Thursday, January 14, 2021

THE JOURNALIST ILLUSTRATORS: ROBERT WEAVER

"What journalism is to literature, illustration is to fine art." 

"Form is the fire under the pot, and content is what's in it."

"A man without an opinion is dull company but an opinion without a man is duller still."

"Many illustrators of today are too little concerned with the actualities of their time."


Robert Weaver was probably the most verbal and self-conscious artist amongst his generation of journalist illustrators.  A highly articulate, socially aware and strongly opinionated artist, he became known for his bold graphic approaches in magazines such as Esquire, Fortune, Playboy and New York where he found art directors willing to give him a long leash.  Marshall Arisman reportedly called Weaver "the only pictorial genius I have ever met."  

The definitive History of Illustration describes Weaver's style this way: 

Inspired to find new approaches to visual storytelling that were reflective of the growing interest in psychological or ideological content, Weaver ruptured the picture plane and combined discontinuous actions or seemingly unrelated ideas on one page to invite interpretation.  

In the following series of drawings for Milton Glaser at New York magazine,  Weaver gave his impressions of a day in the life of New York City police.






Weaver's concepts call for an unconventional interaction with the viewer.  Sometimes his concepts couldn't possibly have been intelligible to his audience. For example, unlike Burt Silverman who we saw reconstruct a crime scene, Weaver took pride in drawing things he had actually witnessed, so when it came time to draw a robbery he hadn't seen, he left the face of the robber blank: 



A highly cerebral type but not a systematic thinker, Weaver has taken positions on all sides of an issue.  On one day, illustration qualifies as art but on another day it has nothing to do with art.  On Tuesdays Weaver speaks out against "amateurism" but on Thursdays he brags about being an amateur.  On weekends he says no self-respecting artist could work for "large-circulation magazines" but during the week he works for Life and Sports Illustrated.  

And if you happened to speak to Weaver on the wrong day, you might be in for a tongue lashing.  When a youthful Bernie Fuchs first visited the Society of Illustrators and said he wanted to become an illustrator, Weaver yelled at him, telling him that was a terrible ambition, that illustration had nothing to do with art and he should find something else to do.

 



I like some of Weaver's drawings very much. 


Like his contemporary Austin Briggs, Weaver loved using a thick black crayon with a bold, crude line.  




Briggs was the first to introduce the raw tool in finished illustrations, but Weaver, following in Briggs' footsteps, was willing to take Briggs' innovation further.


Much of Weaver's influence seems to stem from his persona as well as his pictures.  His boldness, his politics, his eloquence and his public handwringing about the social conscience of an illustrator attracted a huge following, even among "establishment" illustrators who he regularly disparaged.  When the Famous Artists School asked Weaver for permission to reproduce one of his drawings to train art students, he turned them down with a sniffy letter:





Weaver was the only artist to withhold permission to let his work be used to teach art students.  Al Dorne, the then-president of the Famous Artists School, had already seen far more of life than Weaver and was not intimidated by those "more soi-disant than thou" types:





17 comments:

jeanne said...

one of my favorites...
Thanks for this and the rest

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Oof... that first one hit me in the gut. And that's before I saw the word "boogaloo". We haven't changed in 50 years, have we?

MORAN said...

I don't like Weaver as much as I like Briggs but I gotta admit that guy with the hammer is awesome.

Wes said...

Is that regular colored pencil media in the horse track image? Very beautiful.

I like the age where people could be caustic and polite (civilized) at the same time. The Dorne comment to Weaver "Even though you don't like us, we like you" is golden.

chris bennett said...

I just gotta know; did he show up at Dorne's office?

I was very taken by the horse racing picture, not so much by Weaver himself.

kev ferrara said...

I feel when he indulged in crudity in his stand-alone drawings he wasn't brutish enough in his mark making to cause impact. When his graphic designs arrest attention, on the other hand, the work carries nicely and has a casual loose feel to it.

Joss said...

Sometimes I think his work is brilliant and often it seems dull. He always comes across as an interesting person to me. I really enjoyed your storytelling in this and am so grateful for your continuing to sharing it with us.

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David Apatoff said...

Jeanne-- Thanks very much for checking in, I'm glad you like these.

Benjamin de Schrijver-- I hadn't focused on the "boogaloo" reference so I went back and read the article. The author rode along in a police car and listened to officers talk about how they grew up in safe NY neighborhoods with good public schools but "Now it's all boogaloo." From the context, I think that means that the neighborhoods are predominantly African American. So it seems that the nomenclature has indeed changed, even if the underlying frictions have not.

MORAN-- Briggs gets no credit for it, but I think he opened the door for Weaver. In era of Norman Rockwell-style realism, Briggs put aside the detailed, realistic oil paintings he was doing for covers for the Saturday Evening Post and picked up a thick litho crayon. The first time that tool was used for a full page illustration (in Cosmopolitan) it gained a lot of attention as a great leap. Weaver clearly liked the effect.

David Apatoff said...

Wes-- I agree, yes a very unconventional but beautiful use of colored pencil. I also agree abut the use of language from that era. How many illustrators do you know who use terms like "soi-disant"? All of the Dorne correspondence I've read shows a similar command of language, which is all the more impressive because Dorne dropped out of public school to work when he was a small boy.

chris bennett-- I wish I knew. I found that correspondence when I was going through an unheated warehouse in Connecticut on my hands and knees. All of the Famous Artists School administrative materials had been stashed there decades earlier, after their bankruptcy. There were boxes of dusty files containing everything from travel expense reports to correspondence, but sometimes files had been moved or stashed out of sequence. The trail went cold during my search... just one of a hundred incomplete glimpses of stories involving those fabled artists. I believe that the Norman Rockwell Museum now has custody of those files and has the staff to make sense of them.

I think Weaver did some fine work, but I think part of his big splash was attributable to his prickly personality and his very outspoken theories about art and the role of the illustrator. It will be interesting to see how well the work holds up on its own over the years.

kev ferrara-- I think Weaver was certainly rougher than Briggs; Briggs could conduct brain surgery with a litho crayon, showing delicate descriptive nuances with a flick of the wrist. I think Weaver withdrew from that contest in an effort to be more brutish. I agree that he didn't always succeed, although I chose that figure of a man with a sledge hammer precisely because I thought he did succeed there.

Joss said...

It is as if the contrast between a sensitive and insensitive line adds a unique dimension to his work that is not seen in more consistent artists. Makes him special.

@reem�� said...

follow please and hAPPy nEW YEAR!!!!

David Apatoff said...

Joss-- Yes, I think that everyone-- Weaver's detractors as well as his fans-- would agree with you that he was an interesting person. I would have loved to hear his lectures. Some of his defenders have told me that when he was particularly mean spirited, it tended to be because of alcohol or because of unhappiness with his own lot in life. I do know that he went out of his way to insult other illustrators gratuitously, particularly artists like Coby Whitmore and Joe Bowler, who he didn't feel were sufficiently politically "woke."

I agree with you that the ability to use a crude mark for a sensitive depiction or contrast a rough line with a delicate theme is a laudable talent. So many of the artists I admire were interested in the results of playing one of those extremes against the other.

Wanda said...

While trying to locate the NYPD article with the "boogaloo" illustration in New York magazine, I learned that Milton Glaser designed the "I ♥ New York" logo. I suppose that's common knowledge, but I learn something new to me every time I visit your blog. Thanks!

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Henry jones said...

HAPPY NEW YEAR

Robert Cook said...

Robert Weaver was also brother to well-known actor Fritz Weaver.