FIU alum, Jesse Peterson recently contributed to the illustrations of the book “The Big, Bad Book of Beasts: The World’s Most Curious Creatures”, written by bestselling author, Michael Largo.
Largo first discovered Peterson at FIU’s BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) show back in 2010. The piece he was drawn to is called “Miami: The Bludgeoning”, and was added to The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum’s permanent collection via the Betty Laird-Perry Purchase Award. It is a video installation which consists of three animated projections. The projections weave together a series of narratives that range from the prehistoric era, through early Miami settlement and into contemporary Miami. Since Michael Largo liked some of the aesthetics of “The Bludgeoning”, he wanted Peterson to create select images for his book.
The book explores animals both in existence, and of questionable existence. It’s a study of our understanding of these animals. Peterson says “There was a lot of playing with time and observing the animals from both the perspective of early concepts of what humans thought the animal was, and what we’ve since learned.” One example is a possible explanation for the cyclops myth; an elephant skull has a giant socket in the center, which is actually a nasal cavity. When viewed through the early human, crude understanding of the anatomy, one could see how the giant elephant skull led to speculation of a giant one-eyed monster. Today, we know it is, in fact, an elephant trunk and maybe the viewer starts to think about the elephant, then the cyclops again, then the elephant. “I thought it was pretty cool. I enjoyed it. Some of the passages in the book caused me to have the same back and forth with human, animal, human question and where we fit in with that. Luckily, I wasn’t being asked to solve that problem!”
There are roughly 300 images in the book. Most of them are a compilation of several images and visual elements from a number of sources, as well as original sketches by Christopher David Reyes. Peterson had a lot of freedom with his illustrations and only some of his fonts were changed occasionally. The concept for the images is derived from medieval bestiaries and early zoology journals, similar to those of zoologists who would sit in the field and draw numerous pictures of the various animals they studied. These drawings resulted in many lines and scribbles, as if they were trying to figure the animal out on paper. Peterson’s illustrations are meant to pay homage to that kind of submersion. The images are all digital; even the hand-drawn images are scanned and edited, which brings it home to the digital era with plenty of sub-screens and scrolling text.
Here is a picture of the book’s cover as well as the title page proposal: