Saturday, July 08, 2017


In February I wrote about the wall of portraits at the Society of Illustrators in New York, where each president of the Society was drawn by a prominent illustrator of the day.   

Unlike typical portraits which are designed to flatter subjects who know little about art, the portraits on the walls at the Society were pictures of working artists, done by working artists, to be displayed in front of a judgmental audience of working artists.

Here is another assortment of drawings worth considering from the wall. Which are your favorites? Personally, I'm crazy about Victor Juhasz's lively, observant drawing of Dennis Dittrich:

Dennis Dittrich portrayed by Victor Juhasz
Juhasz drew his subject from life.  Compare the vitality of his drawing with Norman Rockwell's cautious portrait of Wesley McKeown.

Wesley McKeown by Norman Rockwell
Rockwell lent technical mastery to everything he touched, yet I think this portrait lacks the spirit of Juhasz's drawing.

Bob Peak's drawing below also strives for vitality, but I find his racing stripes an artificial way of achieving it (unlike Juhasz's drawing where every "loose" line serves a purpose). 

Walter Hortens by Bob Peak
I'm guessing that Diane Dillon's portrait by her husband and partner Leo is unadventuresome because he likes her just fine the way she is, and can't see that any experimentation or distortion is warranted.

Diane Dillon by Leo Dillon
The talented Greg Manchess employed charcoal for these drawings of Berenson and Schultz:

Richard J. Berenson by Gregg Manchess 
Eileen Hedy Schultz by Greg Manchess 

Master of the pencil Paul Calle manages to combine sharp realism with a brisk look:

Doug Cramer by Paul Calle
Last, here is a drawing of Shannon Stirnweiss by Dean Ellis:

Shannon Stirnweis by Dean Ellis 

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

The Juhasz portrait is a REAL drawing . The thing that always bothered me with Peak's charcoals , is that it feels like he traced a photo then skillfully imitated looseness , trying for a Fechin look, with smears and tweaks . With the skill he did have , I don't know why he wouldn't actually Do "it" instead of imitating "it".

If anyone knows otherwise please enlighten me .

Al McLuckie

MORAN said...

The Paul Calle drawing is awesome but I think the Leo Dillon drawing is boring. Your right he must have loved her too much to draw her objectively.

Robert Cosgrove said...

Interesting to compare the two Manchess portraits, both very well-designed, but much greater use of tone and lost edges in the later one. Artistic evolution, or just different stylistic choices?

kev ferrara said...

Agree 100%.

Calle's work is surprisingly expressive given its amount of detail. He's a master.

While the Juhasz looks both quickly executed and observant, the Peak looks like it was dashed off in a kind of shallow, show-offy way. It lacks the penetration to justify its surface verve; visual theater without content.

In his defense, I think that Rockwell is from very late in his career. It looks traced and dead on arrival. You can feel his disinterest and enervation through the piece.

Tom said...

I agree David, I like the Juhasz drawing. It remains little bit of David Hockney's portrait drawing expect it's a lot better, his marks feel the terrain of the head itself.

The Peak drawing makes me feel uncomfortable beacuse the angle of the forehead to the hairline on top of the skull feels way too acute. It feels like the plane runs at a thirty degree to the horizontal plane.

I like the Manchess drawings better then the Calle drawing because the heads in the Manchess's drawings have room to breath they are not shoved up against the border and the front plane of the drawing. So I fell like there is space to travel across and into before I reach the subject, whereas in the Calle's, I feel claustrophobic, like I am jammed right up into his face, which feels active an annoying instead of contemplative or pleasing.

David Apatoff said...

Al McLuckie-- That's a good way of putting it. I agree that the Juhasz is a "real" drawing. There's genuine hard work, conveyed with a light and nimble touch. I too have noticed the disparity in quality from Peak. He has done some drawings I think are splendid, but others seem to be ore sizzle than substance.

MORAN-- Glad you like that Calle-- I don't seem to hear much about him these days, but he was quite good, and that drawing is even more impressive in person, for those who visit the Society.

Robert Cosgrove-- A good question. I've always been impressed that Manchess is such a conscientious artist who has continued to grow and evolve.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- You'd probably be interested to know that when the Famous Artists School decided to update their roster of "famous" artists in the 1960s, Austin Briggs opposed admitting Peak because, despite all of Peak's celebrity and his hot designs, Briggs did not feel that Peak could draw well enough to be included.

Tom-- Your Hockney analogy is an interesting one. There was certainly a period when Hockney's portraits were stirring and powerful and interesting, but to me he seemed to burn out, or at least care less. I agree with you in the Peak, and I also like those Manchess drawings.

kev ferrara said...

Briggs did not feel that Peak could draw well enough to be included.

Interesting historically. But baffling artistically.

dugbuddy said...

Love them all... but I have been a Paul Calle fan since 1985.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I agree that Peak did some very strong drawings; I've posted some of them and you have commented on them ( ). I really like the sample you provided here. I think it is a successful example of what Al McLuckie referred to above: "a Fechin look." Other Peak drawings had a Schiele look (especially those lovely line drawings he did on brightly colored paper, like his ads for Puritan). Others had a definite Klimt look. So I agree, Peak knew good drawing when he saw it, and he did some terrific, sensitive work. There was nobody hotter in the 60s. So I don't know how to explain that he also did what I'd consider superficial work (and I don't mean just an occasional bad day, everybody has those). I don't understand how the artist who did your drawing of the native American could become so wedded to that "diamond diffraction" gimmick in his movie posters. Perhaps Briggs caught him on a bad day.

dugbuddy-- I like Calle too but never knew much about him. I just looked him up and discovered he was another of those Stamford Connecticut illustrators. Is there anything you can share with us?

kev ferrara said...


Any tool or technique that quickly provides a dazzling or impressive result is a danger to an artist; ready-to-hand effects are ripe for artistic abuse. Much of what I decry about the new wave illustrators of the late 50s-70s, is that so much of their M.O. is the development of superficial technical bedazzlements that quickly get abused (and these gimmicks are easily mimicked). Photoshop is now the garrison for all such jive, their repository.

Equally, there was this crazy thing called the 1970s, which had nothing to do with "good taste" and a lot to do with people going wild. And otherwise disciplined and talented people could fall prey to some rather grim ruts of shallow sensation if they had the money.

Matt Dicke said...

I am surprised you have not included this Austin Briggs drawing. I was just looking at it this weekend and it is a "real" drawing in every way. For those interested in it here is a photo sorry but glare...

Matt Dicke said...

Just saw the Briggs was in your previous post from February. So here is the Fuch image not posted so far. Fun to see these images all in one place. They are a highlight when I visit the society.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Well, I'm reluctant to generalize about an entire decade but it does seem that the 70s produced more than their share of scented bilge. That was the rebirth of airbrush illustration (by Brak, Sorayama, etc.) which struck me as the visual equivalent of disco. Maybe the country was ready for a break after the 60s?

Some artists succumbed to the temptations of a repetitive "tool or technique" (and in fairness, some clients demanded that an artist's trademark tool or technique be used, as long as it continued to be hot). But after all, isn't resisting that temptation part of what being an artist is all about?

Matt Dicke-- Yes, I included that Briggs drawing in my first selection from the wall of presidents because I shared your reaction to it. I'm glad you're taking time to study the original drawings at the Society. They are worth the attention and I think a lot of people just walk by.

Dale Stephanos said...

Victor's Chuck Jones meets Daumier in a bar with Ed Sorel serving style never disappoints. If you've seen his work with the military and layer that over the satire he does it's just mind boggling. This portrait is so free and easy, like a single note tossed off by Coltrane.

kev ferrara said...

That was the rebirth of airbrush illustration (by Brak, Sorayama, etc.) which struck me as the visual equivalent of disco.

Wow, yeah... Syd Brak. Jeez. Also Nagel, Stavrinos, Olivia, Palombi, all that dire shallow-smooth design-y airbrush art. I agree there seems to be relationship there to disco, specifically the "cocaine glitz" Studio 54 "party at the end of the world" club thing, all part of an overall desperation for escape from reality. (I guess one of the signs of a culture in crisis is that its "fun" becomes dire rather than recreational.)

Some artists succumbed to the temptations of a repetitive "tool or technique" (and in fairness, some clients demanded that an artist's trademark tool or technique be used, as long as it continued to be hot). But after all, isn't resisting that temptation part of what being an artist is all about?

Resisting temptation, period, is a large part of being an artist. Nothing that has lasting value can be created without intense discipline and personal sequestering from the shallow, distracting, glitzy, tricky, sensational, provocative, and momentary. No easy task, and getting harder by the day.

Taylor Two said...

Oh yes, nothing more terrifying that the observant eyes of other artists upon your work :D

I suspect artists look for flaws to reassure ourselves that everyone else is human too. I've noticed flaws even when walking around a notable art museum, there is no perfect art, just expressions of thoughts to enjoy. It's more in the heart rather than the skill in my mind, but then I would say that being a skill-less hack.


AleŇ° said...

Dillon's portrait really is dull, it reminds me a bit of Anthony Ryder's drawings who wrote in his figure drawing book: "I've now been teaching for fourteen years. Throughout this period I've been guided by one principle: stick to what you were taught. I've never had any desire to teach anything new, to invent anything, change anything, or innovate in any way."

Paul Sullivan said...

We will probably all agree that it is not the best idea to compare the work of legendary illustrators by these sketches alone. However, in effect, that is what we are doing.

Through parts of this discussion, the work of Bob Peak has taken received a few negative comments. I have to admit that I was not a big fan of him adding the air brush to his repertoire. However, from the late 50s through the early 70s, the work of Bob Peak and Bernie Fuchs were the leading influences in American illustration.

As most of us are aware, Peak came up through fashion illustration. The first Peak illustration I saw was a small newspaper ad for Dobbs hats in about 1956. It was fashion art but the line work was so good—and different from what was being done—that I’ll never forget it. The magnificent series he did for Puritan shirts hit the scene about 1958 or 59 and it was like nothing before. That series could be repeated today and look just as fresh and innovative as it did in 1960—57 years ago.

I won’t comment on the statement that Briggs was supposed have made regarding Peak’s lack of drawing ability. At that time everyone was using projectors, including Briggs. I’m sure Peak used a projector whenever it was advantageous. But take a look at his work. Unless he found a group of seven foot tall models with narrow faces, Peak was doing a lot of his drawing by eye.

David Apatoff said...

Dale Stephanos-- I agree. I've written about Victor's military drawings here before-- very impressive for many reasons.

Taylor Two wrote: "It's more in the heart rather than the skill in my mind." Well, there's certainly an important role for both, but there is a lot heartfelt art that is perfectly awful.

AleŇ°-- I hadn't heard that quote from Ryder. It's pretty devastating.

Paul Sullivan-- You make a good point, I would not want the reputations of these legendary illustrators to rise or fall on the basis of this one drawing. I also agree with you about Peak's importance, and have said so here. I'd feel bad if I thought my humble commentary or these ensuing discussions would make a dent in the legacy of these talented folks, but there's little danger of that.

Still, I think this exercise is interesting and legitimate for two reasons:

1.) These were drawings of their peers, to be hung on the wall in front of their peers. Their fellow illustrators knew all the magician's tricks, all the gimmicks, knew how to distinguish between the sizzle and the steak. So I think some of the proud artists represented on the wall of presidents went out of their way to do a "real" drawing to the best of their ability. My personal feeling is that for whatever reason, Peak didn't do that here.

2.) I find that the group that weighs in here is a pretty tough minded, knowledgeable group. They don't make comments to be snarky, they make comments because they have experienced eyes, serious opinions (which they are prepare to defend), and best of all, they don't subscribe to the currently fashionable "I'm OK you're OK" school of art criticism. If you look at the Society of Illustrators annuals in the late 50s or early 60s, those juries wrote comments that were pretty tough on their peers and on themselves. They talked about lack of originality and repetitiveness and the importance of doing better. Perhaps that's why they were such a remarkable bunch.

Andra said...

Love the Manchesses, but then, I'm very partial to charcoal. But agreed, the Juhasz is masterful.

Paul Sullivan said...

David—For the most part, I agree with you. I do not believe this portrait sketch is an example of Peak’s best work. It is fair that this is noted and open to comment and criticism.

Peak’s work went through several phases. Personally, I don’t think his later work was his best but throughout his career he was he was a leading creative force. Unless you were a working artist at the time, it is difficult to comprehend how innovative his work was—especially in the mid 50s through the early 70s.

A post such as this is fun to study. My only note of caution is that it can naturally lead to the comparison of artists general abilities based on a single work.

You referred to the Society of Illustrators annuals of 1959 and the 1960s. I’m very familiar with them and studied them at the time they were published. Bob Peak was a judge of that first annual.

kev ferrara said...

Speaking of portraits…

Anonymous said...

Kev look at the picture of that photographer. She's really hot. They made the right choice.

Vonnie said...

I like the detail in Doug Cramer by Paul Calle

kev ferrara said...

Not to be outdone…

Anonymous said...

Me, I can never get enough Manchess.

Ken Meyer Jr.

Anne Looney said...

I LOVE Dennis Dittrich's portrait! Of course, I'm a little biased!