No one loves America quite like France. Hold on! I'm serious. We dither away a lot of time over here complaining about the snootiness of the French, but in some ways they understand and appreciate American culture more than we ever will. Take Michel Houellebecq, one of the most well-respected contemporary French writers. He did an entire book on H.P. Lovecraft. An entire book! How many smarty-pants American writers have even bothered to read Lovecraft, never mind appreciate him? Who're the real snobs here?
Hervé Scott-Flament, Houellebecq's fellow countryman, is one of my absolute favorite fantasy artists. He's as obsessed as I am with Clark Ashton Smith, an American writer, a contemporary of Lovecraft. Like Houellebecq, Scott-Flament is the perfect case study of a French person savoring a piece of American culture we Americans have by and large overlooked. How Flament learned about Smith, I'll never know – Lovecraft has a pretty durable cult following, but Smith is virtually buried in time. I guess we'll just have to chalk it up to Flament being French. He's cool like that.
As far as world-building goes, no one can touch Smith. He doesn't get into the hyper-obsessive detail of Tolkein, but he doesn't need to. Painting with broad strokes, implying more than his words state, is what he's best at. His creations range from Hyperborea, a lush, tropical and ice-doomed Antarctica of the distant past, to Zothique, the Last Continent, withering in the glow of an engorged sun tens of thousands of years in the future.
Before seeing Scott-Flament's paintings I thought it was impossible to depict Smith's worlds in paint. But by golly, Scott-Flament does it, in droves. His medium of choice is oil on wood, and it gives his images a beguiling, hazy murkiness that perfectly captures the weirdness of Smith. Scott-Flament is interested in all kinds of outlandish organic forms – fungi, jellyfish, female reproductive organs – and all kinds of uncomfortable juxtapositions. But everything comes together seamlessly into wonderfully chaotic, gleefully baroque and utterly majestic depictions of alien worlds that somehow manage to be eerily like our own.
Certain paintings of Scott-Flament depict children encountering weird, alien beings and plant life with… well, the innocence of children. It's as if Scott-Flament is inviting the viewer to engage with his art in the same way, with wonder instead of revulsion. Sometimes it takes a while to find the people in his paintings, and when you do, hoo boy! The scale of the painting is always surprising. Tiny gardens become vast jungles, and vast jungles become tiny gardens.
Scott-Flament keeps alive the glory days of Heavy Metal magazine, when "Adult Fantasy" meant something other than chain mail soap opera or Massively-Multiplayer Online Skinner Boxes (MMOSB). I, for one, am very appreciative. You can check out much more of Scott-Flament's art on his site.
All the above images are Hervé Scott-Flament's, of course. I'm posting them with the assumption the artist doesn't mind me doing so, but if he does, I'll take ’em right down. Scott-Flament is on facebook; friendship request sent!
Edit 1.15.13: He doesn't mind! Whatta mensch.