Click on photos to enlarge.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Most Popular Posts of 2017

This is where each "Art Now and Then" post begins.
One of the features I like best about Google's Blogger has to do with its statistics page. I've not checked, but I suppose other blog service platforms also have much the same feature. In any case Blogger allows me to keep track of the number of readers (often called "hits") that a given post may have over a period of time (hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and what they call "all time.") Inasmuch as a write on a fairly broad range of art related subjects, this statistical page allows me to keep track of which content areas readers are most interested in, as well as how many readers follow my posts on a daily basis.

Go for it! While you're still trunk enough to dry.
Inasmuch as this is New Year's Eve I thought it appropriate to post feedback as to which posts have been the most popular this year. For the most part they have been those dealing with relatively unknown artist "now and then." In general, however, posts dealing with art from various decades, art involving wild animals, and in one particular case, paintings of a famous celebrity (more on that later). So, starting with number eight on the list, they are:
 (Click on the artist's name for the full posting.)

Virtually all George Lois Esquire covers had a current events tie-in.
George Lois was the great master of the conceptual magazine cover, especially Esquire in the 1960s. When Muhammad Ali was convicted of draft evasion and stripped of his heavyweight boxing title, Lois depicted him as the martyred St. Sebastian, with arrows sticking out of his body (above). Lois also persuaded celebrities such as Richard Nixon, Andy Warhol, Sonny Liston, Jack Nicholson (nude, no less), Tom Cruise, and Dustin Hoffman. Between 1962 and 1971, Esquire featured one remarkable cover after another, each conceived and designed by Madison Avenue’s 'king of covers'," George Lois. Esquire covers are icons of the age, acidic critiques of contemporary society, politics and manners that subverted the conventions of mainstream magazines. It was a chronicle in its golden age, a critical period of American social and political turmoil, and the legacy of a remarkable graphic designer and communicator.

Nothing could better symbolize the peculiar relationship of these to talented architects better that the Barberini Palace staircase. Borromini designed it, Bernini saw it to completion after his competitor's death.
Though Borromini and Bernini, the two stalwarts of 17th century Italian architecture, were both masters of the Baroque style, they were very different in their approach to work and artistic expressions. Bernini, suave and charming, sought drama and theatrics in his works. His flamboyance oozed out through his creations. Bernini knew how to play with the audience’s emotional and spiritual responses. Borromini, on the other hand, was cold, melancholic, and somewhat lacking in the social graces of Bernini. He depended heavily on his studies of geometry and classical architecture. Borromini’s work was idiosyncratic with a modest approach towards purposeful dramatization, distancing the audience who failed to fully comprehend it even though they were unanimous in accepting its superiority. The great act of providence had both of these artist’s path intertwined for the rest of their career.

6. Derold Page:
Fat Marbled Cat, Derold Page
When we speak of Folk Art, people primarily (and perhaps exclusively) tend to think of landscapes. Moreover we also tend to think only of American Folk Art. Of course, virtually every country in the world has its own folk art. In fact, in some countries, it's practically the only art they know. I've no idea if Folk Art is as popular in European countries as it is in the U.S.; but I do know that it's not got the same "look" to it we've come to know on this side of the Atlantic. I'm not sure the designation "Folk Art" is really the best tag for such work. Some writers and critics have come to refer to it as "naïve" art or "untrained" (that is, the work of self-taught artists). Derold Page is British, completely untrained, and seldom paints the usual nostalgic landscapes from memory we're so used to seeing from his American counterparts.

5. Chris Thunig:

I'm not positive, but I'm guessing this piece was done by
Thunig in preparation for The Da Vinci Code. It appears to
depict Leonardo, secretly working in the dead of night studying human anatomy by performing a cadaver dissection. (Such
activities were illegal at the time.) His assistant is probably
a grave digger. 
An artist working in the motion picture industry is only as good as his or her resume; and is often paid accordingly. That of Chris Thunig includes his current position as 2D Art Director at Bliz-zard Entertainment (producing and coordinating art and artists for video games); Senior Digital Matte Artist/Concept Artist Digital Matte Artist at The Moving Picture Company (London), and Digital Matte Artist at Duran Cinematics (Paris). In his first major motion picture, Immortal, (right) working for Duran, Thunig was just one of eighty other visual effects artists. Today, depending upon the complexity of the project, Thunig often supervises up to one-hundred such concept artist, who not only design visual effects, but are also tasked with figuring out how to create them on film (and on schedule, and on budget).


In Tune, 2007, David Uhl (for Harley Davidson) 

Artists have a tendency to turn famous men (and women) into myths. In no case is this more prevalent than in the literally hundreds, perhaps even thousands of portraits of Elvis Aaron Presley in virtually every art medium known to man. Even forty years after his death, Harley Davidson artist, David Uhl, contributes to this myth. Elvis purchased Graceland, seen in Uhl's painting, In Tune (above), in 1957. He was twenty-two at the time. Uhl depicts him as an adolescent teenager with the mother of all pompadours. Even Ronald Reagan would be envious.


3. Óscar Domínguez:

Dominguez's surreal protest of "progress."
Óscar Domínguez was born on the Canary Island of Tenerife in 1906. (The seven island chain is located just off the northwest coast of Africa.) There the boy spent his youth with his grandmother devoting himself to painting at a young age. He suffered from a serious birth defect which affected his growth and caused a progressive deformation of his scull, frame, and limbs. The family was quite wealthy inasmuch as his father was a large landowner of extensive agricultural properties. Dominguez moved to Paris in 1927, where he learned of the Surrealist movement. Picasso and Yves Tanguy became a great source of influence. He has often been criticized for painting too much like Picasso (a valid criticism).

Cabela's Pony Express Rider outside their Sidney, Nebraska, headquarters store.
Although Cabalas handles a smattering of art-related items, the real art is outside, between the store and the parking lot in the form of independently commissioned monumental bronze sculptures of (you guessed it) wildlife. Although the company has made its fortune facilitating the killing of wildlife, they are to be congratulated for their support of talented sculptors whose work is aimed at the preservation of the spirit of animals in the wild. Each store has a different bronze sculpture, some quite dramatic, some even including the human element from the past such as that outside the company's largest store in Hamburg, Pennsylvania (above), and their Pony Express Rider on the grounds of their headquarters complex in Sidney, Nebraska (above, right).


1. Pieter Claesz:   
Still Life with Musical Instruments, 1623, Pieter Claesz
Pieter Claesz was born in Berchem, Belgium, near Antwerp around 1597. He joined the Guild of St. Luke in 1620, also the year he moved to Haarlem where his son, the landscape painter, Nicolaes Pieterszoon Berchem, was born. Claesz and Willem Claeszoon Heda, who also worked in Haarlem, were the most important exponents of the "ontbijt" or dinner piece (not to be confused with the somewhat more well-known Dutch breakfast pieces, above). They painted with subdued, fairly monochromatic palettes, employing a subtle handling of light and texture as their prime means of expression. Claesz generally chose more homely objects than did Heda, although his later work became more colorful and decorative. Claesz's still-lifes often suggest allegorical purposes, with skulls, short candles, spilled ink, etc. serving as reminders of human mortality. Between them, the two men founded a distinguished tradition of still life painting in Haarlem. By the way, it's awfully easy to confuse the work of these two artists, not just because of their similarities in color and style, but taking into account their names as well. I just made a correction to an earlier posting where I had them confused.

Kitchen Duty, 2012, Bonnie Annee

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Fran Tratnik

11.6.1881 in Poland near Kokarje, Fran Tratnik.
(In case you're wondering, this and the painting
below both seem to have the same title).
Someone once said (or perhaps it was just me, just now), "An artist's work is the signature of their soul." Just as experts can tell a lot about a person simply by examining their handwriting, (particularly their signature), likewise many people (and not just art experts) who "love" a particular work of art, can tell a great deal about the nature of the artist who produced it. If the individual truly loves an artist's work, there will be a sort of metaphysical alignment between them and that work's creator even stretching back many centuries. In some ways one might think of it as similar to that between man and God. Best of all, inasmuch as artists, writers, and other creative individuals very often have much of their lives chronicled by art history and those who write it, there exists a reliable, and ever-more convenient, means of confirming such personal spiritual unity.
11.6.1881, in Poland near Kokarje, Fran Tratnik. Any artist who can produce two paintings in a single day as glorious as this and the one above deserves to be forgiven for tagging them with identical titles.
"Love at first sight" may happen in real life, but I doubt if it occurs very often with art. Instant love is little more than an infatuation. Love, as applied to a work of art, takes time....time for that work to "grow" emotionally within the mind of the art lover. Only then will there develop an emotional kinship that extends to the creative genius who created such work. The paintings, drawings, and etchings of Fran (or sometimes Franz) Tratnik's art is a case in point. I rather doubt anyone would likely "fall in love" with a single glimpse of his work. Such work is, as they say, "an acquired taste" or, more precisely, "it grows on ya."

More than just a painter, Tratnik was also a philosopher.
Fran Tratnik was born in 1881. Some sources list him as English while others refer to him as Slovene...or perhaps Slovenian. He was the fifth of nine children of Josefu Tratnik, a farmer and his wife who were also part-time potters, a raft builder (or ferryman), and timber dealer. (With nine kids, you need a backup plan). Fran grew up attending elementary school in his village of Gorizia. He graduated and then began studying painting and German at the age of fifteen or sixteen at the home of a wealthy benefactor named as N. Gosar in Celje, Slovenia. Gosar was supposed to prepare Tratnik in 1897 for the admission exam at the Prague Academy.

Portrait of an Elegant Lady,
Fran Tratnik
Fran Tratnik spent 1898 alone in Prague. When he'd tried to sign in to Tamkajshnjo Art Academy, he was told he was too young. For a whole year, he studied alone. He was admitted the following year. Tratnik studied under a variety of painters in a variety of styles in Prague. Due to his parents' financial difficulties Tratnik was forced to transfer to Vienna, where he studied under a schol-arship. However, he lost his sti-pend for neglecting his classes. From there Fran Tratnik moved on to study at the Munich Acad-emy in the years 1902-1903. There Tratnik joined their national art program. While at the Munich Academy Tratnik painted Pogor-elci (pogorishche, our birth vil-lage).

Refugees, II and III, Fran Tratnik, undated but probably after WW I.
From 1904-05 Tratnik showed his work at numerous exhibitions in Munich, Prague, London, Rome, Celje, etc. Tratnik mainly worked as an illustrator and draftsman during 1907-09. He moved to Munich in 1909-12 though he was active in Prague. Subsequently Tratnik worked as a freelance artist; later employed as a restorer at the museum in Ljubljana. His work consisted mainly of portraits in oil, drawings, which dealt with social issues, and poverty, which he repeatedly traced to memories from his village homeland. Tratnik grew up on the banks of the Dreta, in the small village of Potok, which is only a few hundred inhabitants. The poverty and suffering he knew during childhood, as artistic subjects be became the central motifs of his work.

Two Old Tramps in Conversation, 1909, Fran Tratnik
Fran Tratnik is regarded as one of the pioneers of Expressionism in Slovenia. Two Old Tramps in Conversation (above), from the year 1909, can be explicitly categorized into the same area having to do with poverty and suffering. At that time, Tratnik had finished his academic education and already made a name for himself as an artist. Among other pursuits, he provided illustrations for the magazine Simplicissimus. From a slightly low vantage point, we see two elderly men who are excited about their conversation. Because of the ground and the partially executed background, it can be assumed that the two men have met in a field or outside a village. However, the fact that both men are not normal villagers is readily evident at first glance. Their clothing is sometimes far too big, and seems worn out, while the makeshift cane threatens to break at any time. Moreover the two have scraggly beards and warts on their faces. The swollen fingers of the man on the left makes them appear as tramps, who simply have other worries than outward appearances.

Blind Woman, 1921, Fran Tratnik
Tratnik, in his mature period, evol-ved into a deep social chute-chega of satirical expressionism. He was influenced by the impres-sionism of Domachega and Cheshkega. In Tratnik's "social painting" we see a fine parallel with the literature of lvan Cankar, a pessimism as to his heroes, a despair and aware-ness that overcomes the current genius, a fatal Bulgarian curse. Fran Tratnik died at his home in 1957. He was seventy-six.

As a side note, I'd have to say that this had been one of the most difficult biographical items I've even written. There seems to be no more than a few dozen words written about Fran Tratnik in English. All my references had to be translated from Slovene; and judging by the difficulty both Google and Bing have had in doing so, that language must be quite difficult. Usually their trans-lation aps are a godsend for crossing the language barrier, but this time as much as 20% of the Slovene text came back untranslated, often with such garbled syntax as to be totally useless. Thus some of my text may be ambiguous and questionable at best, if not just plain wrong. Therefore, I encourage anyone familiar with Tratnik or the Slovene language who wish to correct possible errors, please leave me a note in the "comments" section below so I may make changes. Despite the difficulties, I've come to a sort of personal kinship both as to both the artist and his work, which seems to me to prove my initial point, as to gaining a deep understanding of the artist just from his work alone.

Suzana, Fran Tratnik


Friday, December 29, 2017

1930s Art

The climax of an entire decade of classic entertainment.
Notwithstanding the dire economic straits of the 1930s, seldom has a single decade produced so much art, and such great art as this particular era. Normally, when a nation (and in this case, the entire world) suffers a calamity on the scale of the Great Depression, art and artists are the first to suffer. And it would be foolish to claim that wasn't a factor during the thirties, but paradoxically, not to the degree one might expect. In the case of the United States, the Franklyn D. Roosevelt administration stepped in with much-needed jobs and income for the nation's artists, though it would be impossible to ascertain just how much such programs as the WPA actually contributed to this cornucopia of painting, sculpture, and photography of the times. Even perusing a list of outstanding artist (below), who emerged from the various government-supported programs would only suggest their impact. In some cases, such as photographer Dorothea Lang, such support was crucial. In others, such as the movie industry, not so much. During such a dark and seemingly hopeless era, the movies served simply to dull the pain.
For kids, a feature-length cartoon...WOW! For Walt Disney,
the seeds of an entertainment kingdom...several of them.
Throughout the 1930s and into the early 1950s, many American artists sought an indigenous style of realism that would embody the values of ordinary people in the everyday working world. This search for a national style of art grew out of a wariness of European abstraction and a tendency toward isolationism following World War I. In the wake of severe economic uncertainty, social upheaval, and political shifts that accompanied the disastrous Great Depression, American artists maintained a commitment to projecting a very personal view. Intent on shunning the influence of European art and instruction, these artists struggled to establish and maintain their own identity. Much of this work, especially that now known as Social Realism and American Regionalism, falls within the larger movement known as the American Scene.
Saul Kovner's upper image of a Brooklyn playground would be little changed if painted today. However, Shokler's Brooklyn Waterfront looks nothing like Brooklyn today.
Village Speakeasy Closed for Violation, c. 1934, Ben Shahn
Social Realism is a type of American realism which is overtly political in content, critical of society, marked by its realistic depiction of social problems. The greatest impact of this art movement was felt in the first half of the twentieth century, however. Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros strongly influenced many North American social realist and New Deal artists. Some of these northern artists emerged from the Ashcan school, while others, like Ben Shahn, evolved separately.
American Realism

Social Regionalism
The Social Realism of Abraham Harriton (upper image)
and Reginald Marsh (lower image).
In 1935 Grant Wood published the essay "Revolt Against the City", which defended his regionalist beliefs. Wood argued that the Great Depression was good for American art because it forced many Am-erican artists, who could not finance a trip abroad, to rely on their own traditions, rather than those of Europe. He argued that to look toward America for artistic inspire-ation was neither provincial nor close-minded. Instead, it created an independent style that was both personal and narrative.
American Gothic, 1930,
Grant Wood
Of course Norman Rockwell is the most popular and easily recognizable Regionalist. His work appeared in The Saturday Evening Post for over 40 years. From January, 1930, to December, 1939, Rockwell painted sixty-six Post covers. His last painting for The Saturday Evening Post was published in 1963, marking the end of a publishing relationship that had included 321 cover paintings. He spent the next 10 years painting for Look Magazine, where his work depicted his interests in civil rights, poverty and space exploration.
The upper image, Stock Market Quotations, is famous
for the man on the left appearing to have three legs.
Although not a painter, the Farm Security Agency (FSA) photographer, Dorothea Lange's dismal images of the 1930s era misery suffered by farmers in the Midwest stands today as the very face of the Great Depression. Without her government-sponsored "art of desperation," we might well have forgotten by now the effects of the gross economic and land mismanagement, serving as the direct cause of the social upheavals which this catastrophic period inflicted upon the American people. Instead, Lange's groundbreaking art stands as a vital component in the history of the past hundred years--a constant reminder lest we stumble once more.
Dust Storm, Rolla Kansas, 1935, Dorothea Lange.
The 1930s was not all marked by days of dark, desperate, dismal dread. A new look was taking shape in American art, a first glimpse of a brighter future. It was called Streamline Moderne at the time, or sometimes termed Art Moderne. It was a late type of the Art Deco architecture and design that first emerged in the 1930s. It was an architectural style emphasizing curving forms, long horizontal lines, and sometimes nautical elements. Streamline Moderne was both a reaction to Art Deco and a reflection of austere economic times. Sharp angles were replaced with simple, aerodynamic curves. Exotic woods and stone were replaced with concrete and glass.
During my early college days in the mid-1960s, I made many trips through the Art Moderne Cincinnati Greyhound terminal traveling to and from home on alternating weekends.
Before the 1930s ended, such influences had seeped into automobile design and many other consumer products. Although other styles and art eras have since come and gone, the streamline look remains as evidenced by the German Schlorwagen (below) dating from 1939. Had it not been for WW II, we might now be driving around in Schlorwagen "beans" instead of the more plebian Volkswagen "bugs." As for the Italian Bugati...they were a little too patrician for American tastes.

Auto design came a long way during the 1930s. Present-day automobiles owe a lot to the first tentative steps toward streamlining of that decade. Compare the Bugatti look of what "might have been" with that of the Schlorwagen.
In 1939--a whole seventy-eight years ago, comic book artist Bob Kane had an idea for a masked vigilante; a hard-as-nails detective, who would ruthlessly crack down on crime just like The Shadow and The Phantom had been doing for years in pulp stories of their own. That masked vigilante was called Batman. Today, in the closing days of 2017, that character has become as recognizable as any in pop culture, becoming one of the most influential fictional characters of all time...except, of course, for Superman (who's a year older than Batman). The super guy was originally drawn by Ohio cartoonist, Joe Shuster.

Where are the campy, caped, crime crusaders when
we really need them?
Not all American artists from the 1930s rejected, or couldn't afford, studying art in Europe. Architects continued to flock to Paris' Ecole des Beaux Arts as did designers, at least until May, 1940, when the Nazi's hit town. We saw the International style in Greyhound bus terminals (now all demolished), Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, and William F. Lamb's Empire State Building, the paintings of Robert Delaunay (bottom, who was French), even the Paris travel posters (below) urging artists to come to town. The 1930s were a wild and bumpy ride, but what emerged in the decades after the war owes much to the creative seeds sown in those tumultuous ten years.

1930s vintage Art Deco travel poster, Robert Falcucci
Rhythm Sans Fin, 1930, Robert Delaunay


Thursday, December 28, 2017

The New Yorker

The first cover was by Rea Irvine, who invented the magazine's mascot, the "dandy," Eustace Tilley. The current cover is by Barry Blitt. Notice the newsstand prices--fifteen cents in 1925, $8.99 today.
Yesterday I wrote about Al Parker (the item below), one of the greatest magazine cover illustrators to ever wield a brush. I mentioned Parker's covers for The Ladies' Home Journal (now published eleven times a year) and the Saturday Evening Post (now published only six times a year). Both were once weekly magazines. Both have seen their readership and ad revenue decline in recent years due to television and the present day 24/7 news cycle. Newsweek ceased publication in 2012 (except in digital format). Look and Life bit the dust long before that. Of all the weekly news magazines launched in the 1920s, only two continue in their original form, Time, and The New Yorker (above). And of those, only one, The New Yorker, continues to predominantly use the illustrator's art on their covers.
Constantin Alajalov cover December 8, 1945, the year I was born. Notice that twenty years after its founding, The New Yorker was still only fifteen cents.
To be perfectly fair, comparing The New Yorker to all the others is somewhat unfair. The New Yorker always was, (until recently) a regional magazine in a very high revenue market, while all the others had the expenses of publishing, in some cases, on a world-wide scale. Today, several other cities in the U.S. have similar publications following The New Yorker model. So far as I know, each seems to be surviving, if not thriving. Almost from its start in February, 1925, The New Yorker has long been one of the most traditional and prestigious magazines, not just in the United States, but also in the rest of the world. Its covers have always been synonymous with efficiency when it comes to selling and enchanting. Many artists have contributed to this success, among them Art Spielgeman, Tomer Hanuka, Jacques de Loustal, Barry Blitt, Edward Sorel, Ilonka Karasz, and the almost mythical Arthur Getz, who contributed to the magazine for fifty years.
First Tracks, Feb 4, 2013, Birgit Schossow.
The New Yorker was originally established as a venue for now-legendary wits like Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and James Thurber. Unlike many of its publishing peers, the magazine went through only three editors in its first sixty-six years, during which time its unimpeachable literary standards and sophisticated cartoons claimed a unique place in the genteel culture of East Coast WASPs. In 1985 the mighty media giant S.I. Newhouse bought the magazine. Then in 1992 he handed its editorial reins to Tina Brown, the high-powered Briton who had famously salvaged and relaunched Vanity Fair in 1984. Many feared that Brown's celebrity and advertiser-friendly predilections would coarsen The New Yorker's tone. They were not reassured by the introduction of full-page photographs, ad-rich theme issues, and pious chronicles of the lives of media moguls. However, Brown, quickly raised The New Yorker's profile, circulation, and spending, laying claim to the irreverent spirit of the magazine's founder, Harold Ross.
The New Yorker cover is frequently a chronical of our changing times as drawn by Barry Blitt.

Suspicions of professional favor-trading between Brown and her husband, Random House head, Harry Evans, have often circulated, but the couple claims they are more prone to competition than collusion. When Tina Brown became the editor of The New Yorker, she hired Raw co-founder (and Art Spiegelman's wife) Françoise Mouly, as the new art director. The magazine soon became friendlier to comic strip artists, both European and American.
Instead of being tucked away on the inside pages, The New Yorker often displays the best of the cartoonist's art on its covers, as seen in Art Spielgeman's "tribute" to Mother's Day.
The New Yorker is a weekly magazine dedicated to ideas. It is timeless and immediate, energetic and thoughtful, serious and at the same time, funny. The publication is about good writing, a point of view, and a deeper understanding of the world. A typical issue of The New Yorker contains an eclectic mixture of political and business coverage, social commentary, fiction, humor, art, poetry, and criticism. Contributors to The New Yorker include both recognized talents of long-standing and newly discovered voices. Inspiration for The New Yorker covers, comes, for the most part, from three sources--national news events, celebrities aligned with regional arts happenings, and the gradual changes in American life (above), as seen by some of the best comic artists money can buy.
It's important to note the dates at the top of each cover. Some illustrations, such as these by Jacques de Loustal (above-top, and Ed Sorel (just above), seem well ahead of their times.
There are numerous examples of major news stories taking instant precedence over all other covers. I've chosen three, 9/11, the death of Osama bin Laden, and the stunning results of our most recent presidential election. The 9/11 cover (below)was created jointly by New Yorker art director, Françoise Mouly, and artist Art Spiegelman for the September 24, 2001 issue. Mouly repositioned Spiegelman's silhouettes, so that the North Tower's antenna broke the "W" of the magazine's logo. Spiegelman wanted to see the emptiness, and suggest the horrific image of all that disappeared on 9/11. The silhouetted Twin Towers were printed in a fifth, black ink, on a field of black made up of the standard four color printing inks. An overprinted clear varnish helps create the ghost images that linger through the blackness.
Artist, Ana Juan created the lower, commemorative, image.
Gürbüz Doğan Ekşioğlu woke up on Monday, May 16, 2011, at his home in Istanbul. He turned on the TV news, as was his daily habit. As soon as he found out that American forces had killed Osama bin Laden, Gürbüz began sketching. He noted later that Osama bin Laden was like a sketch that he did not like, so he erased him. That same day, his cover (below) was on newsstands around the world.
The Death of Osama bin Laden, 2011, by Turkish artist Gürbüz Doğan Ekşioğlu.
Not many people (myself included) were expecting the results of the 2016 presidential election. From all indications, that included the electoral college winner of the nationwide poll himself. Due to the fact that New York is the home of Hilary Clinton and, largely a Democratic blue state (especially New York City); and despite the fact that the city is, and was, the hometown of Donald J. Trump, virtually no one expected him to be elected President. Come the morning of November 9th, 2016, New Yorkers and the city's progressive establishment were nearly apoplectic. That probably included New Yorker cartoonist and frequent cover artist, Barry Blitt. In any case, his cartoon cover with its dark humor exquisitely captured the horror and dispair that gradually settled over the city--a sense of disbelief which lingers yet today.
Donald Trump turns New York on its ear.

April 11, 2016, Hanuka, Take the L Train


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Al Parker

The cover of the newest book featuring the illustrations of Al Parker.
February 25th
Dear Al-
This is the second fan letter of my long career. It is prompted by your superb illustration on page 34 of the current Ladies' Home Journal. It is simply extraordinary. Your amazing creativeness, taste and versatility. While the rest of us are working knee-deep in a groove you are forever changing and improving. You have brought more freshness, charm and vitality to illustration than any other living illustrator.
Now at last I have said it and I feel much better because I have been believing this for a long, long time.

It's not often an artist receives fan mail from a fellow artist, especially a competitor in his or her line of work. If you haven't already guessed, the "Norman" signing the note above was Norman Rockwell. Both men lived in New Rochelle, New York. Although there was twelve years difference in their ages (Parker was the younger), and Rockwell was by far the better known at the time, both were at the zenith of their careers. Today, Norman Rockwell is a household name, perhaps the only recent artist many people can recall, and certainly the most popular artist in the U.S. for several generations. Yet Al Parker, in many ways the equal to Rockwell, and among critics, arguably the better of the two illustrators, could be considered practically unknown.

Parker's magazine covers were not without humor, but it was usually more subtle without the broad appeal of Rockwell's Post covers.
It's hard to account for this discrepancy other than the fact that Rockwell was a genre artist, a painter of the humor and irony inherent in American life during the more than sixty years making up his career. Al Parker, like Rockwell, also painted magazine covers, though the chief purveyor of his art was (as Rockwell mentioned) the Ladies Home Journal and several other magazines appealing to female readers. Beyond that, much of Al Parker's best work was not on magazine covers but tucked away inside as illustrations for the romantic short stories which were the chief attraction of such periodicals.

Like Rockwell, Al Parker worked extensively from photographic sources.
Al Parker was born in 1906 and grew up in the St. Louis area where, as a teenager, his early talent led his grandfather, a Mississippi River Pilot, to pay for Al's first year in St. Louis' Washington University's School of Fine Arts. Parker's musical talent with a saxophone in a river boat jazz band was enough to later earn money for tuition. After college, Parker married a fellow student, Evelyn, then joined with several former classmates to open an advertising agency in St. Louis. The business did not do well during the Great Depression, and Parker moved to New York City in 1935.

An Al Parker Good Housekeeping cover from May, 1953, akin to what Rockwell was doing at the time but with a cleaner, less cluttered look.
Parker got his big break when a cover illustration he did for House Beautiful won a national competition. Shortly thereafter Parker was producing illustrations for Chatelaine, Collier's, Ladies' Home Journal and Woman's Home Companion. During the next thirteen years, Parker produced a total of fifty covers for the Ladies' Home Journal alone. He also sold covers and illustrations to Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, McCall's, Sports Illustrated, Town and Country, and Vogue.

Parker's TV Guide cover
featuring Lucille Ball was
done with children's crayons.
Parker was an illustrator during a sort of "power vacuum" when the old gods of illustration (Rockwell, Leyendecker, N.C. Wyeth, etc.) were waning, but the new breed of illustrators (Robert Weaver, Bernie Fuchs, Bob Peak, and others) had not yet arrived. Everything was up for grabs; the styles of illustration which dominated the first half of the 20th century were becoming obsolete, while the new styles had not yet found their footing. In that window of time, Parker became the leading illustrator, exploring dozens of new paths and planting dozens of new seeds. He never stayed in one place long enough to harvest those seeds himself, but they made profitable careers for a number of illustrators who followed in his footsteps.

Parker's style changed regularly in keeping up with, or even leading, the evolving styles of illustration.
Al Parker's swimsuit edition.
Parker is credited with creating a new school of illustration and was much imitated. In an effort to distinguish himself from his imitators, Parker worked in a variety of styles, themes and media. Examples range from children's crayons to acrylics. In cooperation with the magazine's art director, he secretly provided every illustration in an issue of Cosmopolitan, using different pseudonyms, styles and mediums for each story. Over the years, Al Parker won more than twenty-five gold medals and awards of excellence in the Art Directors Club and Society of Illustrators' shows. And, like Rockwell, Parker was one of the founding faculty members, lending his name to Albert Dorne's Famous Artist School. One of his lessons can be seen below.
Could you learn to draw from a mail-order
correspondence course?
I couldn't.
Another factor in the striking difference in popularity between Rockwell and Parker, both now and then, was the prevalence in Parker's work of advertising art. I'm sure there were probably some products and services for which Parker did not create ads, but none come to mind at the moment. On the other hand, after his career was well established, Rockwell seldom chose to create magazine ads. Either he didn't need the work or most advertisers could afford his rates. (Ad artists are never respected nor remembered in the art history books.)
If the headline didn't have new mothers rolling in the aisles laughing, then the copy (below) would likely elicit gales of laughter.
"On your very first trip you'll discover there's nothing like a Flagship for mother traveling with a baby. Certainly there's nothing like it on earth for sheer convenience. The trip is so short you can travel light... No need to lug along oodles of clothing and diapers. There's nothing like it at mealtimes either! They're absolute pleasure time with baby's special prepared food served when he wants it . . . how he wants it. But at journey's end--ah that's when you really count your Flagship blessings. For not only will baby be a cheerful cherub (if he isn't already asleep) but you yourself will still feel rested and relaxed. Air travel alone makes this possible." (emphasis mine.)
I guess little girl babies weren't allowed to fly on American Airlines. Whoever provided the copy for the ad above had obviously never traveled with a baby (they come in two sexes). Apparently advertising has changed as much as air travel.

Notice the Minimalist qualities
of Parker's nose, cheek,
and neckline.