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1 9 8 0s: D I N O S A U R S  E V E R Y W H E R E

After the media coverage of Luis/Walter Alvarez's asteroid theory that started the decade off, there were more artists commissioned to paint 'dinosaur doomsday'. Mid-decade fossilized dinosaur skin from a new predator (Carnotaurus) gave artists texture for theropods. Sankar Chatterjee announced he'd found the first bird, Protoavis, which is never formally described and later rejected. It was announced that the first dinosaurs had been discovered in Antarctica, confirming that the terrible lizards literally ruled every corner of the world and with ever increasing variety and strangeness. Keeping track of them via a mailing list in this pre-internet era was George Olshevsky.

Museums in Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia began renovating their outdated mounts, and animatronic touring dinosaurs by Kokoro of Japan, and Dinamation in the U.S., made their debut. The top Canadian and Chinese paleontologists joined forces for an unprecedented expedition to uncover fossils across the globe. NASA discovered the Chicxulub sinkholes near Mexico by the end of the decade, believed to be the crater left by the asteroid impact.

Paleoart received its first traveling museum exhibits thanks to Sylvia Massey-Czerkas. First a Charles Knight Retrospective in 1982 followed by 'Dinosaurs Past and Present' in 1986-88, a celebration of the elder artists and the best of the current Renaissance era painters. The world's first ever dinosaur art show was held in Boston in 1984.

There weren't many dinosaur-themed movies in this decade, but Phil Tippett (Star Wars stop motion animator) did take note of the advancement when he sculpted and animated 'Prehistoric Beast' (the Emmy award winning effects in CBS's 'Dinosaur!' special). 

Publishers fed the public's hunger with fairly regular new popular titles, featuring the latest illustrations from Doug Henderson, Mark Hallett, John Gurche, Gregory Paul and other now familiar artist names.

Fortunately for youth of the late 1980s there was a pop resurgence in cartoons like 'Dinosaucers'
and the movie 'The Land Before Time', as well as in toy lines like Tyco's 'Dino Riders', Playskool's 'Definitely Dinosaurs', or Kenner's 'Bone Age'. Dinosaurs were even popping up in the ever popular Transformers toy line from Hasbro/Takara in mechanized form, and in Tyco's 'Zoids'.

The video decade saw very little big screen dinosaurs but quite a few television and video documentaries, mostly featuring Robert Bakker, hot on the heels of The Dinosaur Heresies book, Jack Horner, Dale Russell and Phil Currie.

Yes, in the 1980s, dinosaurs were everywhere, remaining a favorite in comic books and comic strips like Gary Larson's 'The Far Side' and Bill Watterson's 'Calvin and Hobbes'. In the kitchen they were on mugs, lunchtrays, refrigerator magnets, Ralston's 'Dinersaurs' cereal, Chef Boyardee's 'Dinosaur Pasta' and on oatmeal packets. Inflatable dinosaurs, party favors, clocks, bed sheets, shower curtains, shirts, even United States Post Office stamps. So much paraphernalia existed that an enterprising little company in New York offered many items in a Dinosaur Store and mailorder catalog.

  Mark Hallett

Wildlife painter Mark Hallett's oil paintings go back to the 1970s but didn't receive broad publication until 1980, ranging from reliable restorations to extinction scenarios (such as a scene of a tidal wave plus a meteorite impact and volcanic eruption in the same scene.) Modern animal behavior inspired certain speculative but memorable scenes (Triceratops herd protecting young in a circle, head butting pachycephalosaurs). Hallett prefers to emphasize the more reptilian traits of the dinosaurs. Some tend to have a crocodile-like texture with almost military camouflage (Ceratosaurus vs. Stegosaurus). Sauropods are always given a drab, elephantine schema (Mamenchisaurus crossing the mud flat, Dicraeosaurus, Seismosaurus). Like Neave Parker's work in the 1960s, multi species scenes are frequently cluttered together to the point where they could trip over each other ('Australian Dinosaurs'). A few Hallett paintings show species that likely never crossed paths due to habitat and/or different time frames (in one painting, a Pteranodon flock passes over a Tyrannosaurus rex pair).

  Doug Henderson

Regardless of the poorly known paleobotany that some artists avoid, Douglas Henderson's pastel or B/W compositions are haunting, spacious and lush with greenery. Innovative in the sense that dinosaurs are almost upstaged by their surroundings, treated as shadowy secondary subjects moving past a downed tree in the foreground, just scuttling past in the underbrush, backlit against a threatening sky or ambling off in the distance. Henderson's dinosaurs are themselves dwarfed by their landscapes (i.e. iguanodonts, 1985) or herds moving seen from bird's-eye (or pterosaur's-eye) aerial views. He was inspired by 19th century landscape artists like Thomas Moran and William Turner and spent years sketching to achieve his now recognizable style.  In the 1990s he turned to restoring extinct life before and after the dinosaurs, invertebrates, mammals and sea life, but consciously avoided feathered species. Instantly recognizable whether color or black and white, Henderson's body of work is probably the most diverse and prolific under Burian and Knight. The first book to show maiasaur family units exclusively illustrated by Henderson was Maia: A Dinosaur Grows Up (1984), which happens to be the only time he ever did what could be called a 'close-up'. One painting illustrates a hypothetical live birth of a brontosaur, a theory proposed by Bakker.







  John Gurche

With only a few works, John Gurche built a reputation as the second photorealistic paleoartist ever after Kish. Gurche became synonymous for remarkably lifelike gouache paintings, most famous of which was his dynamic kicking Daspletosaurus vs. Styracosaurus selected for the cover of Robert Bakker's The Dinosaur Heresies (1986). His Deinonychus attacking a Tenontosaurus was turned into a commercially sold Smithsonian Museum poster. Flaws still can be found in proportions of the neck of the parenting Hypacrosaurus, or in his 'Tower of Time' painting for Smithsonian, took giant steps backwards to the 1960s with an incorrectly sprawled-limbed Stegosaurus, a Godzilla-sized tyrannosaur about to step on an ornithomimid and inclusion of Uncle Beasley, the outdated, lipped, Jonas Studio Triceratops. He almost always depicts one or two individuals of a species, and eye and skin textures all look identical. Gurche still will do a commissioned dinosaur painting for National Geographic, but by the 1990s, turned his focus on researching and restoring early hominids. In 1989, United States Postal Service commissioned Gurche to produce four dinosaur stamps.

  David Peters

After David Peters' excellent paintings in Giants, and A Gallery of Dinosaurs and Other Early Reptiles, as well as his own calendar, it seemed he was on his way to becoming one of the most reliable paleoartists of the 1990s, if not of all time. However, very controversial theories on reconstructing pterosaurs led to some harsh critiques obscuring Peters' artistic brilliance.

 John Sibbick

Like Stout but not nearly as cartoonish, John Sibbick is a British freelance professional illustrator (working in gouache) that stuck out like a sore thumb when he debuted in the 1980s amidst the Renaissance painters. It was clear he was never properly trained in anatomical restorations of extinct animals (indeed he and is never recognized for anatomical accuracy or innovation.) His popular book illustrations in the early 1980s were merely textbook examples of outdated sluggish reptiles of the 1940s and 50s. Didn't someone (such as his advisor David Norman) tell him a revolution was going on? As such, his dinosaurs are woeful caricatures, tail-dragging, with tree-trunk-like limbs. Unfortunately the artist's work was picked up en masse by educational poster suppliers like Safari Ltd. so that his archaic restorations of dinosaurs can mislead small children for at least a generation. Innumerable mistakes can be found in Sibbick's art in Norman's When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1985) along with never-proven hypotheticals by the author regarding probosces on sauropods (i.e. trunks). Only in the 1990s did his work show improvement on a par with where Mark Hallett was in the 1980s, as shown in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs (1985), the cover of Czerkas' Dinosaurs: A Global View (1990) and impressive variety in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Pterosaurs (1991).


  George Olshevsky
 George must be given credit for his dedication to his dinosaur taxa list, and his occasional, earnest, up-to-date  dinosaur line art when no restorations by a qualified paleontologist was available.

 Stephen Czerkas

Before Kazunari Araki sculpted Stout-like models for Kaiyodo, before the 1990s garage resin kit industry exploded, there was sculptor Steve Czerkas  (yes that guy who worked on 'Planet of Dinosaurs')  in Utah, painstakingly adding every scale, wattle and dewlap to museum-quality lifesized sculptures of Carnotaurus, Stegosaurus, Deinonychus and others. In the 1990s Czerkas' descriptions of Chinese feathered dinosaurs drew criticism by Mark Norell and others and he caught himself in major blunders with the infamous 'Archaeoraptor'. That mess followed a wild misinterpretation of stegosaur plate positioning and horse-necked ornithopods (which have yet to be disproven however). Czerkas and wife Sylvia have been fairly quiet ever since unless you count their pronouncement that Deinonychus and its family are simply birds (!) What will they think of next?


  Jane Burton

British wildlife photographer Jane Burton was not a true paleoartist but when she teamed up with paleontologist Dougal Dixon for a different kind of nature photography book released in the U.S. as Time Exposure, wherein different extinct animals were given photo-like portraits. Even if the anatomy on Steve Kirk's models is off in most instances, the originality and composition makes up for it. Some memorable shots include Ceratosaurs illuminated in a chain of purple lightning, diplodocid necks in the ray of sunlight through the trees, Cynognathus nearly silhouetted at sundown, and egret-like birds atop the back of a Paleoscincus.




Kenneth Carpenter

Like Bakker and Paul, Kenneth Carpenter was one of the few paleontologists who also had enough drawing talent in the early to mid 1980s to have artwork in Dinosaurs Past and Present exhibit. However, he couldn't resist the urge to copy Greg Paul's 1979/85 Gorgosaurus which should have been acknowledged in publications of the drawing. Looks like Ken was making sure every line was almost the same that he forgot to detail the all-original head.

Ron Seguin

Sculptor Ron Seguin gets a special mention for the infamous 'Dinosauroid', invented by paleontologist Dale Russell in 1981 to show what a humanoid creature evolved from a theropod dinosaur lineage (Stenonychosaurus in this case) may have looked like. All the speculation didn't make many paleontologists happy but it sure attracted media to focus on dinosaurian intelligence and anatomy, rather than what made them go extinct.

See Dave Marrs' dishonorable mention on this site in the 1990s section for a blatant rip off of Seguin's model.


 Phil Tippett 

I know, Phil Tippett is no paleontologist. But his 'Prehistoric Beast' short film (used for 'Dinosaur!'), had excellent stop motion dinosaurs surpassing anything  the world had ever seen. They weren't fighting cowboys or cavemen or rampaging through a city. They were in their natural habitat, struggling to survive. The hatchling dinosaur and the nasty deinonychids both blow away similar scenes in 'Jurassic Park' a decade later. Tippett was influenced by the work of Doug Henderson and it shows.


  Jim Gary

Nobody made dinos like the late great Jim Gary. His colorful dinosaurs were not always about accuracy but didn't need to be! They were built from spare auto parts and beloved all over the world. A man of many artistic accomplishments, Gary is also distinguished as the only sculptor to have his own Smithsonian exhibition. He undoubtedly invoked an interest in paleontology in children and inspired many artistic adults as well.