If you’re a fan of Tarzan, Conan the Barbarian, or high fantasy in general, you’re probably very familiar with Boris Vallejo, even if you don’t know it. The legendary painter is responsible for some of the most iconic art pieces of the genre in all of history. He’s also, however, a well known and respected commercial artist with work featured in movie posters, album covers, and other mainstream media endeavors.
Today, on his birthday, don your finest garb and prepare to sit – not for the artist, but with the artist as we celebrate his life and works. The man of the hour is not on the clock, and won’t be lifting a brush today. Instead, we’ll be the ones painting a picture to properly showcase his contributions to the genre, to art, and to the world at large.
A native of Lima, Peru, Vallejo was born on January 8, 1941. He began painting at a very young age: thirteen when he began in 1954 and only sixteen when he got his very first illustration job in 1957. He went on to study his craft at the Escuela Nacional Superior Autónoma de Bellas Artes on a five-year scholarship, and was even awarded a medal for his work during his schooling there.
Vallejo immigrated to the United States in 1964, and from the age of twenty three onward earned a successful living with his work that has turned him into a legend in the worlds of sci-fi, fantasy, art, and pop culture. Favoring the medium of oil on board, Vallejo is known for his fearless style of painting. Hyper representational images dripping with eroticism at their most extreme and touched with breathtaking sensuality at their most discrete, Vallejo’s masterpieces of well built men and women, barely clothed, and ferociously fantastic monsters and mystical creatures have become inextricably associated with the likes of high fantasy, sci-fi, and pulp work in general. It’s no wonder that his work has inspired many, including legendary stage magician Siegfried Fischbacher of Siegfried and Roy. An avid fan of his work, Fischbacher not only featured Vallejo and Vallejo-styled works on the walls of the Jungle Palace, his home, but often presented members of the creative teams he worked with with copies of Vallejo’s books to demonstrate the feel and coloring of the stage shows he sought to create.
The paintings of Boris Vallejo have, in fact, graced countless book covers, but he sells his work to this day often alongside wife and frequent model Julie Bell in the form of calendars, prints, and more. Vallejo even takes commissions, and has even done work based on his own paintings: some of his most famous pieces include the posters for National Lampoon’s Vacation and European Vacation, which beautifully spoofs his legendary pulp novel depictions of barbarians and damsels. He’s also done this for films like Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters, and for the cover of musician Andrew W.K.’s album You’re Not Alone – both works completed as collaborations with Bell.
Whether he painted the cover of your favorite edition of Red Sonja, the poster of your favorite movie, or if you proudly display one of his calendars on your wall, there’s no question that Boris Vallejo is as vital to sci-fi and fantasy as any author or filmmaker. His outrageously stunning images, so vivid and visceral they border on tactile things to be enjoyed, evoke many of the same feelings that the literary works they adorn do. They transport, transform, and take you on a journey as rich as any novel can, in the moment it takes to view them – a feat any author would likely kill for.
Today, Mr. Vallejo, we raise a chalice in your honor and salute you, seated upon your gilded throne, and wish you many happy returns.
Now, bring the man his broadsword! It’s time to cut the cake.
Liz Carlie (she/her/he/him) is a regular book, TV, and film reviewer for SCIFI.radio and has previously been a guest on ‘The Event Horizon’. In addition to being an active member of the traditional fandom community, she’s also an active participant in online fan culture, pro wrestling journalism, and spreading the gospel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She resides in Southern California with her aspiring superhero dog, Junior, enjoying life one hyperfixation at a time.