The Art of Magic: The Gathering / Filip Burburan

Welcome to the second edition of the art of Magic: The Gathering (part one here). This time I’ll be gazing deep into the jaws of the monstrous art of Filip Burburan, another classic art illustrator for the game. Burburan is a Croatian artist who specialises in large creatures with big teeth and nasty looking orcs with badass armour.

His reimagining of the legendary Tarmogoyf card reprint in the Ultimate Masters set is a stunning example of his distinctive style. He often distorts scale through the juxtaposition of familiar sized objects, in this case an innocent deer, with the absurdly enormous – a monster so large that only part of it can be rendered in the painting. The Lovecraftian omission of terror hiding in the dark is used so well here, leaving you wondering how much more monster exists in the infinite realm outside the frame.

Burburan doesn’t use any digital techniques or finishing on his work, everything is done with oils, acrylics or watercolour. His watercolour technique in particular is very similar to that used in work of Frank Frazetta, who was one of the greats of sci-fi and fantasy artwork in the mid 20th century. Note the similarities between Burburan’s Orc Shaman (below, left) and the famous Frazetta depiction of Conan the Barbarian (below, right).

Both images have the classic Frazetta faded background that still manages to teem with detail, allowing that foreground to really pop. The softness of the background also allows the sharper, bolder foreground to appear much closer to the viewer than it actually is whilst adding to the atmosphere of the piece. That deliberate contrast and the clever use of distance within the layering creates an intensity that is heightened even more by the elevation of both barbarians, one on a classically unbeatable mountain of skulls, and the other emerging from a pit of skulls.

Burburan’s use of movement in his Orc Shaman piece arguably trumps the iconic static pose of Conan, who looks down imposingly on the viewer in a possible invitation for you to join his knee-harem. But the Shaman offers no quarter, like the Tarmogoyf he emerges from the soft beauty of nature ready to add to his already large collection of skulls. Both images are also on fire, but unlike the triumphantly epic ring of fire circling Conan you are subject to an anxious spray of creeping flames at the bottom left hand corner of the Orc Shaman.

“Boompile” embodies the millisecond before explosive violence that Burburan likes to occupy with a flavoursome sense of humour. The card text reads: 

“Fuses? We have more than enough! Now . . . which one was it?”

– Flearan One-Eye, goblin engineer

One can’t help but wonder if it was one of the many spikes of Burburan’s world that made fiery Flearan one-eyed as we watch them squint at the burning fuse snaking towards the enormous mound of spears and explosives from which Flearan leans away from with much underestimated caution.

The card itself is a chance card that determines a board wipe based on a coin flip, so the tension between the possibility of explosion and Flearan keeping their other eye is a very real one.

Speaking of eyes, Voracious Reader is probably my favourite Burburan art piece so far because he manages to somehow make an Eldrazi Homunculus look genuinely deranged (below, left) as it tears through arcane knowledge after being transformed from the more recognisable depiction of Curious Reader (below, right) on the reverse of the card.

Homunculi are usually endearing, goofy amphibian-like creatures with a more gentle air whereas the Eldrazi are a feared and ancient race of formless beings that are eternally hungry as they travel between the planes of existence and devour all in their path, leaving scenes of terrifying destruction. They are usually depicted with long tentacular limbs and are of epic size and boast some of the most powerful cards in the game (See the iterations of Emrakul and Ulamog).

So it’s a fun and unexpected moment when you’re confronted with a little blue creature possessed with primeval rage triggered by a mysterious text containing what must have been cursed arcane knowledge.

Burburan’s barbarians are more beast than human. The tusks, teeth, horns and spears of his subjects are often at odds with the softer landscapes and fauna surrounding them, which only heightens the brutality of his work. When he isn’t depicting a creature too large for the confines of the human page, he has fun with you in a brutal but amusing fashion. Just make sure you don’t lose an eye.

All MtG artworks are property of Wizards of the Coast, used in accordance with the Fan Content Policy.

Words: Nina Saeidi (Lowen)

Liked it? Take a second to support Astral Noize on Patreon!