The Magic Art of Volkan Baga

The Magic Art of Volkan Baga


Special thanks to Mike Linneman and Josh Krause for their ongoing work in and appreciation of original Magic art. At the tail end of Kaladesh spoiler season, just a week after the unveiling of the inventions Masterpieces, an oil paining no larger than a foot by a foot-and-a-half, was auctioned off in an exchange group on Facebook. The painting sold for $17,100. Sol Ring along with Sword of Fire and Ice and Mana Crypt would join a long list of other high profile cards in the portfolio of one of Magic’s most talented artists: Volkan Baga. Born in Germany in the late ’70s, Volkan Baga was entranced by comics as a child. At the age of 20, he began his studies in illustration at the University of Applied Sciences of Würzburg. He admired the classical and renaissance style of European art giants of the past. During this time, Baga was working largely with gouache paints—a type of watercolor—until he turned his attention to another one of Magic’s greatest painters: Donato Giancola. Baga contacted Giancola. He was entranced by his style and sought tutelage, if at all possible. Baga was anxious to learn as much as he could from other masters in the field. In 2005, Donato accepted; inviting Baga to his studio in New York. After spending two months under Donato’s wing, acting as both assistant and student, Baga commited fully to oil paints. Through this transition, his unique style flourished. Baga’s work—in one word—is ornate. He often falls under the category of “imaginative realism.” Winning second place in 2014 in the art renewal competition for his work titled “Dritte Melodie.” We’re looking at an artist inspired by neoclassical figure and portrait painting; working with oils, depicting fantasy creatures that do not exist. Baga does not stylize his bodies. No, they look real. Everything else around them, however, is what makes them imaginary. To better understand this, let’s look at his marquee card from 2008. Stoic Angel. This piece is exemplary of Baga’s style. It teaches you everything you need to know about his art. We see a heroic figure adorned in robes, posed for her portrait looking directly into the eyes of the viewer. She wields an hour glass in one hand, a symbol for the effect she has on the game. Behind her is a throne of statues. Angels who have fallen under her spell and have been frozen in time. Like the neoclassicists, Baga tells a story in this piece. With her sword placed firmly into the ground, the angel warns the viewer that her power comes not from force, but from the ability to manipulate time. Baga was particularly attached to this piece. In an interview in 2009, he said it was the Magic artwork he was most proud of and that selling it away was difficult because of his connection to it. At the 2009 Chesley Awards, Stoic Angel took first place for “Best gaming-related illustration.” His color palette is gentle and subdued. His works are not saturated or full of artificial bright colors but rather soft with dark undertones that contrast the white highlights. The key to spotting Baga’s work is in his lines. In both the backgrounds and foregrounds of his paintings, we can find contrasting line work that give depth and texture to his subject. Baga loves his lines. For example, look at Holy Day. There are hundreds of lines in this piece. From the flowing cloaks to the flying swords, all the way into the background on the buildings that dart up and down. The skyscrapers of Ravnica in Hypersonic Dragon and the stone cutout of Mindslaver, exemplify this effect. Baga is a sculptor. His images look more engraved than painted. The robes adorning his subjects are seemingly made of marble. Recalling the Greeks of civilizations past. What is maybe most stunning, however, is the melancholy that haunts each piece. His characters gaze back at the viewer. Everything is suspended and still. Baga paints imply movement more than actual movement. His figures are posed, they themselves are snapshots of the actions they once committed. He doesn’t capture the moment. He captures the memory of the moment. Baga captures the nostalgic afterthought of something that once was. From his website: “The human and his emotions as well as his personal story are the focus of Volkan Baga’s works. The emotional strand between the painting and the viewer gets stronger the longer you observe.” Outside of Magic, Baga does portraits of both real people and other fantasy characters. His website hosts a large series of Lord of The Rings interpretations and if you’ve ever played this game, then you know now who to thank for the box cover. To date, Baga has given art to 114 cards. Notable collections include the revamped moxen available to Vintage players through Magic Online. Eric Klug, the game’s most notable card alterer, took Baga’s version of Mox Jet and made it real. Commander players know Baga through Edric and Mirari’s Wake. Standard all-stars include: Sylvan Advocate and everybody’s favorite Rhino. Baga is also responsible for Ranger of Eos and Snapcaster Mage. Two invitational cards that embody the likeness of the Pro Magic players who designed them. And personally, I’m convinced that Joraga Bard is Baga’s own invitational card of sorts. I see you, Volkan. And that brings us to right now. Kaladesh is in full swing. Magic players everywhere are opening booster packs with grand hopes of finding inventions hidden inside. But even if you don’t find a Masterpiece, I invite you to take a moment to admire all the colors and shapes inside that little card frame. Thanks for Watching. If you have a favorite piece by Volkan Baga, let me know in the comments or find me on Twitter. Also, check out my previous Artist Spotlight videos right here: On Wayne Reynolds and Kev Walker. Cheers!