obviously extinct

All hail these awesome doomed creatures by artist Bill Carman

Discover a world of corgi-cheetahs, monopuses and glow-backed bunnies when you fall down a “sabre-toothed” rabbit hole into the very round head of artist Bill Carman

Artists can have many roles. Some can inspire through resistance, some through shock, and some through love.

Bill Carman

TOPIA is always looking for unusual images that resonate and fell into into a rabbit hole on discovering internationally acclaimed illustrator, Bill Carman, whose surreal ‘Obviously Extinct’ series is bizarrely poignant and moving.

The extinction list is growing. In the past couple of decades, several species have been driven to extinction – and when they’re gone there’s no replacing them. Thanks to human interference like poaching, disruptive land development and the effects of climate change, there is now a crisis facing biodiversity. There are now a total of 41,415 species on the IUCN Red List, with 16,306 endangered species threatened with extinction. This is up from 16,118 last year.

Bill’s art is a strange journey of texture, mystery and potential narrative. Using “a word, a simple colour palette, a moment or nostalgic theme” as inspiration, his head is constantly being filled with the “stuff” of daily life that, after blending in his mind, is released as if by pressure valve in the form of artwork.

“‘Obviously Extinct’ is a great example of my dealing with horrific things by clinging to my odd sense of humour,” he tells us.

The artist has also done pieces about other animal issues such as shark fin soup and the ongoing problem of bees. “My work can be a knee jerk response to keep me from crying. I started ‘Obviously Extinct’ in hopes of working it up as a book of Carman animal stuff. I’m still hoping to do it when I can find some time.”

Bill Carman, Beetween | All pictures courtesy of the artist

Bill was born on the floor of a house in Seoul Korea by a 90lb Korean mother with only a midwife as witness. He was 11lbs. 14oz. “The world still wonders how that tiny woman ejected such a large mass of boy with no trouble at all. The result of this physical improbability is a perfectly round head as witnessed by a convenience store clerk in Boise, Idaho.”

His exact words were, “Dude, your head is perfectly round.” Pause, Bill’s reply: “Uh, thank you?”

One would think that in such a perfectly round dome ideas and images might be orbiting neatly, ripe for the plucking. Nothing could be further from the truth. If Bill’s head were opened it would be quite messy. “A lot goes in there and if I did not release the pressure, an eye might pop out.”

Bill Carman gets autobiographical

Though Bill’s work can be meticulous in its execution, his mind scribbles, jumps, spins, and spits. There is rarely more than an itch at the beginning. Surface will speak and stuff emerges as unknown yet familiar characters, odd forms, and unbalancing juxtapositions. Some pieces divulge narratives as he paints. Some stare back and challenge.

“My earliest mentor and teacher was James Christensen. He got the ball rolling for me.”

Bill has a long list of diverse inspirations, including Northern Renaissance and Flemish painting, the sketches of Taiwanese-American visual artist James Jean, and the fantasy worlds of Ian Miller, Roger Dean, Victo Ngai, Tatsoyuki Tanaka, and English comic book artist, filmmaker and musician, Dave Mckean: “No visual storyteller has inspired me more.”

American Gods, a novel by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave Mckean (2001)

As someone who lives outside of the most defined mainstreams of the art and illustration worlds, when Bill is invited in, it’s welcomed. “Receiving awards from illustration annuals that guided and bewitched me when I was young, continues to surprise me. It also still amazes me that a single conversation can open the doors to work at a place like LucasArts Entertainment, and a single donated piece to the Society of Illustrators NYC would start a relationship with NYC gallery that would last nearly a decade and help me to build a relationship with the city itself.”

My work can be a knee jerk response to keep me from crying.

He adds that the most important unexpected outcomes though are personal. It’s the notes and correspondence from people whose lives have been affected somehow by the quirky worlds he creates have always been rewarding.

“Artists can have many roles. We are as diverse as any other group of people. Some can inspire through resistance, some through shock, and some through love. I settled into my role as a teacher and hopefully someone who can help change the language of the way we see and interact with the world.”

‘We’re Rich’ concerns the practice of “finning” for shark fin soup

“One thing I worry about with all our exposure to everything is that the truly innovative and different is becoming buried in the noise of sameness. We need individuality and diversity to keep us healthy.”

We need individuality and diversity to keep us healthy.

Only 67 Javan rhinos are currently estimated to remain in the world. This critically endangered rhino species is one of the most threatened large mammal species on Earth, confined to one park on the extreme southwestern tip of the Indonesian island of Java. He hopes that those who look at his work will be touched in that “mad place that lies in the corner of all brains”, and will be moved to save biodiversity – and the ONIHR. (Yes, that is “rhino” backwards.)

All hail the power of the ONIHR side-eye

Bill Carman just finished a long-term project illustrating a classic novel for Easton Press. The book will be released next year. View more of Bill Carman’s illustrations and support the artist by buying the book: Bird’s Home: The Art of Bill Carman (2015).

What’s so good about this?

Established in 1964, The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species has evolved to become the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species. It’s a critical indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity. Far more than a list of species and their statu, it is a powerful tool to inform and catalyse action for biodiversity conservation and policy change, critical to protecting the natural resources we need to survive. Learn more about The IUCN Red List.

Meet the writer

Lisa Goldapple is the creative brain behind the world of TOPIA. The magazine’s Editor-in-chief has been creating shows for MTV, BBC, Vice, TVNZ, National Geographic and more since the noughties. Then created social good platform, Atlas of the Future. Today her desk faces the trippy side of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which might explain a few things. To understand how TOPIA came out of this rare brain, read ‘Mind Blown’. As she puts it: “If life splinters and you hallucinate triangles, make a kaleidoscope.”

Follow @lisagoldapple on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. (Open to freelance collaborations.)

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