Saturday, October 29, 2005

Keith Parkinson

It has been reported elsewhere of the passing of artist Keith Parkinson from complications from leukemia.

Keith was one of the on-staff artists at old TSR when I was there, and was instrumental in the creation of the look and feel of such lines as the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms. The TSR operations were a bullpen operation at that time, in a room at the end of a vaultlike floor with glass block windows for natural light. Keith's compatriots at various times were Larry Elmore, Jeff Easley, Clyde Caldwell, and Jeff Butler. The artist shared space, traded quips, and worked together on creating the art for much of the classic TSR product of the mid-eighties.

Keith defined the Forgotten Realms with the unamed horseman on the cover of the original grey box. We (the authors) didn't know who this guy was - there was nothing in the text about him, but he was evocative as the nature of the Realms as we saw it - grittier than worlds previous, and more realistic. His mysterious nature and fog-swept background was a bonus. I think we gave him a name later, but it honestly never stuck in-house - he was always the FR Horseman or Keith's Horseman.

My favorite piece was not that one, though, but rather the cover of Waterdeep and the North, which showed the beholder crime-lord Xanathar and his court - A female drow assistant, mercenary captain, accountant, and a pair of brain-headed intellect devourers. What I liked about that piece was something that Keith brought a new concept to the beholder itself - previously it was this ball with eyes. He armored it up with plate-like scales and gave it jointed, anthropod-like eyestalks. The myriad subspecies of beholders from Spelljammer started with that piece.

Keith had both a sense of epic scope and detail. One of his great Dragonlance pieces was a flying citadel, with riders fleeing ahead of it. The sense of motion and weight of this huge flying rock studded with citadels was amazing (in the pitch documents, the flying citadels were on big flat plates). And on the original (gods know where it is now), you can see that on one of the ledges, Keith had painted in a TARDIS, Doctor Who, and K-9.

The TSR bullpen evolved and changed and eventually broke up. Keith and Larry formed their own art studio, the Art Dogs, and Keith went on to covers for other fiction houses and game companies. We saw each other on occasion, usually at conventions. He would be working on concepting new video games (and is probably best-known these days for his Everquest art). Yet his art continued to evolve, gaining depth and life and an inner fire that was uniquely its own.

And now he has passed on, but his art remains. Go take a look at it here.

More later,