Tuesday, February 12, 2013


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

Sterling Hundley built a strong following at a young age, winning multiple gold and silver medals from the Society of Illustrators for his work in magazines such as Rolling Stone, the New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Entertainment Weekly.

Hundley likes to employ a creative friction between contrasting elements.  For example, he combines traditional, representational narrative illustration with conceptual design.  In this illustration he uses the rules of anatomy and perspective to create the illusion of three dimensional space...

Illustration of the inaugural address of President Harrison who spoke too long in bad weather, caught pneumonia and died. 
... but he also uses the design to symbolize editorial content.  Viewed vertically, the above illustration of President Harrison is the president standing at a podium.  Viewed horizontally it reveals President Harrison lying in his coffin.  The faces in the audience slip back and forth between well wishers and skeletons:

 Similarly, in this poster for the musical, Hair (in which a hippie joins the army) the top half of the picture with the hair employs psychedelic lettering and rainbow colors, while the bottom half employs uniform military lettering and olive drab colors.

Just as Hundley attempts to combine narrative illustration and conceptual design, he also attempts to bridge the gap between what he calls "blue collar" and "white collar" art, as well as the gap between digital and traditional media.  He has painted "fine" art for galleries as well as illustration for publications.  The tension between these contrasting ingredients seems to inspire much of Hundley's work.

Hundley works from a throrough knowledge of the classical traditions in illustration, which reveals itself in his pictures.  I especially like the way he combines old fashioned romantic themes with a modern style of presentation.   

These and other original works by Hundley are on display at the exhibition.


Anonymous said...

Hundley was everywhere for a while. He won all the top awards but what has he been doing lately? I don't see much of his work these days.


Joel Brinkerhoff said...

I'm immediately struck by the cinematic quality of his work. I'm wondering if he didn't use the camera and different lenses to plan his compositions? Any info on his working methods?

Thanks for introducing me to another great artist!

ben said...

Anonymous: This is something he has been doing lately:


David Apatoff said...

Anonymous-- Hundley has been working energetically on a variety of projects that expand on his foundation in illustration. He is mostly painting for art galleries and teaching. I like the way he continues to push outward.

Joel Brinkerhoff-- You can see Hundley's preliminary sketches where he maps out some of his paintings in his book, Blue Collar/White Collar. (http://sterlinghundley.tumblr.com/)

ben-- a great example of a major, innovative project.

AR said...


Holy pretentious bullshit, Sterling Hundley! But at least he can paint....

David Apatoff said...

AR-- Your comment reflects the kind of split personality that I think plagues the field of illustration.

On the one hand, the fine arts community (which thrives on pretension) has long sneered at illustration as a lower, commercial art form. Many illustrators develop inferiority complexes and flagellate themselves as a result. Illustrators such as Robert Weaver and even N.C. Wyeth yearned for the moral and artistic freedom to paint elevated subjects. On the other hand, as soon as illustrators begin to speak in the lofty platitudes of the fine art community, and try to to separate themselves from the short leash of commercial sponsorship, critics quickly pounce with accusations of "pretentious bullshit." You can't win.

Perhaps if illustrators had the courage to publicly accuse Tracey Emin and Jeff Koons of "pretentious bullshit," illustrators wouldn't feel envious strolling into the Museum of Modern Art.

Hundley has miles to go before he begins to approach the pretentious bullshit that is used every day in art galleries and auction houses to sell today's leading fine artists. You're probably just unaccustomed to the parlance.

I do think it helps to keep in mind the distinction between artists who take themselves too seriously and those who take their art seriously.

But ultimately I think the decisive factor is your last point: "he can paint."

Anonymous said...

By proclaiming to make "high art" through work that so far feels like early 80's Heindel and English, Sterling appears to be taking on that fine art vs. illustration debate straight-up.

Anonymous said...

Oh, come on be reasonable, David; squatters are lords of the manor far more than Emin and Koons are fine artists.

MORAN said...

Give me a Hundley over a Emin or Koons any day. Same goes for Heindel or English.

AR said...

You're right David, besides being able to paint, Hundley deserves some credit for at least trying to be more "elevated" even if he falls flat on his face.

Reminds me of a remark I made years ago elsewhere. It was something along the lines of preferring to see someone like [Insert name of forgotten flavor of the day under 30 MFA here] fail than [Insert name of hack illustrator with popular cookie cutter style here] succeed.

Expressing profound thoughts without coming off as pretentious is obviously much more difficult than learning to paint well. At least Hundley has done the latter and is working on the former... I guess.

Anonymous said...

AR you are one fucked up dude hoping for an artist to fall on his face.

AR said...

I didn't say I hope Hundley falls on his face. I also didn't say I hope flash in the pan MFAs fall on their face either. They almost always do anyway and I'd rather see that than some predictable illustrator, although MFAs are also pretty damn predictable for the most part.

David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc.-- Fair enough. The top rung of gallery art seems to be a pretty bleak place these days, perhaps because of what artists have to do to get there. Is there anyone you like in that category?

MORAN-- Me too.

AR-- One reason I thought it was important to include Hundley in this group of 8 is precisely because of his ambition. There are a lot of illustrators who remain hunched over their easel (or their computer) trying to crank out one more picture before the current business model collapses altogether. There are illustrators who avoid the uncertain future by keeping their eyes fixed firmly on the tail of the pack mule ahead of them on the trail. But Hundley lifts his head up and looks around and experiments; if you're making decent money doing spot illustrations for Rolling Stone, it's not easy to give that up to experiment with new kinds of graphic novels for iphones, or kickstarter campaigns for "fine" art projects, or new forms of software. Hundley writes books about his theories and he gathers together some of the top illustrators to teach the next generation of illustrators. I don't know if his efforts will all fail miserably, but I think they are a healthy way to search for the path to the future.

I grant you that the etiquette and vocabulary for some of these new types of adventures have not yet been worked out, so some illustrators may construe his ambitions as "putting on airs." Me, I like his energy and enthusiasm, the fact that he aims big, and I attach great weight to the fact his students all seem to love him; far from coming off as "pretentious" or self-aggrandizing, students who have spoken to me view him as sincere and genuine, the real deal.

Anonymous said...

Is there anyone you like in that category?

Nope. I'm with Hegel; it's dead.

No argument from me that illustrators were candles if not beacons in the darkness of the 20th century, though.