“I like to make pictures… showing things not as they are… which we know all too well… but pictures of things as they might be.” - Hannes Bok
Hannes Bok, born Wayne Woodard, changed his name to a phonetic play of the name of the 18th century composer Johann S. Bach. A self-taught artist during the Great Depression, Bok was greatly influenced by the symmetry and glazing techniques in the works of Maxfield Parrish. Bok also credits Frank R. Paul’s 1927 illustrations for “The Moon Pool” in Amazing Stories magazine for inspiring him to become an artist at age twelve. Bok’s style is known for its stylized curves, free flowing figures and exaggerated detail with an emphasis on bizarre, fantasy elements.
An avid reader of sci-fi, Bok was active in the science fiction fan community and submitted his art portfolio to sci-fi pulp magazines in the early 1930s with only a few projects resulting. Luckily he was a personal friend of the legendary author Ray Bradbury, who gave Bok work illustrating for his fan magazine Futuria Fantasia and introduced him to the editor of Weird Tales magazine in New York in 1939. Impressed with Bok’s portfolio, the editor chose him to do the cover for the December 1939 issue.
Despite the originality of his art, Bok’s personality interfered with his potential for success when he refused to comply with the artistic demands of magazine editors. He also refused to show rough sketches. According to a letter written by Bok, “…I cannot make ‘rough sketches.’ I can only make finished pictures. I have never made a rough sketch in my life, except tiny little things that nobody cud (sic) decipher save myself.” His insistence on thoroughly reading each story and planning his paintings in great detail before beginning and his time-consuming glazing technique, which took several days to achieve, led to missed deadlines.
After World War II, Bok found a new market for his art in book jacket illustration for science fiction and fantasy publishers, particularly Shasta Books in Chicago. His work for publisher Erle M. Korshak at Shasta is considered to be the finest of his career. An example in this exhibition is Slaves of Sleep, published by Shasta in 1948.
By the 1950s, the science fiction market was in decline and Bok’s work was in less demand causing him to bitterly leave illustration to pursue mysticism and occult philosophy. He died alone in his apartment at age fifty, destitute and in relative obscurity, despite being considered one of the greatest science fiction and fantasy artists of the 1940s.