Whether or not you realize it, you’re already intimately familiar with the work of French concept artist Stephan Martiniere. You’ve seen his creations in films like Star Wars and Suicide Squad, in the three-dimensional Imagineering work of Disney theme parks and in popular video games like John Woo’s Stanglehold and Fallout 4. Martiniere even served as the lead art director for 2011 game RAGE, a post-apocalyptic universe that looks absolutely stunning to this day thanks in part to developer id’s proprietary id Tech engine, but also Martiniere’s brilliantly creative ability to realize sweeping, beautiful works of art and world-building within the sci-fi and fantasy genres. If ever there were an argument for science fiction and/or video games as art, Stephan Martiniere’s portfolio is it.
Martiniere grew up during a golden age of comic books and rapidly became obsessed with their innovative style and creative processes. “During the ’60s, there was so much out there in comics that was unbelievable, and I was always attracted to drawing and always thought I would become a comic book artist,” he says. “It wasn’t until later, when I was in art school in Paris—and I was drawing comics then, just not professionally—that I jumped into animation, and I thought this seemed logical as they were just like comic books, only moving.”
Martiniere was a natural when it came to animation, and it ultimately led to jobs in Japan and the United States that would change his life forever. He fully believes that, had he stayed in his home country, he would have fallen into comics by default, but small jobs led to larger and better opportunities and a diversification of mediums. The natural evolution of his career led to early 3D video game art design on the Myst series which, in turn, allowed him more creative freedom as he steadily built a name for himself.
“When you hire an art director, you hire someone to come up with a vision from the smallest props to the largest environments, and I would approach video games thinking, ‘How do I take a game like this and make it super-cool and super-interesting for everyone? How do I approach it like a film?’” Martiniere tells SFR. “They want you for your sensibility and what you can bring creatively; the only restriction is based in technology, and once you understand the limitation, you work within it. … I always tried to get involved with games where there was enough tech for me to make a difference artistically.”
The luxury of artistic and creative freedom often leads to an artist’s best work, and in Martiniere’s case, it allowed for contributions to the aforementioned projects among countless others and the ability to be more choosy about his projects. This is how he came to work with id, Lucasfilm and others.
These days, Martiniere (who recently moved to Santa Fe full-time) is more ensconced within the world of publishing and the designing of book covers, a field he says he loves because artists can maintain ownership of their original works. He also enjoys a challenge.
“I’ve done over 150 books so far over the last 15 years,” he says. “It’s usually something with sci-fi, though sometimes I do covers that are more traditional, but I always approach it from a graphics standpoint. It’s almost like doing advertising, only it’s more abstract, because you’re creating an image that has to be very compelling … It’s like, here’s a story and you need one image that will attract a reader to open and read the book, and that can also convey an entire story just in that image.”
Martiniere’s body of work can now be seen locally in his current show at Pop Gallery. Titled Beyond the Horizon, the collection provides an overview of the 15- plus years he’s spent as a professional artist and features numerous pieces from his years in publishing. And though his work has been unwittingly viewed by millions, this is the first time Martiniere’s creations will be front and center on their own, the focus of attention. Showing in a gallery has also allowed the artist to cut across a wider variety of mediums including canvas, plexi, aluminum and more. “I wanted to create different ways of printing and offering clients different options,” Martiniere continues. “These are things I don’t normally do when I offer my work as smaller prints.”
Beyond the Horizon provides an exciting contrast to the usual Santa Fe art fare and simultaneously flips the script on genres that have historically been considered nerdy. It’s been up for several weeks already, but Martiniere will be on hand to discuss his efforts at a special reception this Friday. “There’s a wealth of beautiful art out there that isn’t necessarily connected to what people see when they think of ‘gallery’ art,” Martiniere points out. “I really appreciate Pop wanting to take the risk, and I think more people need to do that, because people change, curiosities change and there are new interests—there’s no reason why something with a sci-fi or fantasy subject cannot be relevant; there’s something to be said there that is important.”
Beyond the Horizon;
Futurescapes by Stephan Martiniere
5 pm Friday Sept. 23. Free.
125 Lincoln Ave.,