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Redefining art through illustration

Is illustration art? Or is it only something amateurs doodle on the back of napkins or insert into children’s books before they have discovered real art? While some readers welcome the additional world-building illustration allows, other readers find it constraining, limiting the reach of their imagination and forcing them to see the world a certain way.

Stephen Korshak aims to challenge this narrow-minded view of illustrative artwork with his collection “Illustrations of Imaginative Literature,” which is on display at UMBC’s AOK Library Gallery. Spanning genres from horror to myth and legend, Korshak’s collection of European and American art is not only a visual rendering of some of our favorite classic stories, but also an exploration of the history behind illustration and its growth over the years.This exhibition is also the first to publicly feature the European works within his collection.

Korshak’s father, Erle Korshak, sparked Stephen’s love of illustration. As one of the founders of Shasta Publishers, a science fiction book company, Erle often took his job home with him and their home was an extension of his work office. It was through this that young Stephen Korshak found a deep-set appreciation for illustrators and threw himself into learning more about their work. Over the years he remained fascinated by the illustrative art around him, believing it to be as influential and elegant as some of the “finer” pieces.

Korshak’s collection showcases fantastical scenes from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and covers of popular 20th century science fiction novels, such as “The Green Hills of Earth” and “The Master Mind of Mars.” The artistic style varies from piece to piece, but each is incredibly intricate in detail and complexity and conveys its own particular world.

But it’s not all happy. The most harrowing pieces, perhaps, of the collection are within the horror section. An image based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Pit and the Pendulum,” drawn only using pen and ink depicts a man, tied down, as a razor-sharp pendulum swings above him. In another image based on one of Poe’s short stories and drawn using pen and ink, the “Case of Mr. Valdemar” interprets the moment Mr. Valdemar, caught in hypnosis between life and death, decays into liquid ruin.

With the range of illustration Korshak’s collection covers, one could spend hours within the gallery examining just one genre of illustrative art. The intricacies in each piece are spellbinding and subtle, the artistic value within the illustration easy to find. This collection provides a journey into many different worlds and creations, all of which are tied together by the incredible power of the imagination.

You can visit the Korshak Collection until May 16 in the AOK Library Gallery, which is open from 10-4:30 p.m. on weekdays and 12-5 p.m. on weekends. The library is open until 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays. On Thursday, May 4, there will be a special opportunity to talk with Donato Giancola, an illustrator and artist who has created work for DC Comics and Magic: The Gathering, among others.