Next month, Taschen will publish Paleoart: Visions of a Prehistoric Past, an in-depth look at an art form that, by its very nature, imagines—in paintings and engravings, murals and sculptures—the lives of beasts from a bygone age, fusing together fact and fiction, science and whimsy. Culled from private collections, obscure archives, and the collections of natural-history museums, the book’s artwork spans from 1830 to 1990 and was selected by the writer Zoë Lescaze and the artist Walton Ford. In the essay below, which serves as the book’s preface, Ford writes of his own fascination with paleoart and how the idea for the book came about.
Like many suburban boys in the sixties, I had a childhood infused with images of prehistory. I was obsessed with the stop-motion dinosaurs in the rarely broadcast 1933 movie King Kong, savoring glimpses of their obscure forms through the bluish haze of our rabbit-eared black-and-white television. I pored over popular-science books such as Time-Life’s Nature Library series and The World We Live In, searching for images of long-extinct animals and early hominids. I collected plastic dinosaurs, carefully razoring away their unsightly seams and painting them with what I thought were more realistic reptilian stripes and spots. I hid from the oppressions of my school, neighborhood, and father behind fragrant boxwoods, and arranged these beloved miniature monsters in jungle tableaux of prehistoric conflict. Desperate to see into the deep past, I was drunk with paleoart. What I didn’t know in 1968 was that such primeval imagery was barely over a hundred years old.