John Schoenherr’s early work showed a strong influence from Richard Powers’ surrealist style (see Richard Powers’ painting “The Abominable Earthman” in this exhibit). Eventually, Schoenherr would develop his own, unique style often known for its alien creatures within a surrealist setting or planetscape with intensely colored skies.
His aliens were not cliché bug-eyed monsters but intelligent, believable life forms. Schoenherr is most noted for his iconic illustrations for the classic science fiction novel Dune by Frank Herbert, author also of The Heaven Makers.
Schoenherr’s childhood interest in the works of Jules Verne led to an interest in sci-fi stories published in the pulp magazine Astounding Science Fiction. In high school, Schoenherr was drawn to biology and considered a career in it; however, he discovered, “I enjoyed doing drawings of dissections and experiments more than doing the dissecting and experimenting.”
Schoenherr studied at the Pratt Institute in New York and was a student of Stanley Meltzoff (see Meltzoff’s painting “Green Hills of Earth” in this exhibit). Being a fan of science fiction, Schoenherr became a freelance artist after graduating and sold his first illustration in 1957 to Amazing Stories for twenty dollars.
He also did work for several paperback book publishing houses for a period of twelve years and was the predominant cover artist for Analog in the 1960s creating fifty covers for the magazine. His experience as a wildlife artist also influenced his style and later in life he dedicated his work entirely to wildlife painting.