Thursday, February 28, 2013


Illustrator John Hendrix draws in church.  Over the years, he has has compiled an impressive collection of church sketchbooks, many of which he has posted on his web site.  Writes Hendrix:
I attend church every Sunday, and I draw during the sermon. All of these pages were done in a pew....  Simultaneous drawing and listening transforms familiar language into something new- a feedback loop of symbols, theology and wonder.

Paul Klee said, "Drawing is taking a line for a walk."  In a sketchbook, sometimes the line takes you for a walk.

When it does, it can take you to lands where client specifications rarely go.  Hendrix notes:
Drawing in my sketchbook is the very best part of my work. I love it because it is linear improvisation. Much like jazz, it is unpredictable, exciting and unfiltered.
But there's another reason I especially like Hendrix's sketchbooks.  Perhaps because of the soundtrack, his drawings often muse over great big subjects:  


In the words of William Blake, 
Great things are done when men and mountains meet;
This is not done by jostling in the street.
I have a special fondness in my heart for pictures that attempt big, unfashionable subjects-- life and death, injustice, war and peace. 

Artists illustrating "the place where men and mountains meet" frequently lapse into pretentiousness and melodrama, but Hendrix's sketchbooks avoid that pitfall.  His sketchbooks are not dense, linear philosophical treatises.  As a result of his stream-of-consciousness approach, cosmic words and symbols weave in and out of his designs in a light and elegant dance.  Definitely worth a look.


Peter said...

I very much appreciate both his drawings and what they tell us of the way he listens to what is going on.

Anonymous said...

Cool sketchbooks.


MORAN said...

It's rare to see illustrations of subjects like these.

Joss said...

I found the comment below after clicking through to John Hendrix' blog. A post called How to find your voice(from 1 month ago)
"Illustrators from the 60’s and 70’s (the golden age of agency illustration) languished in the late 80’s and 90’s because they were not trained to be authors of their own material. These illustrators had become great craftsmen and great thinkers as well, but when there were no assignments given anymore, they grew bitter and unable to generate work without a client’s prompting."

Such a fascinating transition that was.

Thanks for this post David. I love the way you mix it up, "great pictures" not just nostalgia for masters of yore.

David Apatoff said...

Joss-- I agree with you that Hendrix's post, "How to Find Your Voice," is well worth reading for everyone. I also highly recommend his post on his ICON7 speech, "This is Culture". Excellent, thoughtful commentary on the field of illustration.

I'm very interested in the period you describe, and the transition from the 60s/70s to the 80s/90s. I think there is a lot of truth in the language you quoted, but it's only part of the truth. The successful illustrators in the 1960s were doing so well, and making so much money, they would have been foolish to try to change the formula and risk killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. Their revolutionary energy was devoted to visual innovation. Only Robert Weaver and a handful of others were questioning that role. By the 1980s, the work had dried up and most illustrators had nothing left to lose by changing the formula. After trying other alternatives, they found business by poaching on the writer's territory.

I love the result of that migration. Yesterday I received the new annual from the society of illustrators (#54) and it has a fabulous garden of strong, opinionated work (Hendrix has a great illustration of a Dickens scene on p. 315).

The biggest problem I have with the migration to illustrators "trained as authors" is that many of them (including some very popular ones) view writing as a substitute for making good pictures. My second biggest problem is that a lot of the content we see from author/illustrators strikes me as superficial and lame. I think Current illustrators who believe they are somehow more literate or profound than those illustrators of the 60s and 70s are deluding themselves.

Joss said...

"Writing as a subsitute for making good pictures"

Studying illustration at Pratt in 90's, one teacher was always pushing the author thing and while I found it compelling as an idea, so much of what was produced (as you point out) by the students in that vein, that was lauded, seemed to be all style, lacking even an interest in craftsmanship. I geuss that was the "responsible" thing for them to teach though, considering the job prospects. It left a bad taste in my mouth and I ended up thinking fine art would have been a better personal choice. Funny because while I sought craft in the fine art, animation, and even industrial design dept., many of my friends in the fine art department took illustration classes because they were disgusted with the lack of craftsmanship being taught in their Dept. There were some teachers teaching craft in illustration, but nothing that made me swoon like a Fuchs a Leyendecker, or even a Brad Holland who rode that conceptual wave pretty successfully. I'm not really a fan of Arisman and his ilk. But at that time Pratt was kind of on the verge of bankruptcy and really couldn't draw the modern "luminaries" of the field like Parsons, SVA, Art Center etc. Not that that would have encouraged me.

So I identify with and appreciate your assesment of the shifting grounds.

Mitchell Hooks who struck me as such a powerhouse of great illustration seems very much to fit Hendrix's characterization when in the interview recently posted in "Today's Inspiration" his responses really described a situation where he was so completely at the whim of what was handed to him. Felt tragic reading it. While I can see his greatness come through in some of his later work it's like it's hidden behind a screen of wrong style tending to dissappear into the vast crowd of mediocre work. Not unlike the way the creative giants now at play in the feature animation field disappear as the creative genius authors they really are, or might be if the landscape were different. I think something will shift again and perhaps blogs like this are it's first stirrings! I can dream anyway. I will definitely check out the Hendrix ICON7 speech you mentioned. Thanks

MORAN said...

Most of the author thing is about political scandal and gossip. Illustration wouldn't be so trivial if more of them illustrated subjects like Hendrix.

David Apatoff said...

Joss-- I'm not surprised that you didn't find much sustenance in the fine art category. There are a lot of interesting things going on in fine arts at the grass roots level, but the larger movements have been pretty bleak for the past several decades. With all of its flaws, illustration seems like a better bet.

Also, I agree with you re Holland, Mitchell but I have learned not to jump to conclusions about art produced "at the whim of what is handed to the artist." As extreme examples, there are artists who do great work from prisons, working with shoe polish or blood. There are artists such as Goya who are just a leaf in a political storm, and yet who work within their limits to do beautiful things.

On the other hand, I acknoeledge there is no shortage of examples of artists who have been hamstrung by the bad taste of clients and art directors. Long ago I started a series on this blog about that subject called, "Warring with Trolls." Time to revive it.

MORAN-- Agreed, but not everyone can do it.

अर्जुन said...

These drawings brought to mind this album cover ~ Cathy Berberian, which subsequently compels me to say, 'Tickets, tickets please, next stop Eindhoven.'

Joss said...

I must recant.

Hooks did great work straight through. Perhaps he didn't make the money in 80's he was in earlier decades, and the style is less bold, but sadly now that he's no longer here, having spent more time with more of his later work...he's obviously growing and continuing right on with his love of visual innovation.
btw I finally ordered the Fawcett book after having to go back and find that drawing(who was that artist?)for the second time that stuck in my mind(lovely drawing #8 ah yes of course your beloved Fawcett) Now mine too thanks for sharing all your inspirations.