Wednesday, June 21, 2017

MORT DRUCKER WEEK!

This week the great Mort Drucker is being inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame. There will be a dinner and a reception at the Society in New York on June 22, 2017-- about 25 years late, as far as I'm concerned, but I'm still glad to see the 88 year old artist recognized that way.

At the same time, I'm pleased to announce that the new issue of Illustrators Quarterly, a superb international journal of illustration art, features a cover story (written by yours truly) about Drucker.


It features 32 pages of his marvelous drawings reproduced directly from the original art.








For the article, I was able to interview Drucker in his home and learn about his life and career.

Drucker's wedding picture with his wife Barbara

Drucker worked for his entire career on this same battered portable drawing board. 

It was a real treat for me, and I hope for readers.  This issue is a keeper.  It can be purchased from the publisher in the U.K. or from distributors in the US.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

ONE LOVELY DRAWING, part 53

Illustrator Joe Ciardello is well known for his excellent series of drawings of jazz musicians.   My favorite is this marvelous depiction of James  Oscar Smith, who worked magic on the electric organ.


Ciardiello's picture is an art form somewhere between drawing and music.

Vesalius would not recognize the bones in those hands, but their fluidity perfectly captures Smith's music.

A higher and more insightful level of drawing than mere accuracy.

Similarly, those arms are a graphic equivalent of jazz:



Contrast the light touch of Ciardiello's sprightly linework with the dense black background and you have a powerful composition.  But Ciardiello doesn't end it there.  He energizes the solid black with little jolts of color....


...which, combined with those glowing blue shadows...


... makes the entire picture as electric as Jimmy Smith's organ.

Ciardiello does a lot of literary and cultural figures but he seems to have a special affinity for musicians.  Check out his brilliant drawings of B.B. King and Rahsaan, both of them lovely (but I can't reproduce them here because this series is about one lovely drawing).

Saturday, June 03, 2017

MY FAVORITE LIGHTNING


From the perspective of a cartoonist:

If a lightning bolt's trousers came unbuckled and it slipped on a banana peel, it would look like George Herriman's marvelous, loopy version.  Plus, his black cloud and raindrops put Robert Motherwell to shame. 



From the perspective of a graphic designer:

This brilliant design is not only visually powerful but substantively strong as well: for a column about "judgement day" it effectively conveys the crack of doom.





From the perspective of a conceptual artist:

Saul Steinberg tugs a loose thread on the fabric of reality, and pulls that lightning bolt straight.  



From the perspective of an animator:

The beautiful pastoral sequence in Walt Disney's Fantasia animates the full story of lightning, beginning when Zeus appears in the clouds  during a storm.  The preliminary drawing is above, the final screenshot is below: 



A concept painting shows lightning from the fingertips of Zeus....

...but the final film shows Vulcan hammering out lightning on his celestial anvil for Zeus, with showers of sparks...


...and captures the motion of Zeus hurling his lightning bolts down on targets below.





From the perspective of an earthwork artist:

Spending the night in Walter DeMaria's Lightning Field , a network of gleaming lightning rods in a remote corner of the high desert of western New Mexico is a deeply moving aesthetic experience.

I find each of these versions of lightning brilliant in its own way,  the casual scribble in the Sunday comics as well as the epic metal sculpture luring real lightning down from the sky.   

As the great Walt Whitman said:
I do not call one greater and one smaller,
That which fills its period and place is equal to any.
Like lightning, originality only strikes once.  Or as the slightly less great Willie Tyler said:
The reason lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place is that the same place isn't there the second time.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

THE OLD HOUSE ON TANGLEWOOD LANE, chapter 5

One night Bernie Fuchs awoke to noises in his studio on Tanglewood Lane.  He found his friend, the great illustrator Robert Fawcett, highly inebriated.  

It was not uncommon for illustrators who were working late to get together to paint and drink and talk about the art business.  Fawcett had stopped in for a chat (the door to the studio was always unlocked) and tipped over a chair.  Fuchs gave Fawcett coffee and sent him home in a cab. 

The following morning Fuchs discovered that Fawcett had come across Fuchs's checkbook lying out on a table and written himself a check on Bernie's account.


Fawcett drunkenly signed Bernie's name to the check, then left it behind.

Fuchs was so delighted he pinned the check to his bulletin board next to his easel.  It remained there for the rest of his life.  "Bob," he recalled fondly, "Was the first great illustrator I met when I moved to Westport."

Some nights the royalty of American illustration-- artists such as Mark English and Bob Heindel-- would sit around that Tanglewood studio, talking and working.  Heindel recalled,  "I liked hanging out with those guys.  The better your competition was, the better your own work was going to be."  He continued,  "Any time you worked on something and you knew that Bernie was involved, you knew that you had to do the very best you could possibly do. He brought that out in people.  And if you ever competed with Bernie, you knew going into it that he was going to beat the shit out of you.  But we never let the competition get in the way.  We are truly good friends."

For long years that generation of talented illustrators worked to do exciting and new things.  They got together, commented on each other's work, discussed how artists were mistreated and how to improve their profession. They transformed the direction of American illustration and changed the rights of artists for the generations that followed.

Today the studio is empty, stripped bare in preparation for the bulldozers.  Nothing left but the ghosts of what took place here. 


The local newspaper, Westport Now, considers it nothing more than "the Teardown of the Day."



But important and remarkable things happened here once.

The poet Isabel Allende urged, "write it down before it is erased by the wind."  My hope in writing down the story of Fuchs and his art is to prevent it from being erased by the wind.  


A final view of the window of Bernie Fuchs' studio, courtesy of the Westport blog, 06880



Thursday, May 25, 2017

THE OLD HOUSE ON TANGLEWOOD LANE, chapter 4


As years went by, more houses were built on Tanglewood Lane.  The residents decided they merited a street sign at the entrance.   Because it was a private street, the residents would normally have to pay for their own sign. But Bernie Fuchs volunteered to paint one.

He took a board, painted it white and hand lettered the words, "Tanglewood Lane."





Fuchs' artwork may look free and spontaneous, but he started his training in the rigorous world of car illustration where he had to master technical drawing and lettering.


Fuchs' pictures had to satisfy committees of automotive engineers who inspected every hubcap and headlight to make sure they conformed to specifications.  Long after he graduated from illustrating car brochures, the skills remained and Fuchs could summon them up whenever his neighbors needed a street sign.

The only time I ever saw Fuchs look smug was when I asked who did the very impressive lettering on one of his illustrations.  He gave me a look that was downright cocky.   Fuchs was a humble man and never mentioned his many honors and awards but he was clearly proud that he had paid his dues and knew how to do his own lettering.

Today, illustrators using Photoshop Text have no need for such skills.  But it mattered that Fuchs was able to experiment from a position of strength.  He knew enough about mechanical drawing, perspective, realistic painting, lettering and other skills so that he could choose what to abandon and what to retain, rather than developing a style around his inadequacies.

For decades, visitors to Tanglewood Lane didn't realize they were driving past an original Bernie Fuchs painting.  Recently the new residents decided to replace their sign with a new, mechanically produced version.




Tuesday, May 23, 2017

THE OLD HOUSE ON TANGLEWOOD LANE, chapter 3


Bernie Fuchs and his wife Anna Lee (known to all as Babe) in front of their new house        

In 1961 when the young Bernie Fuchs moved his family into the house on Tanglewood Lane, no one could've anticipated the explosive decade ahead.  The 1960s shook the whole field of illustration just as they shook the country.

The 60s brought revolutions in art, music and literature.  Assassinations, political unrest over civil rights, women's rights and the Vietnam War created great volatility and ferment.  A handful of illustrators sensed the new creative possibilities and were quick to jump the fence.

Illustrations that were merely representational in the 1950s exploded with energy in the 1960s:

Left side by an unknown artist in 1956, right side by Fuchs in 1961. See my earlier post comparing such images. 

Wild new DayGlo colors and psychedelic combinations changed the world's palette.  Bright orange was pitted against shocking pink.  Turquoise was pitted against purple. Writing and collage were introduced into illustrations:




Bold new leaders and radical political trends inspired bold new graphic treatments:

Martin Luther King done with an abstract expressionist's flair

An impressionistic treatment matched the youth and vigor of John F. Kennedy 

Illustrators took unprecedented liberties, leading public taste rather than catering to it:








Not only did illustration look different at the end of the 60s, but so did illustrators.

Compare the fresh faced kid at the top of this post with the hippie version of Bernie Fuchs

The white hot innovations of the 60s were still playing out 50 years later.  An uncanny number of these innovations were plotted in the art studio over the garage at 3 Tanglewood Lane:



If the city of Westport had a lick of sense, they'd put a bronze plaque on the studio rather than demolishing it .


Monday, May 22, 2017

THE OLD HOUSE ON TANGLEWOOD LANE, chapter 2

After World War II, the illustration market heated up again.  Westport illustrator Al Parker recalled, 
At the end of the war, the illustrator strutted amidst a pageant of plenty. Advertising budgets had skyrocketed and magazines bulged with fiction, providing work for all who painted in the style of the innovators.
It was also a profession dominated almost exclusively by male illustrators.

During this era Arpi and Suren Ermoyan--one of the power couples of illustration-- moved into the house on Tanglewood Lane. They purchased it from R.G. Harris in 1953 and Harris moved back west to Arizona. 

 Arpi was one of the very few women to become a respected illustrator in those days.

illustration from Cosmopolitan Magazine, June 1953

The novelty of a woman illustrator did not escape attention:

Cosmopolitan clipping from Leif Peng's Today's Inspiration




She went on to become the Director of the Society of Illustrators and author of one of the premier books on illustration, Famous American Illustrators.  She worked at the prestigious ad agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach, and curated gallery exhibitions of illustration art.  She was a multidisciplinary force to contend with. Today illustration is no longer a boy's club, but surprisingly I've yet to hear a contemporary woman illustrator acknowledge Arpi Ermoyan's contribution in the early years.

Illustrators in Westport during this era used each other for models all the time, and Arpi was a favorite. As Cosmopolitan Magazine noted, neighboring illustrators would stop by the house on Tanglewood Lane and before you know it, Arpi had to "put aside her drawing board and start modeling."  Several great illustrators of the era were inspired by her striking good looks and painted her into their illustrations:

Arpi by John LaGatta

Arpi by Austin Briggs
Arpi by Bernie Fuchs

Arpi's husband, Suren, was the highly regarded art director for a number of the top magazines of the day. In 1948 he was the young art editor at Cosmopolitan who first paired illustrator Robert Fawcett with the famous Sherlock Holmes series.  He was later the art director at Town & Country.  The year that he and Arpi moved into the house on Tanglewood Lane, Suren left Town & Country to become art director at Good Housekeeping. Arpi and Suren lived happily in the old house on Tanglewood Lane from 1953 to 1961, while Westport was a buzzing hive of creative activity.
  
By 1961, illustration had turned another page and the Ermoyans sold the house to the new kid in town, Bernie Fuchs.