Monday, May 16, 2016

ROCKWELL'S 100th ANNIVERSARY WITH THE POST

This weeks marks the 100th anniversary of Norman Rockwell's first painting for the Saturday Evening Post.


Rockwell's relationship with the Post continued for 47 years and included 323 covers.  It was one of the most important and remarkable creative associations of the 20th century.
 



 


At its peak, the Post enjoyed a circulation of 6.2 million readers.  People in small towns without a museum or library looked forward to receiving the Post cover each week; for some, illustrations in publications were their only contact with art.  People in those days before television or the internet lingered over the covers.   Rockwell had a far larger audience than Picasso. 

In what was called "the Century of the Common Man," Rockwell's covers helped to serve as glue for a nation by visualizing a common human nature through two World Wars and the Great Depression.

Rockwell's famous "Four Freedoms" first appeared in the Post
Rockwell didn't know it at the time, but his audience included some of the great image makers of the future.  His Post covers had a profound influence on Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, starting when they were young boys.  His covers taught the young film makers how to frame a story, prioritize the elements of a scene and lead the eye around a picture.  Said Lucas: "He was able to sum up the story and make you want to read the story, but actually understand who the people were, what their motives were, everything in one little frame."

Rockwell's high standards are truly inspiring.  He painted "100%" in gold on his easel to remind himself always to do his very best.      

The centennial of Rockwell's first cover is being celebrated this week by the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

SEARCHING FOR THE NEXT PHILIPP RUPPRECHT



Philipp Rupprecht (1900-1975) illustrated children's books in Germany to help warn children about the dangers of Jews.

Jewish perverts attempt to lure Aryan children with candy

Learning to recognize Jews by the shapes of their noses
His knack for drawing Jews earned him a position as the political cartoonist for the Nazi newspaper, The Stormtrooper, where he worked enthusiastically from 1925 to 1945.

 "Jewish Murder Plan against Gentile Humanity Revealed"

Wealthy Jews attempt to seduce blonde women with money
 The editorial policy of The Stormtrooper was not subtle: "The Jewish people ought to be exterminated root and branch."

Hitler believed the arts were a crucial tool for shaping public opinion.  His government commissioned thousands of patriotic works and sponsored art competitions and festivals in villages and towns to reinforce his message with the public.  Recognizing the importance of political cartoons, the government released Rupprecht from military service so he could continue drawing for The Stormtrooper.  Hitler supported the newspaper until the end of the war, despite shortages and competing demands for resources.

Those were truly the golden years for government sponsored hate mongering.   Since that time, funding seems to have tapered off. 

This may be partly because things didn't work out so well for poor Philipp.   At the end of World War II, with Germany in ruins,  Rupprecht was put on trial for his role as a cheerleader for the massacre of millions of innocents.  He was sentenced to six years hard labor.  After his release from prison he worked quietly as a painter in Munich until his death in 1975.

Despite the mountains of meticulous documentation produced during the war crimes trials, some still refuse to believe the concentration camps occurred.   Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has repeatedly complained about “the myth of the massacre of Jews known as the Holocaust,” asserting that “The Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and if it has happened, it’s uncertain how it has happened.”

Khamenei's words alone have proven unpersuasive to most sane people, so Iranian forces have begun a talent search for the next Philipp Rupprecht.  Perhaps pictures can galvanize public opinion where words have failed. 

In December 2015 the Tehran International Cartoon Biennial announced a cash prize of $50,000 for the best cartoon about the Holocaust.  An exhibition displaying 150 of the best Holocaust cartoons from the Tehran  Biennial will open this week, timed to coincide with the anniversary of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

When the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was confronted with the contest he attempted to minimize the government's official role, but the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum did an excellent job of tracking the funding for the competition to official Iranian sources.






 



Thursday, April 28, 2016

RINGO'S TEETH AND STAN LEE'S FINGERS

Regular readers know that I'm a big fan of Tom Fluharty's sketches.


In an era when quality drawing is under-appreciated, Fluharty's strong, bold, insightful drawings stand out.

So I was particularly pleased when Fluharty announced the release of his splendid new collection of drawings, The Art of the Sketch.  Looking through Fluharty's book, several lessons stand out.

I love this drawing of Ringo Starr:


It looks like it was drawn quickly, like the crack of a whip.  Yet if you look more closely, you note that he paid attention to-- and drew-- each and every tooth individually. 



You don't notice such details at first because Fluharty has the gift to capture them with a vigorous, energetic scribble rather than the painful cross hatching or stippling that many meticulous draftsmen use to capture details. 

The point is not that Fluharty makes highly detailed drawings-- to the contrary, he often ignores major details.

The point is that Fluharty notices such details; when Fluharty has a pencil in his hand, not one feather falls from a sparrow unnoticed.  And from that wealth of observations, he judiciously selects the details he thinks are important.  In the drawing of Ringo,  that smile is the centerpiece and Fluharty apparently felt that those ungainly teeth were worth the additional effort.  We may not be conscious of them, but such details contribute a lot.

You see similar attention in this more finished drawing of Stan Lee.

 

Look at how much imagination Fluharty has invested in those gnarled old fingers still striking the "spidey" pose: 
 

Or check out the wringing hands in this drawing of Hillary Clinton...



In both cases, you can tell that Fluharty decided that hands would be an important part of the story, and went back to add them to his drawing.

This is a fine collection of working drawings, and one that I enjoyed thoroughly.



Tuesday, April 12, 2016

BATMAN vs. SUPERMAN


158 years ago last week, the first patent was issued for the modern pencil.

This week, HTC Vive released their latest virtual reality technology, which allows an artist to "paint in three dimensions with a bevy of whimsical substances.  Flick a selection tool and you can add twinkling stars, smoke and swirls of blinking neon or frame your creation against a cosmic backdrop."

The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on.

One has to wonder what remains for old fashioned drawing in an era where robots can use face recognition software to paint entirely new Rembrandts, complete with Rembrandt's characteristic surface textures.

I received a reassuring answer recently when I went to the new blockbuster movie, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. 

The film is based on a clash between Batman and Superman in Frank Miller's smart, imaginative comic book, The Dark Knight Returns.

 

 



Drawn in old fashioned ink, The Dark Knight Returns was a major leap forward in the evolution of comic books.  Beautifully designed...



...and staged with intelligence and conviction, Miller's book was a genuine work of art.

The movie, on the other hand, was a two and a half hour, huge, honking mess. It was state-of-the-art big budget digital story telling: a frenzy of high rez destruction, collisions, nukes, plane crashes, explosions, flames, huge monsters and collapsing buildings, but not a hint of judgment or proportion or artistic restraint.  The pretentious choir-of-angels soundtrack and the self-important posturing ("man vs. god") were particularly irksome in a movie so devoid of an artistic soul.

Henry Adams wasn't a movie critic but he correctly observed, "Man has mounted science and is now run away with."

Despite the film's superior size, speed, decibel level, budget, and the advantages of 30 years of technological enhancements, the hand drawn comic book remains a far more powerful work of art.

Score one for the brain and the pencil.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

THE GREAT JACK UNRUH


 

Jack Unruh has had a long career of sustained excellence.

Born in Pretty Prairie, Kansas, Unruh graduated from the famed illustration program at Washington University in St. Louis (the starting place of Al Parker, Bernie Fuchs, Douglas Crockwell, John Hendrix and others).  From 1960 until today, Unruh's artistic dedication has taken him to the most unlikely places:
As an illustrator I've crawled through caves to research paleolithic man, flown on helicopters, slept in cars to view the Valdez oil spill, visited research labs, refineries, deserts, coldrooms, tops of mountains, floated remote rivers in Alaska and Chile, and viewed every major brewery in Mexico.
Unruh has done a splendid job with all sorts of subjects...


...but his greatest strength is as a nature artist.  I've previously quoted Unruh's friend and admirer John Cuneo who said, "Here is a man for whom 'back to the drawing board' usually involves pissing on a campfire."    Unruh looks nature in the eye, up close and personal, finds rich patterns and textures, and reveals them to the rest of us through graceful lines and colors.  I love the ink on this Griffon Vulture:




Jack's intimate appreciation for nature shines in these pictures.  His love is infectious.

One of my personal favorites is his drawing of a spoonbill:





 
 


No other artist-- not Audubon, nor anyone else-- has ever captured a bird in a way that I find as intensely moving.

Jack is a terrific illustrator and an even more terrific human being.  He is ailing these days.  I would urge others who have been similarly moved by his work to tell him so, via facebook.  And don't take too long to do it.

Monday, March 28, 2016

RETURN OF THE CROSS HATCHERS

In the 20th century, illustrated magazines went from being smaller, primarily black and white publications with line art...

 
... to larger color magazines with lavishly painted illustrations.  By the 1960s,  magazines such as McCalls and Ladies' Home Journal featured huge, double page spreads in bold, bright colors.


The new printing technologies had opened up all kind of expressive capabilities for artists, making traditional pen and ink work appear stale and old fashioned. Cross hatching, stippling and other relics from the era of wood engraving all but disappeared.

It seemed that magazine pages couldn't possibly get any bigger or more colorful.  But just like a supernova shines most brightly as it collapses on itself and explodes,  magazines such as Collier's, Look, The Saturday Evening PostLife, and American Magazine all went out of business during this period, victims of television.   McCalls, Redbook and Ladies' Home Journal all began turning from illustration to photography.

As magazines became smaller and more specialized, markets for lavish illustration shriveled.  Budgets for color printing declined.  The demand for double page spread illustrations disappeared as magazines turned to spot illustrations.

Then there arose in the land a new generation of cross hatchers who went back to small pen and ink drawings.  "In the days of the frost seek a minor sun." The new generation didn't employ the vigorous, flamboyant lines of a Robert Fawcett, a Charles Dana Gibson, or a James Montgomery Flagg.  Instead they created dense micro-drawings, using cross hatching to create coruscating fields of value.

These artists included the great Alan Cober : 






The talented Brad Holland:




And the superb Jack Unruh:






Other cross hatchers that emerged in this era included Marshall Arisman...




...and Murray Tinkelman.



 Although the cross hatched illustrations were more compact and monochromatic than the illustrations of the early 60s, some of the new cross hatchers-- particularly Unruh, Cober and Holland-- achieved just as much potency through their powerful editorial content and the intensity of their cross hatching and other patterns.  They revived a medium that had been largely abandoned and adapted it to prosper for decades more in a changed marketplace. 




Tuesday, March 22, 2016

ONE LOVELY DRAWING, part 49

I really like this drawing from the 1960s by illustrator Andy Virgil

 

Just when it seems that every possible subject has been drawn every possible way, and that there's nothing new under the sun, somebody comes along and says, "Hey, how about if I put this car on the ceiling rather than the floor, and crop off the driver's head, and then fill in a couple of these shapes with brand new Dayglo fluorescent colors,  and then run the car right off the edges of the page?

That's what was happening in the 60s, a decade of rampant experimentation.  And in the next era of innovation some enterprising artist will surely come along and draw something in a totally new style.

The pencil line in this drawing adds energy to flat, lifeless colors such as the color of car tires:


 And the lines describing the contours of the car are sensitive but restrained.  They are, for the most part, outlines.


This drawing is more about composition than it is about line.  But it is, in my opinion, one slam bang drawing.