Wednesday, May 27, 2015


I like the way Kyle Staver applies the freedoms of fine art to the storytelling of illustration.

Her paintings have all the personal indulgence of fine art-- she takes liberties with the human figure and boldly flattens forms the way Milton Avery did...

...she injects a personal mysticism and symbolism into her paintings the way Gauguin did...


... and she occasionally bleaches out detail with radiant light, the way Bonnard did.

His Turn

Yet, her paintings also contain the type of narrative more commonly found in illustration.   She says, "I'm first and foremost a storyteller.  When I went to art school you couldn't say that, you couldn't say that you wanted to make paintings because you wanted to tell a story.  But secretly that's what I wanted to do."

I think her paintings benefit from the discipline added by a personal story.  Her urge to communicate keeps her away from the self-indulgent obfuscation that plagues so much of contemporary art.  She paints myths and legends but they frequently end up as personal stories about her life (which lends welcome humanity in an often sterile post-modern art scene).




Illustration has been properly faulted for being too literal and too obvious.  Fine art has been properly faulted for being too self-absorbed and irrelevant.  Staver carefully selects attributes from both disciplines and ends up with her own blend.  I think her work suggests fruitful possibilities for both illustration and fine art.

Releasing the Catfish

Monday, May 18, 2015


Second only to humming, drawing may be our most intimate art form.  Drawings can be personal and delicate and spontaneous.  They don't require corporate funding, batteries, committee approval or a fancy uniform. Works of genius can be scratched on a prison wall with a rusty bed spring.  As Roberta Smith wrote, drawings are "a direct extension of an artist's signature and very nervous system."

In my view, one of today's most interesting signatures belongs to Lynda Barry.  I find her work brilliant and hilarious, but most of all she is a true original.  Her distinctive voice has been untouched by the corporate deflavorizing machine.


The thing about drawing is that it works both ways; it's a direct way for an artist to project their ideas, but it's also a way for a viewer to look directly into an artist's nerve center, to see whether the artist really has anything to offer.  There is no faster way to reveal you are a fraud than through the medium of drawing. 

I've said many unkind things about punk drawing and the art in alternative comics; I find so much of the work in graphic novels to be lame, simplistic or prematurely weary.  But Barry strikes me as one who does it right.  She proves that a crude line can be beautiful, and perfectly suited to its content.  If you follow her line into her nerve center you find she is rich, complex, inventive, authentic and unfailingly smart.

 And unlike so many alternative comic artists, Barry understands the importance of design.

How often do you find work these days that is both true and a joy to read?

Sunday, May 10, 2015


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

 Illustrator Steve Brodner started drawing political cartoons for local Brooklyn newspapers at the young age of 17. Back then he was paid a whopping $10 per cartoon.

In the hopes of improving his lot, Brodner enrolled in New York's famed Cooper Union art school. Unfortunately, Cooper Union frowned upon his illustrative style of drawing. The school wanted students with the potential to amount to something someday, and they viewed Brodner's work as unsophisticated and uninteresting. His drawing teacher scolded him for exaggerating the models in life class, and gave him an F grade. The Dean summoned Brodner to his office and urged him to transfer to Brooklyn College, which might be more tolerant of Brodner's style.

Brodner refused to leave (in part because Cooper Union tuition was free and Brodner could not afford Brooklyn College).  At the end of his first semester, Brodner's grade average was a paltry 2.1.  If his average sank just .1 lower, Brodner could be thrown out of school. The Dean walked around to Brodner's teachers trying to persuade one of them to lower Brodner's grade so the Dean could expel him.  Not one of them was willing to comply so Brodner received a temporary stay of execution.

In his second semester, Brodner struggled to raise his grades.  At the same time, he learned about a nationwide cartooning competition on the theme of overpopulation. The judges in the contest included Al Hirschfeld, Al Jaffee and Roger Wilkins. Brodner entered the contest with a cartoon showing the earth evolving over the span of five sequential drawings, as humans multiplied, into a skull:

Brodner's cartoon won first prize, miraculously beating out established professionals such as Garry Trudeau and Charles Addams.  The NewYork Times and the New York Post both wrote about Brodner's award.  People magazine profiled him in its Guide to the Up and Coming. His drawing was featured on TV, on the Today Show and on the famous quiz show, To Tell the Truth.

The night of the award ceremony, the audience was filled with celebrities from television, the press and the arts. The Master of Ceremonies was famed cartoonist Milton Caniff.  Hirschfeld and Jaffee participated, and even the loser Charles Addams showed up to see the young winner.  Recalls Brodner, "It was a grand introduction to the world of published art."

The young Brodner receives his award, flanked by Al Hirschfeld
But perhaps the biggest surprise in the audience was the President of Cooper Union who came up to the front so the school could share in the credit for the award. He wrapped his arm around Brodner's shoulder, shook his hand and congratulated him, declaring how proud Cooper Union was of its famous student.

After the award, Cooper Union arranged for Brodner to take a six-credit course of independent study, drawing political cartoons.

Over the next 40 years, Brodner earned fame as a leading caricaturist, author, film maker, professor, and political observer.  In prominent publications such as Newsweek, Esquire, the New Yorker and Harpers, he made "pictures that tell the important story." No one has heard from Brodner's drawing teacher.

Thirty five years after he graduated, Cooper Union awarded Brodner its St. Gaudens Lifetime Achievement award, the school's highest honor bestowed upon an alumnus.


Saturday, May 02, 2015


Long time readers will recall that I'm a big fan of the work of Tom Fluharty.  I'm particularly impressed by the way he applies his great talent to one medium after another.

He draws with a sharp, crisp line, taking full advantage of the fact that line can provide a snap that no other medium can.


These preliminary studies, filled with honest, observant drawing, could easily stand alone as finished work.

Fluharty is especially good at capturing the character in his subjects so that they jump off the page.
In contrast to his brisk drawings, he is also a classically trained oil painter who works patiently in glazes in the Dutch and Flemish tradition,  inspired by Bouguereau,  Ingres, and Rembrandt. 

He is equally at home working digitally:

Illustration for the New York Times

He illustrates children's books in a flatter, more colorful style:

But is probably better known for his adult, political illustrations

On his new web site, Fluharty announces that he has recently begun a series of large oil paintings of pop culture icons:

Fluharty worked to understand the distinctive attributes of each medium and I admire the way he brings his special talents to bear in each.