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Retrospective of the Legendary Wayne Barlowe + New Interview

In collaboration with ArtPage Publishing, Gallery Nucleus presents a retrospective exhibition of select paintings and drawings by world-renowned science fiction and fantasy artist/author Wayne Barlowe.

We’ve previously covered some of Barlowe’s visionary concept art here, and we are pleased to share the news of this retrospective and an exclusive interview.

November 19, 2022 – December 3, 2022
Opening Reception / Nov 19, 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM


  • Nov 19, 5pm – 8pm
  • Free admission / No RSVP needed
  • Exclusive prints to be released


  • On display Nov 19 – Dec 3 (closed Mondays)
  • Free admission / No RSVP needed
  • Various reproductions from some of Wayne’s notable book projects and film work will be on display
  • A curated selection of original drawings and paintings will be on display and available for purchase


Wayne Barlowe is an American science fiction and fantasy writer, painter, and concept artist. Barlowe’s work focuses on esoteric landscapes and creatures, such as citizens of hell and alien worlds. He has painted over 300 book and magazine covers and illustrations for many major book publishers, as well as Life magazine, Time magazine, and Newsweek. His 1979 book Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials was nominated in 1980 for the Hugo Award for Best Related Non-Fiction Book, the first year that award category was awarded. It also won the 1980 Locus Award for Best Art or Illustrated Book. His 1991 speculative evolution book Expedition was nominated for the 1991 Chesley Award for Artistic Achievement.


Barlowe has worked as a concept artist for movies such as Galaxy Quest (1999), Avatar (2009), and Harry Potter 3 and 4, among others. He is known to have worked closely with Guillermo Del Toro, serving as a creature designer for the Hellboy film series and Pacific Rim (2013). His work on Hellboy (2004) awarding him a nomination for the 2005 Chesley Award for Product Illustration. Barlowe was the Initial Creature Designer for Avatar (2009) and worked on The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (2022) Barlowe was the creator and executive producer of Alien Planet, a documentary adaptation of Expedition produced by Discovery Channel in 2005. He has written two fantasy novels: God’s Demon (Tor Books, 2007) and its sequel The Heart of Hell (2019).

See more art and info here: waynebarlowe.com

Wayne Barlowe Interview

SurrealismToday: What work are you most proud of? And why?
Wayne Barlowe: I suppose the best answer to that question would be my Hell series. While I started out primarily as a science fiction artist specializing to some degree in alien life forms, my work in Hell has challenged me in ways I could have never envisioned. EXPEDITION was my first foray into writing. It was foundational for me but was heavily augmented with a lot of artwork. With Hell, I took it up to the next level, writing actual novels that did not depend on artwork. Sure, the artwork was created before the books and established much of what I’d write, but the narratives are where I think I’ve challenged myself the most. And they are probably what I’m most proud of. It was world-building on an epic scale. The entire world of the fallen demons had to be created. And, it was a world that pre-existed before their Fall. That meant that an entire ecosystem had to be considered and represented both in words and art. Tying all of this together with consistency was and still is a great challenge. 

<em>Hells First Born<em>

ST: What are you most inspired by today?
Wayne Barlowe: I’m steeped in the past. I am still mesmerized by late nineteenth century and its fin de siecle art. Orientalist and Symbolist painters, in particular. The Orientalists brought rendering skills to an almost unattainable apex. I’m not sure anyone can do what they did with paintbrushes anymore. At least not with the same authenticity. And, from a different perspective, the Symbolist movement, with its enigmatic imagery and beautifully subtle palettes also provides me with serious inspiration. To be honest, nothing being produced today pushes buttons in me as do those two schools of art. I can still look at a Ludwig Deutsch piece or a Khnopff or Hiremy-Hirschl with as much joy as I did when I first discovered them.

Mount Grigori and the Monastery of Azazel

ST: What is one thing they tried to teach you in school that you knew immediately was wrong?
Barlowe: I had a pretty unfortunate college experience. Cooper Union in the late ‘70’s was not a safe harbor for wanna-be illustrators. To be fair, it was my own fault – I should have applied to a few more professionally oriented schools. For example, I had two drawing instructors. One asked his students to immediately draw like Matisse and the other asked her students to draw like her. Neither of these choices seemed right to me from the start, and I expressed my feelings to one of the instructors. I don’t think he was too pleased with my voiced rebellion. Add to that, no teaching of the fundamentals like composition and color theory, and I knew I was not getting what I wanted out of my education. Shortly thereafter I decided to leave. I briefly toyed with transferring to another, more conducive school. But I was getting work and saw no point in continuing in school.

Pacific Rim <em>Knifehead<em> 2011

ST: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
WB: Draw every day. This, from my first instructor, Gustav Rehberger, at the Art Students League in NYC. Never better advice.

ST: What is your dream project?
WB: I’ve written a couple of screenplays that I’m extremely invested in. One is quite close to becoming a reality. This one is a traditional SF film. The other, also SF, is non-traditional. To see either or both come to fruition would be the fulfillment of my personal dreams.

ST: What is currently on your playlist? Do you listen to music when working?
Wayne Barlowe: I do listen to music when I paint and write. I grew up listening to nothing but classical music so I have a lot of that on my computer. Painting allows me to listen to wilder stuff. Nine Inch Nails is my favorite group so a ton of that goes down. I’m also a big soundtrack listener – I’ve probably got a couple of hundred on my flashdrive. Hans Zimmer – the man is brilliant. Almost anything by him is inspiring. When I write I need more atmospheric, somewhat quieter music. Lustmord, Jeff Greinke, A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Max Richter. I like a real variety of genres. If I hear it and like it, I don’t care where it’s from. Anyway, currently, it’s AWVFTS’s INVISIBLE CITIES, Zimmer’s various DUNE OSTs which are brilliant, Max Richter’s TABOO OST. Oh, and some BOARDS OF CANADA.


ST: If you could visit any artist’s studio, whose would you visit and why?
WB: Apart from going back in time and visiting my parent’s studio, you mean? I’m guessing you mean living. I don’t have a good answer for this one. I worked, briefly, alongside John Howe and Alan Lee in NZ. Both really good people and wonderful artists. Might be really fun to see their studios.

ST: What ideas are you currently pondering or questioning?
WB: I’ve got a few back-burner projects that I’m tinkering with. I’m not very interested in depicting Heaven – the Above as I named it in GOD’S DEMON – but I recently did a painting of an angel that opened a few interesting design doors. That said, I just don’t envision Heaven as being anywhere as interesting as the world I created in Hell.
I’ve also, relatively recently, created a new alien world in the same vein as Darwin IV from EXPEDITION. This new world, Gessner II, is inhabited solely by evolved plants some of which are intelligent. Creating creatures within this parameter is intriguing so I may pursue that one. Kind of an EXPEDITION II project.
As for questioning – nothing more or less than my place in the Universe.


ST: You’ve said previously: “Make sure you know how to draw because to me drawing is the beginning of everything all techniques spring from that.” What would be your advice for young artists inspired by narrative and figurative work who might be in educational environments pushing other types of work?
Wayne Barlowe: I’ve done a number of guest lectures in various schools. I always encourage students to create a back-burner project – something personal that they’re passionate enough about to keep working on in off hours. Maybe write a few lines that can become a catalyst for some narrative project that can be illustrated. Storytelling and world-building are the two elements that can grow a project into something of value later on. When I was in college, I invented an alien character named Thype. He was meant to be an itinerant, ronin-like god-killer on a journey of self-discovery. I did a series of drawings and paintings of him and his world that to this day, many decades later, still pique my interest. High fantasy in another world. I actually think Thype would be a great video game. I haven’t done anything with him in years, but I don’t rule out eventually figuring him out. Or doing the occasional painting related to him. But it’s that kind of project that can blossom into something unpredictable. And, that kind of project is what I wish for students.

Thype Revisited 2009

ST: In a previous interview when asked about advice for would-be writers you suggested more originality was needed in the field: “I would say, please, please, be original. Enough with the Tolkien fantasies, enough with the Alien rip-offs, enough with the well-worn tropes of things that we have seen done a million times. And I would say this to screenwriters and game writers as well. We are sinking under the collective weight of commercially conservative ideas that lack any originality or creativity. Think outside the box with the price tag on it.
What parts of your creative process do you attribute to helping you create original work throughout your career? Do you have any specific techniques to spice things up if you find yourself leaning too much on a formula? (Some artists have been big fans of introducing randomness in their work.) What have you done to get out of past creative ruts?

a person sitting in front of a building
Book Cover for <em>Bloodchild<em>

Barlowe: I hate the notion that anything I might do falls onto a well-trodden path. As a kid I used to dislike it when someone would ask me if I copied something or traced it. It rubbed me wrong. I try very hard not to fall into a formulaic, self-derivative approach to my work. Therein lies stagnation. Even though I have a few worlds that I populate with artwork, I try to not repeat myself either with subject matter or approach. It’s my way of trying to keep the imagery fresh and keep a viewer engaged. This is one reason I’m not entirely sure I fit comfortably into the gallery world. I have friends who are there and I get the impression that what they are doing is creating “the same but different” artwork because clients and potential customers want that. I wouldn’t enjoy cranking out the same image with subtle variations simply to keep product flowing. Maybe a bit short-sighted on my part but I know myself well enough to know what would very quickly become boring.

ST: What informs your work that most fans might find surprising?
Barlowe: I’m not sure this would really surprise anyone, but I’m a huge ancient history buff. And I love paleontology. Both of these elements find their way into my work in, sometimes, less than obvious ways.

SurrealismToday: I understand that Del Toro does a lot of the creature concept by hand, based on dreams that he has had. How does the concept work you do translate into the design process? Does it flow from wireframe to 3D model, etc?
Wayne Barlowe: I am a very pragmatic person, despite working in imaginative realism. So, when I don the hat of a concept artist I become slavishly interested in fulfilling a director’s vision. I’m particularly interested in hitting the marks with whatever language a director uses in describing what he/she/they want. This comes from my background as an illustrator. Whenever I was handed a manuscript I would always read it thoroughly and take notes. I didn’t want to be caught doing a cover that was in any way inaccurate.
So, the same applies to concept art. I see myself as a kind of pathfinder when it comes to designing creatures or characters. I don’t go into the process expecting whatever I’ve done to be entirely literally brought to the screen. If that happens – if something I’ve designed makes it through the many hands it passes through on its way to the screen, and it makes it without too many changes then, of course, I’m thrilled. But I don’t have that expectation. What I do is a careful drawing based on careful thinking. This then goes on to 3D artists with the input of a director or art director. Film work is always a team effort. You cannot lose sight of this, or else you won’t be happy working in that milieu.

<em>Elytracephalid<em> Newsweek editorial illustration

ST: What is one thing you believe that most people do not?
Barlowe: I’m only just becoming aware of the block universe theory – that, in a few words, the past, present, and future all exist simultaneously. I’ve always believed this in my gut but never knew until recently that it was an actual theory. I’m guessing this isn’t a widely held belief.

ST: What have you been most happily surprised by in your career?
Barlowe: I’d have to say the reception I got from readers regarding my entry in authorship. EXPEDITION was my first foray into writing but because that book was so heavily dependent on artwork the challenges were not the same as those found in writing a novel. While I had a backlog of artwork to support GOD’S DEMON, none of those images were going to be published within the book. WHich meant, of course, that I had to describe everything that I’d either painted or drawn. As well as so much more. I like descriptive writing so this wasn’t a chore for me. But the fact that so many readers found the world so convincingly described was a thrill for me. Hell isn’t a pleasant place but, because I spent a lot of time describing it, I sense that a lot of readers would like to return. Which has encouraged me to attempt to finish up what I started with a third and final book – LUCIFER’S SOUL.

ST: What was a difficult art or career challenge that you faced and how did you overcome it?
Barlowe: Transitioning from pure illustrator to author – a title I still have trouble articulating. To me authors spend their entire lives learning and implementing their craft. I didn’t go to workshops or school to learn to write. So taking that leap so many years ago was scary and ambitious. I had had a bellyful of the paperback cover world and really needed to find another way to express myself. So, one day I conceived of EXPEDITION in an effort to pull myself away from that other world. I did a single painting and a two-page outline of what I thought a naturalist’s experiences on an alien world might be like. I walked into the publisher’s office, pitched it, and sold it. By today’s standards – a miracle. It was a leap of faith. Putting aside rent-paying work to complete what would take me close to two years to finish. A lot of uncertainty and hard work followed. But it was just the right decision at the right time. No regrets!


ST: Any words of advice for young artists and illustrators?
Barlowe: Well, I’m going to repeat myself a bit here. Be original in every way you can. If your work resembles someone else’s, retool it to be yours. Your own style will evolve over time so co-opting someone else’s doesn’t do you credit. Work to your strong points but expand them. Be influenced by your art heroes but don’t copy them verbatim. Perfect your craft by being relentlessly self-critical. The eraser and the undo button are your friends.
And, secondarily, find a passion project that excites you. Add to it with art and words. Make it your pet, back-burner project that one day might blossom into something bigger. Build on each piece with consistency and a bit of what came before. Every Hell piece I’ve ever done has the seed of the next piece in it. And every painting or drawing I did informed my writing. One hand inevitably washed the other. For me, a painting or drawing could act as a catalyst for my writing and vice versa.
With all of that in mind, go forth, be passionate and Create!

ST: What imaginary place would you most love to visit?
Barlowe: Maybe E. R. Eddison’s Mercury. THE WORM OUROBOROS is my favorite high fantasy novel. I’d love to see that world. 

SurrealismToday: What are you most looking forward to now?
Wayne Barlowe: Finishing my third novel, LUCIFER’S SOUL. It’s taking forever and is very heavy lifting. It’s more ambitious in its scope than the previous two novels. And I cannot wait to get it all out on paper!

Other Resources:
Books on Amazon
Our previous coverage of Wayne Barlowe


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