Saturday, December 17, 2005
LESLIE RAGAN: CLOUDS AND STEAM
Leslie Darrell Ragan (1897-1972) painted heavy industrial equipment the way it might exist on Mt. Olympus. He enshrouded trucks and locomotives with swirling steam and glowing celestial clouds. He painted machinery and buildings at heroic angles and imbued them with an almost divine aura. Speeding trains became works of art under Ragan's inspired vision.
The following close-up from an original painting by Ragan demonstrates how he injected the full color spectrum into clouds that most other artists might simply depict as white with blue or gray shading.
Ragan was born in the small town of Woodbine Iowa where there was not much for a young boy to look at except sky and clouds. He went to the Cumming School of Art in Des Moines and then to the Art Institute in Chicago. After serving in the military, he became a successful illustrator in California. His strong style soon became unmistakeable. Clients were eager to see their mundane equipment or buildings transformed by Ragan's luminous vision. He specialized in travel posters and in calendars.
Whether he was painting heavy mechanical structures or light airy vapor, Ragan found a way to infuse his subjects with light and enchantment.
Tastes changed (along with modes of travel) and Ragan fell out of favor. Ragan may not qualify as one of the giants of illustration, but he was an artist with a strong, distinctive vision which transformed his subjects. The illustrator Fritz Eichenberg once mused, "what makes an artist create in his own particular style is an indefinable gift, almost a state of grace. Describe it and you are bound to miss its essence." I would not attempt to analyze why Ragan saw things the way he did, but the results are certainly worthy of our attention.