At Large  January 25, 2019  Jordan Riefe

Roger Dean Talks Lawsuits, Sci-Fi, and Moon Bases at LA Art Show

Courtesy Trading Boundaries

Roger Dean, Wizards & Demons, 1972

Opening night of the 24th Annual L.A. Art Show was hosted by actor Kate Beckinsale last Wednesday, with “Bush” rocker Gavin Rossdale serving as Art Ambassador. Together they welcomed 120 galleries from 18 countries to the Los Angeles Convention Center, Jan. 23-27. 

The focus this year is on the Pacific Rim, which would seem to leave artist Roger Dean, in his rural studio in East Sussex, England, out of the mix. But he’ll be there anyway, showing eight acrylic canvases, 16 pencil drawings and 16 logos and smaller works through his exhibitor, Trading Boundaries. And even though he is not from the Pacific Rim, there is a discernible link between his otherworldly landscapes and artwork from the Far East. 

Courtesy Trading Boundaries

Roger Dean, Close to the Edge II, 1972

Famous for his album covers for the band “Yes” and its progeny, “Asia,” Dean’s two-year stint in Hong Kong as a child absorbing Chinese landscape paintings and drawings is visible in acrylic on linen compositions like “Close to the Edge,” which appeared in the foldout of “Yes”’s 1972 album of the same name. 

“Tales From Topographic Oceans’ and ‘Relayer’ were probably about twenty-seven inches wide,” he tells Art & Object about his work for the band’s two subsequent albums. “I did ‘Pathways’ for the triple album, that was quite a lot bigger. And from there they got bigger and bigger. I would say to people if you've never seen them in the flesh, you have no idea about the impact of the scale. So, it’s definitely worth a visit.”

Dean grew up mainly in England, Greece, Cyprus and, in the 1960s, attended Canterbury College of Art followed by Royal College of Art in London, where he studied design. He first collaborated with “Yes” in 1971. “I welcomed their input. But I also welcomed the fact that they trusted me to do a good job and just let me get on with it. So, there was no micromanaging but there were discussions,” he says about working with the band. “It’s been a big part of my life for fifty years, and that was a big surprise. I never really treated it as a mainstream professional effort. It just kind of dawned on me, this is what you’ve been doing for a very long time. There's no way of getting around it, this is what you do. So, it was kind of a surprise.”

Roger Dean, Dragon at Dawn
Courtesy Trading Boundaries

Roger Dean, Dragon at Dawn

Roger Dean, Tales from Topographic Oceans, 1973
Courtesy Trading Boundaries

Roger Dean, Tales from Topographic Oceans, 1973

Roger Dean, Relayer, 1974
Courtesy Trading Boundaries

Roger Dean, Relayer, 1974

Roger Dean, Inland Sea II
Courtesy Trading Boundaries

Roger Dean, Inland Sea II

Collectors of his work span the globe, though he has turned away some buyers. “They were talking to me about investment value and I said, I don’t think this is the right thing for you to do.” His last show in L.A., at Rodeo Drive’s Triangle Gallery in 1989/90, had lines stretching around the block, with people like Hollywood legend and art collector Vincent Price stopping by. Futurist designer Syd Mead and George Lucas are both fans who have written forwards to Dean’s books. 

Filmmaker James Cameron used to be a bigger fan until Dean sued him for borrowing his artwork for the look of planet Pandora in his hit movie, “Avatar.” The artist says he was tipped off by a journalist who had interviewed the film’s production designer, Rick Carter. 

“He’d asked him about me and had he referenced my work during the making of the film. And the guy said yes, he studied my work and referenced it during the making of the film. He denied copying it, though.” In a 2014 ruling, Dean lost the case. “When we first brought this up, I got a letter from his (Cameron’s) lawyer saying fairly nice things. I thought we would settle, but we didn’t. Three million people said they saw the similarities. So, it’s not a trivial number.”

Dean doesn’t need Cameron anyway, he’s got his own sci-fi project, only his is more “sci” than “fi.” Currently, the non-profit Moon Village Association is planning to build a prototype of his design for a Moon Base in Hawaii. 

Courtesy Trading Boundaries

Roger Dean, Moonbase S Framed Dome

“When the project started, it was a little bit manageable. But the project got more ambitious. More land is currently being negotiated,” he says about the one design that might eclipse his work with “Yes” as a career landmark. “I’m really focused on making a space that people will feel good in. I’m thinking, where would you like to live? Where would you like to be? What  place would you like to live in?”

In the meantime he’s happy to be back in Los Angeles, catching up with old friends in the music industry and new friends in aerospace. “I spend about thirty to forty percent of my time painting,” he calculates. “The rest of the time, I’m involved with designing projects of various kinds, mostly architectural, mostly a pain in the ass to get off the ground.”

About the Author

Jordan Riefe

Jordan Riefe has been covering the film business since the late 90s for outlets like Reuters, THR.com, and the Wrap. He wrote a movie that was produced in China in 2007. Riefe currently serves as West Coast theatre critic for The Hollywood Reporter, while also covering art and culture for The Guardian, Cultured Magazine, LA Weekly and KCET Artbound.

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