I've been really captivated by the above painting by Alex Boyd since it was published on the GW website earlier this week. It's the cover of the DreadFleet box, and it's bloody exceptional - especially as it was painted in a three weeks. As John Blanche mentioned on Tuesday, it's a real departure from the usual cover art that GW usually utilises, as he explains here:
"Normally you'd have a good fleet and a bad fleet with the two sides fighting each other. We wanted to try something different, more like a movie poster."
The complexity of this painting and the radical departure from the standard is really interesting: it has resonance with the sculptural complexity and radical departure from type that was represented by GW's Winged Vampire Lord (a miniature which many people sadly dislike). This Vampire, as well as being a perfect example of how to capture movement and dynamism in a static form, marked a real sea change (no pun intended) in the way that the individual components of GW minis were designed to be brought together to form a three dimensional whole. It was this complexity alongside the advances in plastic injection moulding that have led to the exceptional range of current multipart plastic miniatures as exemplified by the near-perfect Dark Eldar kits.
The Boyd painting initially appears fairly simple, given it's near symmetry and warm-hued core flanked by a cold-hued surround - it looks like a particularly opulent logo for a computer game or something. I think this apparent simplicity is deceptive and the picture-plain is complex through it's use of two of my current GW imagery obsessions: allegory and entropy. We have at the centre of the picture the Imperial Galleon, the Heldenhammer, represented through an image of the ship itself, and symbolically through the magnificent navigator's compass, an allegory for the technological and scientific Renaissance of the Empire. Joining this, in contrasting tones, are two enormous sea serpents, be-horned, three-eyed monsters - however, rather than acting as a threat, these creatures appear as aiders and protectors of the the flotilla of ships. Appearing in the same plain as the allegorical device of the compass, though, suggests that these beasts, too, are not literal, but symbolic themselves, perhaps for the power and bestial might of the winds and the ocean - which gives some weight to the contrasting tones of their green colouring against the polished brass and gold of the compass, like verdigris on bronze - science and industry alongside magic and nature, two powerful tropes harnessed by this glorious crew (and egro Sigmar's heirs themselves).
A second interesting device occurs in the literal picture plain where the sea, as it slips into the blackness of the deathly, infinite, non-space background - seeming to drag with it the Sartosan ship (which is more of a blackened animal rib-cage than vessel - and may actually be emerging from the deathly blackness rather than in to it) - folds and turns into a series of Hieronymus Bosch skull-faced creatures, skittering and dancing on the point where the literal meets death. A curiosity emerges, though, if the literal plain is considered as entirely and solely that - literal. I'm not sure that I can see these Bosch creatures as allegorical images for the power and monstrous nature of the sea, which is too well represented by the twin serpents on the allegorical plain - they don't even entirely echo these in their form or function. Instead these creatures appear to be genuinely that, creatures lying just below the level of the sea, chittering and deathly, actual monsters. This resonates with GW's recent decision to push the idea that the whole world is a malevolent place, fickle and fey, where even the very elements and environments are threatening enemies - which I perceive as a marked shift away from the Warhammer world of yore which was more of an High Fantasy world with the added twist of a cancerous taint of chaos slowly festering and spreading at will into all things,
However, this cancerous taint hasn't been completely expunged, it's been codified instead into entropic devices that emerge into all recent imagery. If we look in the background of the allegorical plain, behind the twin serpents, there are three further navigational devices and compasses behind the splendour of the Heldenhammer compass. Yet these three compasses, icons of their age and key to the mastery of the world, are splintered and breaking - starting to rot and decay - and perhaps that's what the creatures under the sea in the literal plain really are - entropic versions of the twin serpents. True decay flanking all splendour.
The picture is a complex mix of allegory and literal representation blurring into one another and slowly rotting, in spite of the subject's apparent glamour. This is a marked departure in the typical representation of the Warhammer world of 'army x vs. army y'. it's going to be interesting to see how this develops.