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Foss, Chris

Entry updated 19 February 2024. Tagged: Artist.

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(1946-    ) Working name of British artist Christopher F Foss. Foss studied architecture at Cambridge University, and he has worked in sf Illustration since 1970, primarily as a cover artist; he uses brush and airbrush to excellent effect. Foss's smooth, representational style, demonstrated on hundreds of covers, spearheaded a revolution in British sf paperback design in the 1970s, and the artist's success inspired many imitators, creating for a while an almost tedious predictability in publishers' book covers, though this was their fault and not Foss's. He did the cover for the first edition of this encyclopedia from Granada in 1979.

Foss is best known for his celebrations of Technology – monstrous Spaceships or vast Robots, beautiful and deadly, rearing up over landscapes and skyscapes where humans are absent or tiny – yet the effect is bracing. While many sorts of hardware figure in his paintings, Foss's singular spaceships have attracted the most attention: in contrast to most sf spaceships, which are metallic grey and streamlined, Foss's spaceships are bulky, brightly coloured, intricately designed, and almost Gothic in their appearance. A 2011 article for the BBC News website, "What Should Spaceships Look Like?", was largely devoted to celebrating his unique creations. His spaceships have also influenced other British illustrators and filmmakers, although he has officially worked on only two films, Alien (1979) and the German comedy Die Sturzflieger (1995).

Foss's paintings focus almost exclusively on massive constructs, yet he is not incapable of rendering human figures: for a 1971 republication of Edmund Cooper's The Uncertain Midnight (1958) and a 1972 republication of Cooper's Kronk (1970 as Son of Kronk; rev 1971), Foss produced covers adorned with partially undressed women, and he was responsible for the romantically erotic drawings featured in Alex Comfort's The Joy of Sex (1972) and More Joy of Sex (1973). His usual attentiveness to buildings and machines, then, is a matter of choice, not necessity. Since Foss usually does not read the books he illustrates, his covers often seem to bear little relation to their contents, but they are striking nonetheless, and clearly effective in selling books, explaining his long domination of the field. In the twenty-first century, however, he largely stopped painting book covers, evidently able to earn a comfortable living by selling his artwork in other ways.

To date, Foss has published four compilations of his artwork: Science Fiction Art (1976), 21st Century Foss (1978), The Chris Foss Portfolio (1990), and Hardware: The Definitive SF Works of Chris Foss (2011). A fifth book, Diary of a Spaceperson (1990), unusually and unsuccessfully combines the erotic and the scientific in what purports to be the illustrated diary (written by Foss) of a spacewoman who has sexual congress with an alien plant. [PN/GW]

see also: Worldcon.

Christopher F Foss

born Guernsey, Channel Islands: 16 March 1946



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