Sunday, April 01, 2007


This drawing by Bob Peak may seem like a cliche today, but in a far off time, O best beloved, this kind of drawing was totally new. Never in 35,000 years of human drawing had anyone made such a picture. How many artists can make a similar claim?

It's hard to imagine this brilliant, brassy kind of art coming from any culture that existed prior to the 1960s. This drawing radiates the energy and enthusiam of its era, but it also has timeless strengths that stand up quite well.

Peak seems to have developed his drawing style by taking the linework of Egon Schiele and blowing it out of a psychedelic cannon.

Egon Schiele drawing circa 1910

Peak ad for Puritan

Peak later went on to a lucrative career making (in my opinion) uninspired and repetitive movie posters following drab specifications from Hollywood studios. But there was a moment in the 1960s when Peak's designs sizzled. His accomplishment deserves our respect and admiration.


Blogger colin said...

God, I love that first picture...

4/03/2007 6:13 PM  
Blogger SpaceJack said...

That first one sure is a lovely drawing. The cheerleader pom-poms look like fireworks of joy.

To say "never in 35,000 years of human drawing had anyone made such a picture" is a pretty bold statement; I would've maybe liked to hear just a bit more to back it up (not that I can think of anything in particular offhand.)

I'm also waiting for readers from outside North America to chime in. I know South America is often overlooked for just how far ahead of the times their artists can be.

4/04/2007 1:30 PM  
Anonymous Craig said...

If I'd had the time to comment on your last post I was going to say that the one place Alex Ross excels is in comparison to his imitators. Lucky for me this post seems an even more relevant one for a discussion of imitation. Peaks drawing may well have been new bold and exciting when first seen but my first reaction was 'What is David thinking?' I figure that was partly your point since you acknowledged that the work does seem cliche today.It seems a shame that anything new and bold cannot remain for to long admired before an industry demands multiple, and all to often inferior copies. It's also a shame that far to many artists prefer to be in the shadows of giants rather than atop their shoulders.Sienkiewicz' brilliance became a parade of tiny heads on over sized bodies that completely missed the point of his work while Muth and Williams oddly disturbing work begat several poorly painted and quickly forgotten books. I've always found Ross' work lacking in spirit but I do admire his willingness to attempt something never before seen. I had hoped that someone else might steal his lead and build upon it and likely someone someday will but before that happens we'll have to suffer the pale imitations just as Peaks likely had to do during his time. Perhaps that is why his later works were less than interesting. Anybody can paint a soup can but only one can do it first.

4/05/2007 12:27 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Spacejack, I'm pretty confident about that "35,000 years" part, although if I am wrong I am sure someone out there will happily rub my nose in it.

At a minimum this drawing is unique to the 20th century because it is clearly post-expressionist. Peak concentrates on the feeling and impact of the cheerleaders rather than their external, surface appearance. And everything about that feeling-- the speed, the fluorescent colors, the impact-- says not just 20th century but "space age." You might look for roots of this kind of drawing in the jazz age art from the Harlem renaissance, or even some of Lautrec's nightclub art from 19th century France, but they are still fundamentally different. The "hot" color combinations in the Peak drawing are real space age stuff. Nobody combined day glo pink and orange that way in earlier days. The phantom arms and legs in the flurry of activity is the kind of effect that you only find in a post cinematic culture.

And finally, that supercharged approach with the scribbly lines and the angle skewed for speed is something that Peak and Bernie Fuchs invented in the 1960s to convey the speed of the era. The country was shaking off the doldrums of the Eisenhower years and blasting off the launch pad. The sense of speed in this dynamic drawing reflects a turbo charged, jet speed culture with technology that simply did not exist in earlier years.

I think this lovely drawing is, in a very fundamental way, a product of its time and place and could not have existed earlier.

4/05/2007 12:07 PM  
Blogger SpaceJack said...

Thanks for following up, David. I appreciate your taking the time to explain that in depth. Makes a lot of sense to me.

4/05/2007 3:54 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Craig, I give this drawing a lot of credit for originality, but I recognize that after 45 years of imitators, the thrill of that originality has dissipated.

I also give this drawing a lot of credit for evoking the mood of its time, but I recognize that we now live in a very different, less naive time.

This drawing may have lost its novelty and its topicality, just as some of the art you mention has been surrounded by crowds of imitators. But that doesn't affect the ways in which it is still (in my view) a lovely drawing. The composition, the design, the vigor of this art all create an immutable core of excellence, and as Emerson said, "the excellent is new forever."

4/05/2007 11:40 PM  
Anonymous Craig said...

David, I agree, it is a well composed original and lovely drawing and I envy your ability to find these works.It's really nice to see the origins of these styles that become a kind of collective symbolic imagery for a period of history. I certainly didn't mean to lessen Peaks achievement, on the contrary I meant to raise it by pointing out that in the instances of originality where one person captures something unique it is all to often exploited until it becomes cliche. There have been many artists you have written about whose early work you've admired but whose later work you found dissapointing. I just wonder if these people didn't see others getting paid the same for less or for pale imitations of their own ideas and as a result of that frustration they set their own bar lower. As for us living in a different and less naive time, I agree, but are there many or any artists who are reflecting the mood we're in? It seems to me that, and I am no expert, that todays imagery is simply a reguritation of old ideas,a sort of second hand nostalgia.Are we simply appropriating our own cultural history or are the images that reflect the times in which we live not noticed until sufficient time has passed and we are able to look back and say "Hey! I was feeling psychedelic, art decoish, streamlined or space aged!Why didn't I notice that before?" Craig

4/06/2007 8:04 PM  
Blogger Gypsy Purple said...

Wishing you a happy and blessed Easter

4/06/2007 10:47 PM  
Blogger Elatia Harris said...

My first time here, via BibliOdyssey. I love it that you compared Bob Peak to Egon Schiele. When I was a teenager, my cousin, an industrial designer, put me onto Bob Peak, telling me he was the newest, greatest thing. You could make him from a mile away, even when he was having a bad Peak day, as he did in those awful airline decor panels in the 70s. What I have often thought about is how he relates to the "high" art of other eras. Many illustrators relate cryptically to the mandarin tradition, in my view -- look at Philip Burke and Francis Bacon. But, Bob Peake and Egon Schiele! David, you are a genius of discernment, and I can't be the only one to know it. Thanks!

5/02/2007 12:25 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Well, Elatia, you are certainly the only one to ever say it! Thank you for your kindness.

5/02/2007 3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Denizens of the Darkness -

9/09/2007 7:28 AM  

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