artist in 1973, 1974, and 1975, when he was most active as an artist for American publishers. No English-language compilations of his paintings have been published, but such a book, listed below, was published in Italy and quickly translated into German. [PN/JG/GW]

Carolus Adrianus Maria Thole

born Bussum, North Holland, Netherlands: 20 April 1914

died 26 March 2000

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