Wednesday, March 06, 2013


"To live is to war with trolls"  --Henrik Ibsen

In my view, there was no better draftsman in 20th century illustration than the great Robert Fawcett.

Some might look at this drawing for Good Housekeeping and dismiss it as "typical boring 1950's photo referenced illustration."  (Oh, don't deny it-- you know who you are).

But let's take a closer look:

Up close, the drawing reveals an extraordinary array of marks on paper, from drybrush swirls to bold, virile stripes.  Who could squeeze more character into brushwork than Fawcett?

Look over here and you'll see Fawcett's trees, like exploding miniature constellations:

Always, design was paramount for Fawcett.  Compare his trees above with the following "fine art" painting by the famed Adolph Gottlieb, a contemporary of Fawcett's: 


Here are a few more trees in the background of Fawcett's drawing, each one crackling with its own distinctive energy:

And it ain't just trees, buddy.  Fawcett's opinionated brush aggressively sought out the rhythm and design in buildings, cars and other geometric shapes:

Many regard Fawcett's style as too tightly controlled for today's taste.  But at the atomic level his pictures seem wilder and more abstract to me than the work of many contemporary artists who consider themselves free because they draw loosely and don't use photographs.  

For me, Fawcett is a more serious anarchist than the artist who gives himself permission to draw sloppy. 

Which brings me to the "warring with trolls" portion of this post: 

Much of the special character of Fawcett's picture was never seen or appreciated by the public because it was shrunk and mutilated by some clueless art director at Good Housekeeping

Good Housekeeping attempts to go trendy

To his credit, Fawcett persisted despite the fact that his work was not always understood by clients and advertisers flailing around for the latest fashion.  It took Fawcett longer to achieve the kind of result he wanted, and he knew it might not be appreciated in the end, but apparently he did not find it to be a waste of time.

He held fast in the long war with trolls.  For that reason alone, he deserves our respect.

(Thanks to Illustration House gallery for the use of their original Fawcett illustration.)


Unknown said...

Many of hte artists you feature here I've never heard of. But after reading about them they become new favorites! Thank you!

Donald Pittenger said...

One of the (few?) things I can sketch convincingly is automobiles, perhaps because I was one of those thousands of young guys who was a car stylist wannabe.

And for some reason, many of the illustrators talented enough to make it into the Saturday Evening Post cover artist circle were not at all good at doing cars. That's odd, because cars require a decent sense of three-point perspective plus some knowledge of cars' internal structure and exterior proportions.

It seems those sorts of things were given short shrift at the Art Students League or wherever.

But Fawcett nailed it. Those old cars along the curb are very well depicted.

James Gurney said...

What a treat to be an ant, allowed to stroll around in such a garden of brush and pen strokes. Good technique isn't just about making a variety of clever marks; it's about describing the most with the least, making every stroke count for a lot. I can imagine Fawcett working in a relaxed but focused way like a dentist or a surgeon. One moment he's moving fast and the next slow: flicking, jabbing, caressing the surface, choosing his tools carefully, but thinking always about the world he's painting, not the strokes per se.

And wow, did they destroy it with that awful layout.

Unknown said...

As I recall there was a reference awhile back about an upcoming book of Bernie Fuchs drawings. Has anything developed from that ?

अर्जुन said...

Warring with trolls > Partying with giants

David Apatoff said...

Katherine Thomas-- I'm delighted. Much of the point for this whole blog is to share under appreciated artists among us.

Donald Pittenger-- A very interesting perspective. I agree, it took a special breed of artist to draw cars well. (Fawcett, Fred Ludekens and Bernie Fuchs all did car ads at one time). One of the interesting things about Fawcett is that he learned to draw in the tough, no nonsense tradition so his drawings had a lot of structural integrity, yet he was ultimately able to marry that precision and control with such energy and chaos.

James Gurney-- I think you're exactly right about the way Fawcett executed these drawings. At some point, I suspect all that "flicking and jabbing" must have been guided on a subliminal level by "what seemed right" rather than the strokes per se. That layout is kind of hard to believe, isn't it? All I can think is that the art director who originally chose Fawcett for the assignment fell into an open manhole, and was replaced by a new AD with very different taste.

David Apatoff said...

Hank Rivera-- The Fuchs book has been written and is at an advanced stage. Right now, we are still trying to make sure we have the best possible images, including as many from the originals as possible, as that is the most important part.

अर्जुन -- Good, but I think you will never duplicate the success of Rah, Rah, Rasputin. Perhaps nobody ever could.

अर्जुन said...

The bar was raised to high. Damn that rascal Putin (rah, rah).

chuck pyle said...

Educational, as always, I was sharing this with my drawing students. A very inspirational selection.

David Apatoff said...

Chuck Pyle-- I'm glad; Fawcett is often inspirational for me as well. He does require an extra look to appreciate what lies below the surface, but more than many illustrators, I find that extra attention is rewarded.

अर्जुन -- Whatever happened to Boney M? Did he go on to win a Nobel prize or something?

Ken Mac said...

This blog is magic, I could cry

Roger Reed said...

There is no way I could get away with using the kind of poetic language you and James employ to flog my stock of drawings, so thanks for doing it for me!

I had a huh? moment however when you compared Fawcett with Gottlieb. Despite a (very) superficial resemblance between a very small passage of the Fawcett with the entirety of a Gottlieb painting (already an unfair comparison), I find it difficult to believe there is any common ground in technique, meaning, representation, semiotics, composition, intent or anything else between the two artists' images. I don't even think Google Images would have coughed up one given the input of the other. What was your point exactly? At least you can be confident that no one else has ever raised such a comparison before.

David Apatoff said...

Ken Mac-- Bless you

Roger Reed-- My comparison of Fawcett and Gottlieb is intended to offer a fresh perspective to those who view Fawcett (and perhaps realism) as obsolete. Fawcett was every bit as concerned with abstract design as the most abstract of fine artists at the high water mark of abstraction. In this particular comparison, Fawcett and Gottlieb both combined black, calligraphic spatters with colored circles. It is only the content that distinguishes (and damns) Fawcett. Every person will have to decide for themselves how that distinction affects the quality of the art. (In a culture less pretentious and obssessed with class, some might even say that Fawcett deserves extra points for doing everything Gottlieb did, and more).

I was just trying to make clear that if you neutralized the content of a Fawcett by hanging it upside down or taking a portion out of context, you would see the very same DNA as you see in a Gottlieb or de Kooning or Kline.

The vocabulary I use to describe pictures on this blog has the supreme advantage of being 100% heartfelt. I have no commercial incentives or conflicts of interest, which frees me to be absolutely honest. It's a liberating feeling.

Thanks again for showing me this drawing.

jaleen said...

Roger, are you trolling? :-P

Anonymous said...

thanks for share.......

Anonymous said...

Hey David, did you see the new Mad Men ad? Sort of like a combo of Fawcett and Mitchell Hooks.

ken meyer jr