« Presse-Pocket » editor (France) 1978-2001
Wojtek Siudmak is a French painter and sculptor born in 1942 in Poland. He started to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. Then in 1966, he came to France to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Since then, he lives and works in France.
Wojtek Siudmak is regarded as the main representative of fantastic realism, combining naturalist art with a surrealist style.
The first cover for the publisher Presse Pocket was the one of « Big Planet » in 1978 in the SCIENCE-FICTION collection. A full page illustration with the title in superimposition. Twenty other novels by Vance were published in this collection until 1987, most of them first editions in paperback format, and even unpublished books such as the first two volumes of Lyonesse in 1985 and 1986.
Gallery years 1978 to 1987
From 1988 onwards, the collection changed its appearance: the cover featured an excerpt from the book, the name of VANCE in large letters and a thumbnail illustration, and above all, an original find: a second cover with Siudmak’s complete illustration. Each volume had a « genre »: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and finally Science Fantasy. In this new format, Siudmak illustrated 30 volumes of Vance, including five collections of short stories and several unpublished books.
In 2001, the last book of Vance in this collection was published: Escales dans les étoiles, with a return to Siudmak’s full page cover:
gallery – years 1988-2001
To date, since the 70’s, Wojtek Siudmak’s art has illustrated more than 700 books in France, including 450 for the SF collection of Presse pocket. A visual imprint that has marked several generations of French readers who love SF and Fantasy.
(J.Vincent actusf 2004)
ActuSF : You are known mainly for your book covers. How did you come to work for SF publishers and of course Pocket?
Wojtek Siudmak : Yes, it’s true, the covers were most often reproductions of my paintings…/… You could say that in Paris in the 70’s I witnessed the birth of European science fiction with a group of artists, writers, and intellectuals… Our collaboration began in this unique climate and when Goimard, who was then director of Presses Pocket, suggested using my paintings to illustrate the covers of the books, I naturally accepted.
ActuSF : What interested you in science fiction and perhaps still does?
Wojtek Siudmak : Science fiction is total freedom, the freedom to imagine without limits… to create without limits too. There are no barriers, everything is possible and the mind, the talent can choose unusual paths.
ActuSF : How did you compose your paintings for the covers ? And how did you work? Directly on canvas?
Wojtek Siudmak : I did not create the paintings for the covers, I am not an illustrator. My paintings do not illustrate the text, it is a parallel way, two perspectives: the painter’s and the writer’s, which finally blend and give the reader a much richer vision than if it was an illustration of the text, which is relatively dangerous because it diminishes the reader’s imagination. In fact, either my paintings were chosen by Jacques Goimard (editor), or I submitted others to him, it was a total freedom and I think that everyone was winning because thanks to this « non-precision », we succeeded in opening the minds of the readers. I had a lot of remarks, not to say tributes, from people about this.
ActuSF : Does the illustration have to be a faithful retranscription of the universe of a book ? And if not, on what basis should it be built ?
Wojtek Siudmak : In my opinion, the illustration should not be a faithful retranscription of the text because a writer tries very skillfully to create a blurred world, that is to say a world which allows to resist the wear of time, which develops the imagination. A clumsy illustrator can very well freeze or overly concretize certain descriptions, which will go against the writer’s will and which will also demolish the originality of the reader’s personal imagination.
ActuSF : How do you see the evolution of the profession of illustrator and maybe of painter and artist in general?
Wojtek Siudmak : At the moment, publishing houses are headed by businessmen, people who have finished brilliant studies in economics but probably don’t have a particular taste for art or literature. As managers of large publishing groups, they put all their efforts into commercial success rather than developing this artistic and literary stable at the risk of commercial failure. They choose illustrations that are the closest to the text, a bit like the Americans did a decade ago, without any freedom, simply to make reading easier. I think that freedom, artistic and literary requirements are essential.
Source : https://www.actusf.com/detail-d-un-article/interview-de-wojtek-siudmak
NB: Contrary to what the artist states, we can see that many drawings were composed to be used on book covers: the main drawing placed on the lower 2/3 of the page leaving the top blank for the title. But, in fact, the subject matter usually has little to do with the story (on the other hand he realized very correlative paintings for Dune and Star wars in particular):
Denis Villeneuve honours Wojtek Siudmak about his movie « Dune »: