There are many outstanding book jacket illustrations that were not credited or signed. Figuring out who painted them can be quite a challenge, and in the end it’s rare to find enough evidence to know for certain who the artist was.
I got lucky once when I went out on a limb and declared that Carlos Victor, whose signature can be clearly seen on the Dell covers for The Illuminatus trilogy, was actually the Spanish-born painter Carlos Ochagavia. It wasn’t so crazy really, because you could see that the signature’s handwriting was nearly identical. But even so, it wasn’t until a relative of the artist cofirmed that his middle name was Victor that I could really confirm the identification.
Recently someone posed the question to me: who was the artist who illustrated the iconic cover of Madelaine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time, which appeared in the Dell Laurel-Leaf Fantasy series in 1975? Since it was the same publisher and the same time period, they thought it might be an Ochagavia illustration, too.
However, when I took up the challenge and examined the cover in detail, I really didn’t feel the hand of Ochagavia behind it. There wasn’t any cluster of highly-tinted foreground subjects in the painting, which is Ochagavia’s trademark style. Wrinkle in Time has an even intensity to the colors, without any area of shining brightness at the center of the canvas. The variation in the colors overall were softer, whereas Ochagavia would have banged in a bright pink or yellow contrast somewhere.
The first place to check, when you are hunting down an illustrator of science fiction art, is the incomparable collaboration known as ISFDB, the Internet Science Fiction Database. In this comprehensive “wikipedia” of all SFnal publications, you can get listings of artists, publishers and series. For example, if you want to see an annual grid of the Dell Laurel-Leaf Editions, they’ve got it!
After poking around the 1970s for possible artists who were credited for other covers in the series, it was easy to eliminate some of them, whose styles are unmistakeable and obvious. Gene Szafran, for example, is clearly not the illustrator we are looking for.
One artist who did strike me as a candidate was Charles Lilly. I hadn’t seen his name pop up before, so I took a close look at his other pieces for Dell. The Earth is Near came out in 1976, just a few months after A Wrinkle in Time. Then, there was another cover by Lilly in 1976 on one side of the Ace Double, for The Winds of Gath. So, at least the circumstantial evidence looked good for an artist who did two covers in a row for the same art editor.
Now look at the illustrations.
All three paintings have zones of orange, rusty brown colors. They also have little definition of landforms. And their pallette range is soft, subdued, avoiding primary and bright colors; although the blue sphere and the wings in Wrinkle of Time are brighter, they are nowhere near as sharp in contrast as Ochagavia.
What other paintings can we find for Charles Lilly at the time? There’s a magnificent Malcolm X cover that appeared on the cover of Encore Magazine in May 1973.
Although the faces and features of the four paintings are not quite the same, the style of rendering is quite close. Interestingly, all four pieces have reflections on curved glass, and a masterful blending of delineated forms against color washed backgrounds.
So, I’ll take a chance and guess that the art for A Wrinkle in Time was an early piece by Charles Lilly
Check out some of his later work, with it’s crisp, polished and dignified style.
My guess is that the artist, early in his career after graduating from the School of Visual Arts (in 1970) probably dashed off these science fiction cover illustatrations and didn’t feel they were of particular relevance to his career so he never signed them.
Now, fifty years later, the cover for A Wrinkle in Time is considered a classic illustration by many readers.
I’ll drop him a line and see what he says.