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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Al Hirschfeld

Everyone seems to enjoy the art of caricature.  Often it is linked to the art of the cartoonist.  But the two are not inextricably bound.  The very best caricaturists have always existed free of speech balloons or the sight "gag."  And, leading the pack of this rare breed, was Al Hirschfeld. Few recent artist have ever had his instantly recognizable following.  His caricatures of the stars from the New York and Hollywood entertainment scenes are as familiar as his trademark gimmick of hiding his daughter's name (Nina) within each of his works.

Hirschfeld's work graced the cover of The New York Times Sunday Drama section so often he practically became its resident artist.  His faces appeared on  more TV Guide covers than that of any other artist.  No TV or movie star could be said to have "arrived" until their countenance had been interpreted by this master of exquisitely drawn lines.  In its evocative cartoon wit, Hirschfeld's work ranks as classic character portraiture.  With his amazing deftness and economy of line, he revealed himself to be a serious technician and artist with a unique style and flavor.  His work fixed, unmistakably, the mid-twentieth century show-biz culture in a way that might well be considered social history.  He compares easily with the likes of Honore Daumier and Thomas Nast. 

Self-Portrait, Al Hirschfeld

Though there is undeniably a cartoon-like quality to his work, his humor mostly derived from his outrageously distorted, yet instantly recognizable faces.  However, Hirschfeld's deftly insightful caricature portraits in pen and ink masked a lesser known side.  He was also a master artist, painter, and expert lithographer.  He was featured in many one-man shows in cities all over the U.S. and abroad.  Today, his work rests in the permanent collections of major museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Israel's Hamima Museum.   
It keeping with his Broadway show business roots, there is a lyrical, dancing quality to Hirschfeld's work.  To a degree envied by other artists, there is an incomparable rhythm and effortless grace that seems lighter than air.  His art often appears to defy gravity.  Al Hirschfeld was born in 1905.  He died in 2003 at the age of 99, his pencil and drawing pad, never far from his side.

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