There Is, In Truth, Beauty: A review of Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years

A highlight of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary celebrations last year was the Star Trek art book and accompanying traveling exhibition, “Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years”. The collection is a triumph of risky artistic choices that, for the most part, paid off.

Risk is our business

“Risk! Risk is our business. That’s what this starship is all about. That’s why we’re aboard her.”

In one of the greatest Star Trek speeches of all time, in the TOS episode “Return to Tomorrow,” Captain Kirk sums up both the strengths and the weaknesses of a great new book out from Titan Books to celebrate Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary, Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years. The book was put together to accompany a global art exhibition commissioned by CBS Studios last year. They asked 50 artists from around the world to each produce a piece of art in their individual style to encapsulate the greatness that is Star Trek. The result is a collection that is both wildly creative and oddly provincial at the same time.

The cover of the book is a section from a piece by illustrator and designer Tom Whalen, who celebrates the TOS Enterprise in a bold digital illustration. The celebrated ship leaps off the cover energetically, giving a hint to the vitality within.

Star Trek 50 artists 50 years hardcover book

Nicholas Meyer, known to Trek fans as the writer and director behind Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (and now as a writer for DSC) graces the collection with an introduction celebrating the role of the image in exciting the imagination of generations of science fiction fans and authors.

In the pages that follow are a virtual riot of eclectic styles and incredible talent. I got this book for Christmas from my beloved wife, and I couldn’t put it down. Each image merited extended attention, and the artists’ statements about their pieces, though repetitive, gave insight into their creative processes and their love for Trek.

"Boldly Go", by Marco D'Alfonso

“Boldly Go”, by Marco D’Alfonso

Page after page, I marveled at the element of risk embedded in this project. The art styles are diverse, the talents involved are staggering, and each piece is a triumph of imagination and skill. I had worried that the folks at CBS might have played it safe with these pieces, commissioning bland, corporate-looking pieces of art that stayed within unchallenging boundaries. But the work varied from traditional painting to sculpture to line drawing to digital art, from introspective to whimsical to celebratory to fierce to head-scratching. Each individual piece of art was risky and a joy to appreciate.

Artist: Matt Ferguson

“Arena”, by Matt Ferguson

As I passed the halfway point, however, I struggled with how narrow the focus of the collection was. I love The Original Series, but filmed Star Trek includes six complete television series and over a dozen movies, most of which have no impact on any of these pieces, and some of which rate only the barest of references. Even within The Original Series, of the 50 pieces in the collection, there are 3 pieces entirely focused on the Kirk/Gorn confrontation in “Arena” alone. Vazquez Rocks (the location where “Arena” was filmed) shows up in one other piece, as well, and the Gorn appears in 5 additional pieces. And of course, there are Tribbles everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I love “Arena.” I love the Gorn. I love Tribbles! But I almost cried out of relief when I got to a piece celebrating the episode, “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”

"What Are Little Girls Made of", by Mark Reihill

“What Are Little Girls Made of”, by Mark Reihill

I get it, there are certain Trek images that have penetrated the broader culture beyond Star Trek fandom, and the Gorn and Tribbles are two of those images. But I wish someone at CBS had said to some of their artists, “no, we already have a piece exactly along those lines – two pieces, actually. Why don’t you try something else?” While every one of those pieces is great on its own, in a collection like this, the repetition tends to make Trek feel like a greatly-reduced version of the sprawling imaginative universe that it actually is. I would have loved to see pieces celebrating Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, The Animated Series, and the Kelvin Timeline. But while there are little references to some of these series here and there, the focus is largely on The Original Series and TNG.

Untitled, by Ulises Farinas

Untitled, by Ulises Farinas

From an art appreciation standpoint, this book has nice, large pages, lovely thick paper and exceptional print quality. Each image is vibrant, colorful, and printed at a high resolution. Details are crisp, and each piece has the room it needs to be lovingly explored.

Some of my favorite pieces include Dusty Abell and Lovern Kindzierski’s comicbook-style celebration of every TOS episode, Amir Abou-Roumié’s cut-paper style combination of menace and whimsy, Sue Beatrice’s mixed media sculpture of the Enterprise in space made out of old watch components, Glen Brogan’s humorous and literally iconic exploration of the personalities of the original crew, and Marco D’Alfonso’s symbolic and creative evocation of the original Trek trinity.

"Star Trek The Original Series", by Dusty Abell

“Star Trek The Original Series”, by Dusty Abell

"Homestead", by Amir Abou-Roumié

“Homestead”, by Amir Abou-Roumié

"On The Edge Of Forever", by Sue Beatrice

“On The Edge Of Forever”, by Sue Beatrice

"The Bridge", by Glen Borgan

“The Bridge”, by Glen Borgan

Dave Merrell, Paul Shipper, and J.K. Woodward each channel their inner Drew Struzan, turning in fantastic one-sheet posters focusing respectively on “Space Seed,” “The Cage,” and some of the most notable Klingons in all of Trek. Contemporary Trek comic artist extraordinaire Joe Corroney turns in two pieces celebrating Trek women, and Juan Ortiz, celebrated designer of a full series of Original Series episode posters, submits a humorous but ultimately disappointing image of a Star Trek cereal box design. Sculptural pieces include Sue Beatrice’s watch-component sculpture of the Enterprise, Calvin Ma’s ceramic version of a clapboard, steampunk Enterprise, Neal Smith’s Borg Cube made out of Hot Wheels cars, Alton Takeyas’ rendition of the famous photo of Leonard Nimoy leaning on his personal car in full Trek costume, and Lynn A. Norton’s Hallmark-ornament-style creation of her own personal starship design.

Also in the sculptural category is the one work that I found upsetting, a piece by Johnson Tsang that consists of a cherubic Vulcan baby reaching for the stars, nestling in the partially-deflated face of an adult male Vulcan head. The piece seems by turns mawkish and disturbing – very un-Vulcan – and it gave me an unsettled feeling in my stomach.

"Looking for a Star", by Johnson Tsang

“Looking for a Star”, by Johnson Tsang

All in all though, it’s a phenomenal book. Well-made, and each piece is worth spending time with. I was disappointed in the extensive overlap of subject matter, but what’s here is gorgeous. I derived more joy from this book than from any other Trek book I’ve owned since The Art of Star Trek, back in 1995. Take the risk! This book is worth owning.

Available now

Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years was released on September 6 by Titan Books and retails for $39.95. It can be purchased at a discount on Amazon.

Dénes House is a husband, father, artist, and pastor who has been a Star Trek fan since the age of eight. He and his son’s favorite series is Deep Space Nine, but his 10-year-old daughter prefers Voyager, because “the Captain is MY kind!”


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Nice article Dénes, thanks. No doubt I’ll be getting that book. I like the concept and the examples shown. But (a touch of negativity here) the piece by Ulises Farinas with the many characters…no Dax! Tuvix. Yeah. The Crystaline Entity. Uh-huh, there. Hugh, Moriarty and even The Skin of Evil represented, for Vaal’s . But no Dax love!?! Jadzia or Ezri!?! That’s just not right!!

Unless I missed her. Right next to Waldo perhaps.


…for Vaal’s *sake*

How neat. Just added it to my Amazon wish list. Yeah, I agree the baby-in-the-Vulcan head thing is creepy.

Thanks, crazydaystrom! I think you’ll enjoy the book. Farinas’s piece is interesting to me in that he tries to arrange the characters on a scale of emotions-logic and order-disorder, and he presents Picard as the perfect blend of all of those traits, dead in the center of the scales. He’s not just putting up characters he likes, but characters he believes represent these qualities.

You’re very welcome Dénes. Even though I saw the labels I didn’t catch that the artist was positioning the characters in relation to them. Obvious now that you point it out. Still, Jadzia would’ve been there had Farina consulted me…as he should have. (haha!)

Anyway, thanks again. :-)

Yeah, Jadzia was Sisko’s right hand person! She belongs there!

Some great work here but yea, the vulcan baby sculpture is creepy

Very. Very creepy.

Only mildly interested in the book, but the author citing ART OF STAR TREK as a highpoint in Trek nonfic is enough to make me blow off the whole review. That is for me perhaps the nadir of trek nonfic, given that they blew their chance to deliver a real ART OF, with comprehensive designer interviews (before they all started dying off) and a proper selection of art. That book wastes pages on very commonly-seen imagery, and also can’t really deliver because it is so diffuse, trying to cover all things TREK instead of focusing on one series (or at least, one century) of TREK at a time. Plus it has plenty of errors, not just in the captions (Andy Probert provided them with very specific captions to his images, but they messed them up, so you have to go buy a STARLOG SPECIAL EFFECTS Vol 5 to get the accurate info), but in the events mentioned as well. The Reeves-Stevenses are among my favorite Trek fiction writers, but most of their trek nonfic had surprising amounts of errors, which is a pretty poor state of affairs when you get to be what amounts to authorized trek journalist for the better part of a decade.

Sorry you didn’t like ART OF STAR TREK as much as I did. I mentioned it as the last Trek nonfiction book I liked this well, not as my absolute favorite. That would probably be MR. SCOTT’S GUIDE TO THE ENTERPRISE, or perhaps the original STAR TREK TECHNICAL MANUAL. One of the benefits of reading reviews is seeing that people who like this or that also like this other thing. Perhaps you’ll find that STAR TREK: 50 ARTISTS 50 YEARS is not your cup of tea. Either way, LLAP!

That Dusty Abell is great! Such cool attention to detail and history. I want that piece.

I’ve had a printout of that piece, from his DeviantArt site, tacked to my cork board in my office for a couple of years. I look at it constantly.

Damn I wish I would have known about this before. Would have tried to submit something. Some nice work there. :)

Would have loved to have seen a Spockboy piece in there! I’m a fan. Thanks for commenting!

Just FYI, Lynn A. Norton (Hallmark artist) included in the “50 Artists 50 Years” collection is he not she. My gender has been routinely changed throughout 25 years of Star Trek publications but if my work is well received, I’ll consider it a compliment. The founder of Hallmark Cards was named Joyce (J.C. Hall) and I’ll bet he used his initials for similar reasons.

Thanks, Lynn! I’m so sorry about my mistake. I know the pain of it – my name, Denes, has been variously interpreted as male, female, and (most commonly) as not a name at all! I thought your piece was a lot of fun. I caught the flying saucer influence immediately. And of course, I admire the work you’ve done for Hallmark over the years as well. As a novice ship designer on the side, I had some conniptions over the nacelle struts on your ship, trying to figure out from an engineering standpoint what you’d put inside struts that looked like that. But from an artistic standpoint, they are lovely. At any rate, thanks for commenting, and congratulations on having your work featured in this great book!

Thank you for your kind words about my work. My reasoning for the elaborate pylons that support the enlarged Metrawarp engines of the USS Bellwether grew out of a basic design problem that I’ve observed in many Starfleet ship designs. It appears to be (mathematically proven) that a ship traveling inside a warp-bubble would not experience any inertial forces. Not so for acceleration in normal space. I’ve always suspected that spindly pylons that have to support huge warp engines would snap like twigs under impulse power. My ship has two impulse engines that it needs to accelerate to near light-speed in normal space before it can generate its own traversable wormhole. I didn’t think that inertial compensation fields could keep the engines from being torn asunder under such acceleration stresses without more robust support structures. And yes, another aspect of my approach was an attempt to create something that was esthetically pleasing.

Great thoughts, Lynn! Thank you!

FYI, Lynn Norton is a man, and he’s the artist who’s sculpted just about every one of Hallmark’s Trek ship ornaments over the years. He’s also a helluva nice guy. :)

He definitely showed his niceness in his comment above. Thanks for setting me straight.