Tuesday, January 12, 2021


 In my view, Burton Silverman is one of the premier portrait painters in the world today.  

However, for over 30 years Silverman was an illustrator best known for his reportorial work.  He first made a name for himself in 1956 when he traveled to Montgomery, Alabama to draw Dr. Martin Luther King's bus boycott.  That important series of drawings, now housed at the Delaware Art Museum, helped to open the eyes of art directors to the value of journalistic illustration.

After that, national publications called upon Silverman to draw a number of situations and events for national publications:

Silverman was sent to locations as far away as Asia to draw his impressions:

In addition to drawing what he had witnessed, Silverman received many assignments to reconstruct or imagine events that had taken place outside the range of cameras.

These were frequently crime scenes:

 In the 1960s and 70s photography decimated the field of illustration.  A large percentage of the assignments that once would've gone to illustrators were diverted to photographers.  But a small breed of journalistic illustrators, capable of drawing in factually accurate ways but also adding something special, proved their worth and recaptured some of the ground on reportorial assignments that normally would have gone to photography.


kev ferrara said...

So beautiful. His work floats like a dream, yet it's solid as a rock. One of our true poets.

Vanderwolff said...

The hyper-reductive and "height of the moment" quality to these figures and scenes remind me of Pyle's immediate grasp of story, moment and compositional intuition. These pictures bespeak an innate empathy as well as unerring discernment of the tricky scales of art and reporting. They astound as much for their indelible humanity as for their unmistakable skill. Thank you for these sir!

Thomas Denmark said...

I'd never heard of Burt Silverman when he came to talk at my Art School back in the 90's. The poster announcing his visit looked interesting so I went. That day the building was packed and people were losing their freaking minds to see him in person. He brought a LOT of his original watercolors to display (he was promoting his new Watercolor book), and I understood what all the hype was about. What a master.

chris bennett said...

That first painting is particularly captivating; the most enchanting magic coming off its 'second portrait' (on the easel) in relation to the more grounded presence of the seeming main subject.

Anonymous said...

Hi David -
Just on the subject of comments mentioned in the earlier post, are links allowed ?
(I'd tried to add a few to a mention of Iain McCaig to show some of his great illustrations from the '80s on the very first post her, 'Welcome', but they haven't passed muster)

Gianmaria Caschetto said...

This is the gentleman who illustrated the famous Jethro Tull album, right? A trio of watercolors that look like oil paintings?
It is in my personal top-five of favourite albums.

I remember reading the story about the original painting, but I forgot the name.

Once I've seen the samples in this post I recognised the style (unless of course I'm wrong and it's not the same painter)

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Agreed. Silverman has taught hundreds of art students over the years and yet I'm unaware of any that have surfaced with similar abilities.

Vanderwolff-- I hadn't thought about it but there is a lot of humanity in these pictures. It makes a difference.

Thomas Denmark-- You're lucky to have heard Silverman in person. I've seen a couple of his training videos and he seems very good.

David Apatoff said...

chris bennett-- I've seen 5 or 6 portraits by Silverman with a "second portrait" in the background, sometimes leaning against a wall or at different angles. That may be an occupational hazard of painting portraits in your studio but he always uses that device very effectively, I think.

Anonymous-- I checked and didn't see any trace of the links you mention. I certainly never rejected or deleted them. I'm so sorry. But I'm always interested in referrals of interesting artists or pictures, so please send away.

Gianmaria Caschetto-- Thanks for the fun story. It really says something that an esteemed artist like Silverman, after producing thousands of beautiful pictures, is still grumbling about being underpaid for an album cover decades ago.

Manqueman said...

My favorite Silverman art were the illustrations used for New Yorker profiles. Photo-like without looking like a photo.

David Apatoff said...

PS-- The planes of that painting in the background don't align. The canvas is at one angle and the easel is at a different angle. Just like Cezanne disconnected the planes in his paintings., placing them at angles he found most aesthetically pleasing, without regard to realism.

Manqueman-- I agree those are great portraits. I would've included some in this post but they don't really fall under the category of his "journalistic" work and I already had a couple of portrait examples.

Paul Sullivan said...

David—you wrote, "In my view, Burton Silverman is one of the premier portrait painters in the world today." Could not agree with you more.

Unknown said...

It was the Aqualung album that he did the cover and inside work for. Tulls most famous work. It seems that not all went well in regards to rights of the art work. The art has since been sold commercially on all kinds of promotional Jethro Tull items that the artis was never paid for. At least that is what I have read. Mr. Silverman was another great painter who taught at SVA when I was there. I am very sorry I never had him as an instructor Absolutely love his work.