Artistic Education: Hannes Bok

Hannes Bok’s last published work, a wraparound illustration of Roger Zelazny’s “A Rose for Ecclesiastes,” printed in the November 1963 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Hannes Bok was a seminal figure in early science fiction culture and one of its great artists. An astrology nut and closeted homosexual in the already surreal milieu of early SF fandom, his work, championed by Ray Bradbury and fan icons like Forrest J. Ackerman, was minimal, sometimes almost Art Nouveau, characterized by austere pen and ink renderings of kitsch monsters, hybrid creatures, and elegant humans in angular turmoil. He was mentored in his early career by Maxfield Parrish and adopted from this elder the technique of layering his canvases with glaze, which lent his color pieces (often made for the cover of magazines like Weird Tales and Other Worlds) a hyper-saturated luminosity.

Bok was a card-carrying member of the Futurians, a legendary New York fan group that nurtured the careers of Isaac Asimov and Frederick Pohl, as well as being active in the primordial science fiction scene of Los Angeles in the late 1930s — in a compendium published posthumously, his best friend Emil Petaja recalls eating free lime sherbet at L.A.’s historic Clifton’s Cafeteria with Bradbury and other members of the then-elite of science fiction. File under: great minds and great desserts.

Hannes Bok died at 49 of a heart attack after a protracted period of withdrawal from the world; his lifelong obsessions with astrology, the occult, and the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius made him a pariah in his later years. Regardless, Bok remains a beloved icon of the genre’s early years, a true heretic of the acrylics.

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