Thursday, December 11, 2014

REMEMBERING OUR DEBTS



In the 1960s, illustrators suddenly became much better at painting action.  Contrast this illustration of a tennis player from 1956...


...with this illustration of a tennis player from 1961:

 Bernie Fuchs for Sports Illustrated

It's hard to believe two such different approaches were popular just a few years apart.  They seem to come from different worlds.

Prior to the 1960s, illustrators often tried to capture action the way a camera did, simply freezing the scene:



 
 
Occasionally illustrators might try to get adventuresome with a hotter color or a rougher line, but the results remained pretty tame:


Then at the beginning of the 1960s a radical young group of illustrators came blazing in with new approaches to conveying action:

Fuchs 1961

Detail


Bob Peak 1964

Fuchs 1964
Handville

These artists found new ways to capture speed by combining fresh ingredients:  the action painting and abstract expressionism that were revolutionizing the fine arts world; blurred and multiple images learned from movies rather than still cameras; an increased culture of speed from the new space age; new liberties emerging with the great thaw of the 60s.  Illustrators abandoned more static, realistic painting for impressionistic sensations of speed.  (As an analogy, recall how the great English painter J.M.W. Turner uprooted traditional realistic English landscapes with his own revolutionary expressionist painting, Rain, Steam and Speed.)

These 1960s innovations were so successful they were quickly adopted as artistic conventions by the profession.  The slashing lines and rapid brush strokes that at first seemed so exciting and new became standard tools for illustrators-- so much that later generations sometimes forgot whose shoulders they were standing on.  More recent illustrators, particularly those invested in textual or conceptual innovations rather than visual innovations, tend to be more dismissive of this period.  

This comes to mind today because in a recent interview a prominent illustrator recalled living in Westport Connecticut among the artists responsible for those 60s innovations:
 Westport was ‘the place’,  but it became not ‘the place’.... illustration started moving in a very, very different direction. Pretty soon the Westport illustrators looked really old fashioned....[T]here was this big tension between the New York City artists that were trying to be really original and really innovative, and the Westport people that were staying in traditions
I hear this version of illustration history mostly from students or friends of another radical illustrator of the day, Robert Weaver, who seemed to be in a pitched battle with the Westport illustrators when he wasn't in a pitched battle with himself.   For me, the notion that "New York City artists" were more "original" or "innovative" falls flat when we compare the impact of the the two schools of illustration.  Few illustrators shaped the personality of their era like those bold illustrators of the 60s.  And few generations advanced the ball so far from the work of their predecessors.

But the story doesn't end there.  Many Westport artists did not "stay in the traditions" that they founded.   Many (such as Fuchs, English and Heindel) continued to experiment visually.  For example, decades after his 1960s action paintings above, we see artist Bernie Fuchs employing a very  different approach:  there are no slashing lines in the following pictures because Fuchs later conveyed speed with a more mature combination of distorted forms, color and perspective.

Morning workout at the track



 The fact that a New York constituency shifted its gaze from visual innovation to conceptual innovation doesn't mean that the visual innovations stopped happening, or that the gaze won't shift back as audiences hunger for change.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Was looking at some Fuch's illustrated children's books , fresh from Amazon , and checked your blog !

Any updates on the Fuchs book pub. date ?

The contrast of the action still life illos with the 60's examples made me think of Frazetta . He captured action without the bubble wash stroke slashing - which I love - using generally an unblurred figure as the earlier school did , but with complete effectiveness .

I wonder what Bernie might have thought of Frazetta , or Kanevsky , with his fragmented edges .

Al McLuckie

Donald Pittenger said...

The notion of Creativity as being the most important factor in painting/illustration/any-old-art has bothered me since student days. I always suspected that my college art teachers did not teach much because they didn't want to inhibit our inherent creativity, whatever that might have been.

Poor, out-of-touch me, I am attracted to stuff that I find "interesting" (a contextual thing) and "well-done" (within that context). Whether or not things are "creative" or "innovative" is a secondary or tertiary matter.

...Though I don't mind being surprised by something different now and then.

अर्जुन said...

Walt Louderback ~ Teamwork - The Green Book Magazine, May 1920 …hey, i don't know?!

Anonymous said...

..any Fuchs is a good Fuchs..
Thanks,
D.H.

Anonymous said...

A LITTLE BACKGROUND ON THE VERTICAL JOCKEY PAINTING BY BERNIE FUCHS.
IT WAS PAINTED SOMETIME BETWEEN EARLY 1972 AND LATE 1975. OFFERED FOR SALE AT ILLUSTRATION HOUSE AROUND 1977 FOR ABOUT $1,500- SOMEWHERE AROUND 30" TALL. IT WAS AN UNPUBLISHED PAINTING FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. THE SUBJECT WAS LONGCHAMP.
IT IS SHOW HERE BACKWARDS AND HIS SIGNATURE IS IN PENCIL.

David Apatoff said...

Al McLuckie-- The Fuchs book will be out next year, thanks for asking. We had to change publishers due to some problems, but we're back on track with a publisher I trust.

Bernie was not a science fiction / fantasy kind of artist, but I asked him what he thought of Frazetta. he was very familiar with Frazetta's work and had great respect for him.

Donald Pittenger-- I go back and forth on this. On the one hand, mere "novelty" is not high on my list of virtues, but on the other hand, I do get irked when I see shameless plagiarism.

David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन --Well, my hat is off to you. No one else understands the reference, but I have been looking for a Louderback painting for over a decade, and you located it overnight. I am truly and deeply impressed. Witchcraft?

D.H.-- Well, you certainly have to go a long distance to find one that isn't.


kev ferrara said...

No one else understands the reference, but I have been looking for a Louderback painting for over a decade...

Actually, I would have given you this information long ago had I known that you didn't have it. Sorry about that. I simply assumed the tearsheet would have been bundled in.

Paul Sullivan said...

I have always thought that if you want to see the real how good Bernie Fuchs was, you had to study his early work and do so in the context of the times. The work he did in Detroit set established car illustration on its ear. His advertising work of the of the early 60s was superb. In my mind the only one who could match him was Austin Briggs.