New York Times Showcases Paleoanthropological Artist Viktor Deak

Viktor Deak's reconstruction of Homo heidelbergensis (Stage 5)
Viktor Deak's reconstruction of Homo heidelbergensis (Stage 5)

About a year and half ago I enrolled in an anthropology seminar even though I was getting a Master’s in Biology. I did so just to keep some sanity amongst the molecules, reactions and abstract names for genes I was immersed in. I thoroughly enjoyed it and wrote up a review on the evolution of human skin color for my final.

One of my classmates, I remember, decided to focus his term paper on the intersection between science and art in paleoanthropological reconstructions. Reconstructing faces and bodies from paleoanthropological samples takes an intimate knowledge of comparative anatomy and a healthy dose of artistic imagination to fill in the gaps and fragmentations in the fossils. I don’t know what became of his paper, but having taken a science illustration class as an undergraduate, his curiosity in investing paleolithic and anthropological reconstructions sparked my personal interests.

Viktor Deak, one of the world's top paleoartists (Erik Olsen/The New York Times)
Viktor Deak, one of the world's top paleoartists (Erik Olsen/The New York Times)

Fast forward to today’s New York Times, featuring an article on Viktor Deak’s work. I don’t remember my classmates name but if you’re out there, or to anyone else interested in how this is done, you should check out this entertaining article. Deak is among the world’s leading paleoartists. Chances are you’ve seen his handy work when looking at a reconstruction of Homo habilis, Australopithecus afarensis or Paranthropus boisei. He answers many questions, one of the biggest being how he got into the field,

“One of his first sculptures was done at a family barbecue, a human skeleton from chicken bones. Other defining moments, he said, included a book of dinosaur illustrations his Budapest grandfather bought for him, seeing Luke Skywalker get a robotic hand and watching an eighth-grade science film of Mr. Gurche playing Pygmalion to a fossil skull. (Mr. Deak was born in Hungary but grew up in Connecticut.) His big break came when he was a School of Visual Arts student sketching in the natural history museum…”

Seems like he and I have many similar interests. I too was fascinated with dinos, robots (especially in Star Wars) and bones as a child. There’s a lot of multimedia linked with the article, such as video and this exceptionally cool 360 degree panorama of his studio in New York City. I like the corner above his monitors, full of toys! I think I could get lost in that place for weeks.

Viktor, if you stumble upon this post. Keep up the great work!

4 thoughts on “New York Times Showcases Paleoanthropological Artist Viktor Deak

  1. Thank you so much for you very kind words. Im glad you liked the article and were able to get something out of it. Nice to see so many people are interested in this field. Dont let your tools get dusty! Best, Viktor

  2. His shelves have more skulls than a heavy metal album cover, some of them only partly deflected. Even his little pasta machine is creepy. He uses it to extrude red clay at just the right thickness for face muscles.

  3. I love your work!! Always knew those sketches and your talent would take you places……
    All the best,

  4. I just now am stumbling upon Viktor’s own “contemporary” work. Shaina’s right, you were always an extraordinary talent and creative genius. It’s great to hear your discovery story and to see your work on display. Next time I’m in the City’s museums, I’ll have to look closer at our ancestors! Keep pushing forward, Viktor.

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