by Terri Windling
In the mid–Eighties, Tom began to work out of a loft in New York City. Despite the bucolic imagery he was creating he was very much an urban man, fond of roaming the city streets for distraction and inspiration. He had a penchant for old diners and cafes tucked into the back streets of Soho and Tribeca; I recall that many of his best ideas began as sketches on the back of napkins.He created two children’s book series (Goblin Tales and Nightlights); wrote the children’s book A Monster at Christmas; worked as the art director for Donald Grant, Publisher; developed ideas for book packagers; and began the work for which he is still best known outside the genre today: modernistic, cutting–edge book designs which manipulate reproductive and computer techniques to unique effect.These stunning, award–winning designs (very different from his trademark Romanticism) can be found on mainstream and mystery books from a number of New York publishing houses.
Today, Tom speaks of this New York period as the time when the foundations were laid for years of work that followed after. The Adult Fairy Tales series of novels came out of that time period — a series Tom and I created together inspired by our mutual love for old, unexpurgated folk stories (and literary retellings thereof). The Snow White, Blood Red anthology series also came into being with Thomas’ aid, inspired by the darker side of fairy tales and the fiction of Angela Carter.Fans of Tom’s art don’t always realize that his involvement in such book projects encompasses much more than simply creating the lovely cover designs. In New York in those days there was a loose circle of young writers, artists and editors "growing up" together in the publishing field, supporting each others’ work and ideas. What we shared in common was a love for myth, folk lore, folk music and "magic realism"; the fantasy genre gave us a home, an audience, and a living.As part of this group, Tom was an active behind–the–scenes collaborator not only for much of my work but for books by many others as well, due to his singular clarity of vision and generosity of spirit.
At the end of the 1980s, Tom moved to a more secluded part of the country. (For the sake of his much–valued privacy, we won’t say where.) Although he remains close to a core group of friends, he prefers to lead a reclusive life in which outside distractions can be kept to a minimum and he is free to focus on his art.He continues to create book illustrations and designs, to exhibit his work in throughout the U.S., and to sell his paintings, drawings, and prints through various galleries. For over twenty years his art graced the covers ofthe annual Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror volumes, and it continues to appear on numerous other editions, from large and small publishers alike. His work is so unique, memorable, and instantly recognizable, that "the Canty look" has become a shorthand phrase among New York editors and art directions — meaning a delicate, fluid line and luminosity of color.(There is also a particular shade of color that has come to be known as "Canty blue.")
This, then, is the professional Thomas Canty, seen through the hundreds of book covers and designs he has created, resulting in two World Fantasy Awards, museum exhibitions and other honors. The personal side of the man is a little harder for me to pin down in words — for Tom can be like the Trickster figures found in old mythology: elusive, contradictory, presenting many different faces to the world.With one foot planted in the 19th century, and one foot in the 21st, he is as conversant with the ideas of William Morris, James McNeil Whistler and Oscar Wilde as he is fond of high-tech computer design and modern American pop culture. Although he is a shy and reclusive man, he can also be enormously charismatic. He is smart, insightful, generous to a fault, and the funniest of storytellers.As an artist he is painfully humble, and does not rate his own work as highly as do his peers — but the fact remains that this work has had a profound impact on the mythic arts, inspiring artists, writers and readers of magical fiction the world over.