Tuesday, January 29, 2013


This post is one in a series on the artists featured in the upcoming exhibition at the Delaware Art Museum, State of the Art: Illustration 100 Years After Howard Pyle.

Phil Hale is internationally acclaimed for his powerful illustrations.  His dark, brooding covers for the novels of Joseph Conrad brilliantly complemented Conrad's psychologically complex work.

Cover to Joseph Conrad's Nostromo

Cover to Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim

Hale's own character, Johnny Badhair, has also been the subject of a series of vivid paintings:

Hale works large (the above painting is over five feet wide) using the traditional artist materials of oil paint on stretched canvas or linen.

Hale is a prime example of an artist who can move fluidly between the fields of illustration and "fine" art or gallery painting.  In his personal Artist's Statement for the exhibition catalog, Hale writes thoughtfully:
My career in illustration stretched from 1981 to 2000 with a few later forays and lapses.... [T]he more illustration work I did, the more its necessary strictures and compromises became trouble....My unhappiness with the illustration work I was producing pushed me into portraiture and then fine art (though that is a dumb misnomer in many ways).  But as I progressed, an unexpected element that is normally associated with illustration turned out to be at the center of the newer work: narrative.  In a way I stayed true to my original and unself-conscious love of illustration.

These and other original works by Hale will be on display at the exhibition.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


This post is one in a series on the artists featured in the upcoming exhibition at the Delaware Art Museum,  State of the Art: Illustration 100 Years After Howard Pyle. 

 Peter de Seve is internationally renowned for his draftsmanship in illustrations such as this one, for which he won the Hamilton King award from the Society of Illustrators:

More than draftsmanship, de Seve infuses his drawings with personality and heart which have made him a recurring favorite on the cover of the New Yorker.  This poignant cover of little children on the first Halloween following the 9/11 attacks stood out in a field of artistic responses that were mostly political, or cerebral, or anguished. 

For Howard Pyle's generation, painting magazine covers was as prestigious a career as an illustrator might hope for.  But 100 years after Howard Pyle, illustration offers all kinds of new venues for an artist's talent.  A digitally animated feature film requires the collaboration of hundreds of artists, writers and computer engineers relying on millions of dollars of corporate funding and a multinational distribution network.  But at their core, animated movies depend upon a few individual artists with a special talent for facial expressions, body types and personalities to design the characters that other artists implement.

The movie industry quickly recognized de Seve's abilities and has summoned him to work on a number of feature films as a "character designer."

He won the Emmy Award for outstanding character design on Sesame Street's Abby Cadabby's Flying Fairy School and a  Clio award for a Nike commercial. He worked on films such as Mulan and Finding Nemo, but mostly he is known for his character designs on the Ice Age series of movies:


De Seve works out faces for his characters

De Seve once said, "I'm an old fashioned illustrator... I love strong, firm craftsmanship...  The funny thing is that for all the studios' technical expertise, I'm still the guy who is drawing on paper."

These and other original works by de Seve will be on display at the Delaware exhibition. 

Friday, January 18, 2013


This is one of a series of posts on the artists featured in the upcoming exhibition at the Delaware Art Museum,  State of the Art: Illustration 100 Years After Howard Pyle. 
Prior to the 1950s, illustration was dominated by artists who visualized narrative passages from a text, employing fairly realistic styles.  But by the 1950s, that approach was running out of steam.  Traditional illustration was being battered by the rise of photography.  Fiction magazines which had been the prime market for illustration ever since Howard Pyle's day began losing circulation.  Advertising revenues were shifting to television.  In this challenging environment, a new form of illustration emerged.

In 1954, Milton Glaser co-founded the revolutionary Push Pin Studios, a graphic design and illustration firm which had a significant impact on the path of 20th century design.   In this and several other influential positions, Glaser employed graphic symbols and visual metaphors to convey ideas, choosing freely from a wide array of styles and techniques.  He observed, "It's absurd to be loyal to a style."

No artist has been more eloquent than Glaser  in articulating the merger of conceptual design and illustration. It would be difficult to overstate his importance to the field.  He has been the subject of one man shows at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Pompidou Center in Paris.

I've enjoyed making unkind remarks on this blog about "conceptual" artists who cannot draw and who have no sense of design or composition but who have become emboldened by the excuse that such factors are less relevant today.  The focus of art has shifted, we are told, from visual appearance to intellectual content, making the technical skills of yesterday obsolete.  These artists would do well to study the work of Glaser.  For all that he did to expand the role of concepts in design and move beyond Norman Rockwell's brand of realism, Glaser has never lost sight of the importance of embodying his concepts in beautiful and relevant forms.

These are ample reasons for including Glaser in the centennial exhibition at the Delaware Art Museum, but I would add on a personal note that I especially enjoy the humor and whimsy that Glaser's work has exhibited over his long and prestigious career.  Like his fellow New Yorker Saul Steinberg, Glaser (who has been described as an "intellectual designer-illustrator") manages to handle the most profound philosophical concepts with playfulness and simplicity-- a sure sign that he is on the right track.

These and other original works by Glaser will be on display at the exhibition.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


This post is one in a series on the artists featured in the upcoming exhibition at the Delaware Art Museum, State of the Art: Illustration 100 Years After Howard Pyle. 

In the 1950s, illustration began its Great Thaw from the realistic style that had dominated the field since the days of Howard Pyle. At that time, Bernie Fuchs was a precocious young illustrator painting meticulous car ads in a commercial studio in Detroit.

Detail from Oldsmobile ad (1959)

But Fuchs had the seeds of bigger things in him, and by the mid 1960s, he was a leader of the revolution in illustration, experimenting with bold new styles.


His innovations became wildly popular and helped to set the style for the second half of the 20th century.

Fearsome Foursome

These and other original works by Fuchs will be on display at the exhibition. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013


John Cuneo

By the 1950s, the conditions that led to the "golden age of American illustration" had worn thin.

The invention of halftone engraving and quality color reproduction, the rise of deluxe magazines pumped by advertising dollars and an insatiable reading public all created fertile soil for golden age illustrators such as Howard Pyle, Leyendecker, Parrish, Cornwell, Rockwell and hundreds of others.

But in the 1950s, magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, Liberty and Life were dying out. Tastes (and advertising revenues) shifted away from print media.  Gone were the well funded illustration campaigns for Arrow shirt collars and Ford automobiles.

As illustrator Austin Briggs recalled:
It was during the fifties that a healthy revolt against the slick, photograph-oriented illustration then in vogue really began to gather adherents.  This revolution was accelerated by the demise of several national periodicals in a losing competition with television for presentation of fictional escapism.  Other floundering publications sought salvation in acquiring a new image-- anything different and strident enough to retain the attention of a wavering public.  These conditions produced an opportunity for the illustrator to be truly creative with a freedom from the restraints of the past never before experienced.
The upcoming show at the Delaware Art Museum begins with this Great Thaw.  Initially, the field of illustration seemed to split into two main categories: illustrators who continued to portray narrative content in the tradition of Howard Pyle or Norman Rockwell, but with bold new styles, and illustrators who worked in a more symbolic and conceptual mode.

To represent this division, I have chosen the work of Bernie Fuchs to convey the first category and the work of Milton Glaser to convey the second category.

In the decades following this initial split, illustration fragmented into a wider variety of applications, functions and styles.  I have selected six great illustrators to represent some of the most important categories:
sequential art-- Mort Drucker
narrative and conceptual art-- Sterling Hundley
character design-- Peter de Seve
animation -- Ralph Eggleston
illustration and gallery painting-- Phil Hale
editorial pen and ink-- Cuneo
For each of these eight master artists, the show will present a number of splendid original works.

Ralph Eggleston was production designer on the brilliant Pixar film, Wall-E


Monday, January 07, 2013


Milton Glaser

Last year, the Delaware Art Museum put together a major centennial exhibition commemorating the life and work of Howard Pyle, the highly influential father of American Illustration.   Pyle lived in Delaware and following his death in 1911, a group of Pyle students and friends combined with prominent citizens to form the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts.  Their collection of 100 works by Pyle served as the starting point for the Delaware Art Museum. 

To close out its centennial year, the Museum bravely invited me to serve as guest curator for an exhibition on The State of Illustration 100 years after Pyle. That exhibition will run from February 8 through June 1, 2013.

It would be impossible for any single exhibition to capture the whole noisy riot of styles, techniques and trends that has made up illustration over the past century.    My approach was to showcase the work of what I believe to be eight of the best, most important illustrators representing a cross section of today's illustration.

I have argued on this blog that a large percentage of popular illustration today is directed at information-saturated audiences with diminishing attention spans and little taste.  Much of the technical skill that previous generations of illustrators earned at a terrible price is now available to any high school student for the price of Photoshop.  Many of the periodicals that once made illustration a lucrative profession died long ago.  Yet, as the Delaware exhibition demonstrates, there remains a bold, creative core to illustration that is, for me, superior to much of what is taking place in contemporary "fine" art.

For this exhibition I tried to avoid popular illustrators who have prospered today by catering to the lowest common denominator.  I was looking instead for the true heirs to the tradition of Howard Pyle, excellent artists who create work of enduring value. 

Phil Hale

I hope you have a chance to make it to the Delaware show. I guarantee you some good art.  Between now and February 8, I am going to use this blog to highlight some of the pictures in the show and discuss the artists I chose.

Friday, January 04, 2013


"Photo-illustration" is the modern term for decoupage.  You see photo-illustration everywhere, filling the spaces formerly occupied by illustration or photography:

Bloomberg Businessweek

Time Magazine

Don't get me wrong, a person can make cute and clever images by cutting out somebody else's photographs and gluing them together in different configurations.   Several major publications use photo-illustrations frequently:

New York Times

Bloomberg Businessweek

By starting with pre-fabricated building blocks rather than the basic elements of line and color, we gain speed and economy but we also lose much of the potential for charm, grace and creativity. Apparently, this loss matters more to some people than to others.

Here, a Photoshopped cover effectively conveys the childishness of the US Congress:

However, it is also devoid of the design or elegance or class that a stronger human artistic role might have contributed.

When illustrator Peter de Seve was asked years ago to illustrate an earlier squabbling Congress for another magazine cover, the picture required  more time and preparation (note his preliminary draft below) but the result was more visually interesting and the humor more layered and sophisticated.

Preliminary drawing

When illustrator Bernie Fuchs died in 2009, Golf Digest published a touching tribute recognizing the "grandeur" that Fuchs' illustrations had brought to their pages over the years.  Right next to that tribute, without the slightest hint of irony, was a crappy photo-illustration of the type that Golf Digest uses today:


Perhaps grandeur is no longer in style, or perhaps grandeur costs too much.  But we forget the true price of photo-illustration unless we compare it, every once in a while, with what it replaced.