Tuesday, May 23, 2017

THE OLD HOUSE ON TANGLEWOOD LANE, part 3


Bernie Fuchs and his wife Anna Lee (known to all as Babe) in front of their new house        
In 1961 when the young Bernie Fuchs moved his family into the house on Tanglewood Lane, no one could've anticipated the explosive decade ahead.  The 1960s shook the whole field of illustration just as they shook the country.

The 60s brought revolutions in art, music and literature.  Assassinations, political unrest over civil rights, women's rights and the Vietnam War created great volatility and ferment.  A handful of illustrators sensed the new creative possibilities and were quick to jump the fence.

Illustrations that were merely representational in the 1950s exploded with energy in the 1960s:


Left side by an unknown artist in 1956, right side by Fuchs in 1961. See my earlier post comparing such images. 
Wild new DayGlo colors and psychedelic combinations changed the world's palette.  Bright orange was pitted against shocking pink.  Turquoise was pitted against purple. Writing and collage were introduced into illustrations:





Bold new leaders and radical political trends inspired bold new graphic treatments:


Martin Luther King done with an abstract expressionist's flair
An impressionistic treatment matched the youth and vigor of John F. Kennedy 

Illustrators took unprecedented liberties, leading public taste rather than catering to it:













Not only did illustration look different at the end of the 60s, but so did illustrators.

Compare the fresh faced kid at the top of this post with the hippie version of Bernie Fuchs

The white hot innovations of the 60s were still playing out 50 years later.  An uncanny number of these innovations were plotted in the art studio over the garage at 3 Tanglewood Lane:


If the city of Westport had a lick of sense, they'd put a bronze plaque on the studio rather than demolishing it .


Monday, May 22, 2017

THE OLD HOUSE ON TANGLEWOOD LANE, chapter 2

After World War II, the illustration market heated up again.  Westport illustrator Al Parker recalled, 
At the end of the war, the illustrator strutted amidst a pageant of plenty. Advertising budgets had skyrocketed and magazines bulged with fiction, providing work for all who painted in the style of the innovators.
It was also a profession dominated almost exclusively by male illustrators.

During this era Arpi and Suren Ermoyan--one of the power couples of illustration-- moved into the house on Tanglewood Lane. They purchased it from R.G. Harris in 1953 and Harris moved back west to Arizona. 

 Arpi was one of the very few women to become a respected illustrator in those days.

illustration from Cosmopolitan Magazine, June 1953

The novelty of a woman illustrator did not escape attention:

Cosmopolitan clipping from Leif Peng's Today's Inspiration




She went on to become the Director of the Society of Illustrators and author of one of the premier books on illustration, Famous American Illustrators.  She worked at the prestigious ad agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach, and curated gallery exhibitions of illustration art.  She was a multidisciplinary force to contend with. Today illustration is no longer a boy's club, but surprisingly I've yet to hear a contemporary woman illustrator acknowledge Arpi Ermoyan's contribution in the early years.

Illustrators in Westport during this era used each other for models all the time, and Arpi was a favorite. As Cosmopolitan Magazine noted, neighboring illustrators would stop by the house on Tanglewood Lane and before you know it, Arpi had to "put aside her drawing board and start modeling."  Several great illustrators of the era were inspired by her striking good looks and painted her into their illustrations:

Arpi by John LaGatta

Arpi by Austin Briggs
Arpi by Bernie Fuchs

Arpi's husband, Suren, was the highly regarded art director for a number of the top magazines of the day. In 1948 he was the young art editor at Cosmopolitan who first paired illustrator Robert Fawcett with the famous Sherlock Holmes series.  He was later the art director at Town & Country.  The year that he and Arpi moved into the house on Tanglewood Lane, Suren left Town & Country to become art director at Good Housekeeping. Arpi and Suren lived happily in the old house on Tanglewood Lane from 1953 to 1961, while Westport was a buzzing hive of creative activity.
  
By 1961, illustration had turned another page and the Ermoyans sold the house to the new kid in town, Bernie Fuchs.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

THE OLD HOUSE ON TANGLEWOOD LANE, chapter 1


They’re tearing down the house at 3 Tanglewood Lane in Westport Connecticut. 

The house was built in 1920, when Westport was growing from a sleepy farm community to a village where artists, musicians and writers could live inexpensively and commute to New York City.


Westport quickly became a Mecca for American illustrators and over the years the house on Tanglewood Lane served as the home for one generation of illustrator after another-- illustrators such as Robert George Harris, Arpi Ermoyan and Bernie Fuchs.


The artists got married, raised kids, and worked far into the night to meet deadlines.  They struggled for artistic accomplishment as times and styles changed.  In good times, the old house acquired a new studio or a swimming pool.  Whether good times or bad, the ivy from the adjacent forest always nibbled away at the house, trying to reclaim it for nature.   Eventually each illustrator moved on, passing the house to the next generation. 

Today illustrators are mostly gone from Westport.  The last time I took a cab from the Westport train station, the cab driver cursed the "fucking yuppie bankers" who he said had invaded the town and were tearing down the gracious old homes to build modern mansions.  Apparently investment bankers don't tip as well as illustrators.

All this week I’m going to tell you stories about the illustrators who lived at 3 Tanglewood Lane and the art they produced.

Robert George Harris rode his motorcycle from Kansas all the way to New York to seek his fortune as an illustrator.  In 1935 he married Marjorie Elenora King and they moved to the house in the woods on Tanglewood Lane to raise a family.  

Harris started out painting lurid pulp magazine covers on the outskirts of respectability: 



But gradually, his work became more refined and genteel.  So did the illustration field.  So did Westport.  The "slicks" (high class magazines printed on coated paper) were having their heyday.  Harris began working for McCall’s, The Saturday Evening Post, The Ladies' Home Journal, and Redbook 





He also began doing lucrative advertising work.  He developed a trademark of pretty girls with impossibly high eyebrows.





As he prospered, Harris was able to build a high ceilinged studio over the garage with great big windows for plenty of light. 

By the 1950s, Harris had gone from painting gunfights for Wild West Weekly to painting cute domestic scenes using his own kitchen in the house on Tanglewood Lane for the backgrounds. 



By 1953, his children were older and Harris was ready to move on.  He sold the house to a power couple of American illustration, Arpi and Suren Ermoyan.  We'll talk about them next.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

FOR THE LEYENDECKER FANS OUT THERE




In my latest column for The Saturday Evening Post I've posted several close ups from original oil paintings by J.C. Leyendecker, so you can see his brush strokes and the finer details of his work. For some reason I can get bigger and sharper images through the Post's web site than I can on blogger.  Take a look!

The close ups are courtesy of the fabulous Kelly Collection of American Illustration. 





Tuesday, May 02, 2017

W. HEATH ROBINSON AT THE DELAWARE ART MUSEUM



photo©The William Heath Robinson Trust.

If you aren’t a fan of the great English illustrator W. Heath Robinson, it’s probably because you haven’t found time to visit the marvelous exhibition of his work at the Delaware Art Museum. It’s a rare opportunity, and one you shouldn't let pass by.


photo©The William Heath Robinson Trust.

The show is the first one man exhibition of Robinson’s work in the United States and includes some of the top pictures from the Heath Robinson Museum in London (which apparently owns the mother lode of Robinson art).  If you don't make it to Delaware before the exhibition closes on May 21, you'll have to travel all the way to England to see these originals.

photo©The William Heath Robinson Trust.

photo©The William Heath Robinson Trust.


photo©The William Heath Robinson Trust.


I thought I knew Robinson’s work well; I've long admired his elegant design and his graceful, imaginative line work.  But seeing original illustrations such as the following half title from A Midsummer Night's Dream up close and personal gives you a whole different sense for the artist's accomplishment.

photo©The William Heath Robinson Trust.

 That swarm of fairies in the summer air is matched only by the loving treatment of the distinctive designs in the summer grass.

 Many people know Robinson's work for his bizarre inventions...
 
photo©The William Heath Robinson Trust.


 ...but it turns out that Robinson was also a serious lifelong painter, and there are examples of his landscape paintings and other serious watercolors in the show's nearly 70 works. 


photo©The William Heath Robinson Trust.

The exhibition offers a real reminder about the art of drawing with elegance and charm, but it also shows us a prolific artist who, despite a backbreaking load of commercial advertising and illustration work, took his artistic standards very seriously, and "tried all through my life as an artist to keep this side of my work alive.”

FOR MORE GREAT ROBINSON:

Recently The Saturday Evening Post selected me to be their new art critic (proving once again that there is no accounting for taste).   I've posted several additional works from the Robinson show, along with my full critique of the show, in my column there.  I urge you to take a look.

While you're there, you might be interested in some of my other columns on illustration.  The Post has generously made available to me their full archive of illustrations, so if you're interested in seeing more work from any of the great Post illustrators (which included just about everybody) let me know.  

Many thanks.








Friday, April 14, 2017

THE SEAT OF YOUR PANTS


This marvelous study of a (human?) rump is by the eagle-eyed Tom Fluharty:


Fluharty takes nothing for granted about the human butt.  There are no shortcuts here-- nothing uniform or symmetrical.   From start to finish,  this drawing is based on what he actually sees and not what we all assume we know.  Note the variety of his line, his sharp use of shadows for accents, and the active, dynamic result he has achieved.  He even indicates the stitching at the seams, not because he's one of those detail fetishists, but to add a little pepper to his drawing.


Next we have another unorthodox treatment of the folds and creases caused by the human butt:


This one, by Robert Fawcett, is powered by those strong diagonal slashes.

If you drew the seat of someone's pants without looking, you'd never imagine these folds.  Fawcett was a master of finding and strengthening the geometric shapes in nature.

Here's a third example of a master draftsman (Albert Dorne) with a sharp, incisive treatment of the relationship between the human fundament and the cloth that covers it. 


These three wonderful drawings all demonstrate the power of keen observation, hard work and great visual curiosity.   

On the other hand, there are reference books that purport to explain how folds and creases work. Famed artist Burne Hogarth wrote a book entitled Dynamic Wrinkles and Drapery: Solutions For Drawing The Clothed Figure.  It contains all kinds of drawings with little dotted lines and arrows demonstrating Hogarth's theories about kinetic forces and wrinkles.  Here he shows us how he thinks cloth folds around our butts:


I've always been baffled by Hogarth's many fans.  His drawing strikes me as decidedly third rate.  (Anyone out there want to help me see what I'm missing?)



I think this drawing is based more on Hogarth's theories than on what he actually sees.  There is more education in Fluharty's single drawing above than in an entire 142 page book on drawing wrinkles.  

Friday, April 07, 2017

GOOD DRAWING IN COMICS

Last week I read a college magazine describing a class on drawing graphic novels.  The instructor told his students, "Good drawing gets in the way of good comics." This is a position widely held by people who don't understand what good drawing is.

The current low regard for good drawing in comics appears to stem from at least three unfortunate trends:

First, many people devalue pictures because they believe the words or concept are most important.

Doonesbury was so smart, its bad drawing seemed charming.  Since that time, many cartoonists who aren't nearly as smart as Garry Trudeau have tried to claim his same license.  
It is shocking to see how literary figures with no understanding of the visual arts feel emboldened to make sweeping pronouncements about them. Sir John Betjeman, the normally erudite Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom demonstrated his ignorance when he proclaimed, "No one comes close to matching [Alan Aldridge's] influence on illustration in the 20th Century..."  (In case you're wondering who Alan Aldridge was, he was a semi-talented air brush artist / graphic designer who was temporarily trendy when his path crossed with the Beatles in the 1960s.) Literary sensation Dave Eggers gave Sir Betjeman a race for his money when Eggers clownishly announced that Chris Ware is "the most versatile and innovative artist the medium has ever known." Neither Betjeman nor Eggers appears to know anything about the medium, yet they don't hesitate to make broad, absolute claims.  And these examples are just the tip of the iceberg; I've previously written about the high literary magazines whose visual taste seems to have diminished in recent decades. 

One has to assume that these fellows would be laughed out of the literary guild if they ever made such baseless claims about writers. But when artists abandon any pretense of objective standards, they open the floodgates for any moron to make bold claims with impunity.  No wonder words seem more important than pictures to today's audiences.

Second,  some people argue that "good" drawing might interrupt the rhythm and smooth flow of  sequential art.

By using three nearly identical drawings, Jim Davis, the canny CEO of the popular Garfield corporate empire, says he avoids changes in perspective, variety in line, or anything else that might slow the reader processing a gag.  This stripped down version of the comic strip is perfectly tailored to a low energy, short-attention-span audience. . 
But "good drawings" aren't necessarily lavish or detailed, and they certainly aren't oblivious to their purpose.  A drawing that distracts and undermines its own intent is by definition not "good."

Third, many people believe that newspapers no longer provide the space for anything but simplified, dumbed down drawing in comic strips.  And it's true, comic strips no longer have room for the visual spectacle of Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon and Terry and the Pirates.

Still, these arguments don't justify the lackluster drawing in so much of today's web comics, graphic novels and other sequential art.  

As Exhibit A, look at what the talented cartoonist Wiley Miller, who knows how to draw and cares about quality, is able to squeeze into today's compact and simplified comic strip space:



Each panel above is infused with its own creative choices; each drawing of the Titanic is stretched in fun and different ways.  Each panel is explored from a different angle. 

 
 

 

Miller proves that an artist can still find room for observation, inspiration and creativity in today's slimmed down comic strips. 

Note that even the icebergs benefit from the variety in Miller's line (as opposed to the monotonous line that haunts so many of today's strips):

 

Nothing in Non Sequitur is drawn on autopilot. Miller isn't scared to give his readers more of a visual challenge-- and more nutritional content-- than Garfield.

As another example of what is sacrificed by the new attitudes, take a look at this delicious sequence by Joe Kubert:
 
 

There are virtually no words here, but look at how wise and informative those pictures are! Note how sensitively Kubert's seemingly rough brushstrokes tell us about the shape and nature of those tentacles reaching out to encircle that ankle:


Pay attention to the creative choices in the next blockbuster panel:  Kubert tells us about the height of the creature by imaginatively having the tentacles come down from the top of the panel rather than slither along the ground.  (And note, Kubert doesn't stoop to using a simple profile view!)  He also tells us about the depth and bulk of the creature without spelling it out in words or even showing it explicitly, just by placing those strong shadows at the top of the panel where a lesser artist wouldn't have dared to put anything. He tells us about the nature of those suckers by the way he exposes them with the deft curvature of the tentacle at the bottom of the page, showing us a sample framed against the white background. And throughout the whole drawing, Kubert's powerful brush work remains in full control of the values (lightness or darkness) of the elements of the picture.  None of this has to be mapped out in words, nor could it be conveyed as effectively in words.  Kubert depicts it instinctively and we understand it intuitively.



These are the kinds of pleasures of sequential art that played a large role in making comics a credible art form to begin with.  Where is the web comic or graphic novel today with art that compares?  And where will the credibility of the medium be a generation from now?

Why does this matter to me?  Comics were derided for many years, but eventually earned the grudging respect of the world as a legitimate art form because "good drawing" was at the heart of the accomplishment by Herriman and McCay, by Raymond and Caniff and Foster, by Kelly and King and Drucker and Schulz and Watterson and Thompson and a hundred other artists who worked their asses off.  Sequential art would not have earned space in museums today if these previous generations of artists believed that "Good drawing gets in the way of good comics."

However, now that sequential art is in museums, adorned with Pulitzer prizes and glittering trophies, many people seem eager for a piece of that status at a discounted price. Trophies from writers who don't know or care much about pictures can't preserve the status of the art form forever.  Equity built up over time also erodes over time.

A century of "good" sequential drawing behind us proves that good drawing amplifies and empowers concepts, rather than "getting in the way of them."