Monday, February 11, 2013

Modern Illustration Comes Alive at Delaware Art Museum

Vertical Hold, 2009        
Sterling Hundley (born 1976)

If Howard Pyle could come back, a century after his passing, and experience the work of the great modern illustrators, would he recognize it as illustration? How has illustration evolved, and is his legacy reflected in modern illustration? These are some of the questions posed by State of the Art: Illustration 100 Years After Howard Pyle, guest curated for the Delaware Art Museum by David Apatoff (perhaps best known in the art world for his contemporary illustration blog, Illustration Art). It's easy to see why Apatoff was the curator for the job -- his authority on the subject seems to come from pure passion. 

The eight artists featured have careers that span from the 1950s -- just about the time that photography took over as the dominant medium of choice for magazine covers and advertisements -- through today. The work of Bernie Fuchs, Milton Glaser, Peter de Séve, Sterling Hundley, John Cuneo, Ralph Eggleston, Phil Hale, and Mort Drucker is familiar, to varying degrees, to anyone exposed to modern American culture, from highbrow art connoisseurs to preschoolers.

The journey starts with Fuchs, the earliest illustrator in the show, and the only one to have passed on, in 2009. Fuchs, who grew up in a poor coal mining town in Illinois, came to exemplify 1960s illustration. He had the ability to create illustrations with photo-realistic detail, but, just as things shook up in American society, his work evolved into a more impressionistic, experimental style, while still retaining much of the technique that Pyle would recognize. 

Suicide, 1984, for “A Twilight's Last Gleaming” by Frank Deford, in 
Sports Illustrated, November 19, 1984           
Bernard Fuchs (1932 2009)

Glaser, whose work also shaped the commercial art world in the 1960s, took a different tack; he was not a photo-realistic illustrator, so he focused on concept in his work. Shapes layer to create familiar images, some of the first of what we recognize today as graphic design. Before computers, Glaser's techniques blazed the way.

Hermann Hesse & Family, 1974, for Hermann Hesse 1975
Calendar (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc.)     
Milton Glaser (born 1929)

The work of de Séve will be recognized by everyone; in addition to being a prolific commercial  illustrator with a distinctive cartoony style, he designed characters for the digitally animated feature film Ice Age. Original sketches are on display, as well as a video monitor that shows how far illustration, with the help of a large team of digital technicians and creators, has truly come.

Scrat, Character study for Ice Age (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 2009)
Peter de Séve (born 1958)

Philip Larkin and Bob
Dylan go antiquing
, 2011        
John Cuneo (born 1957)

Hundley melds traditional illustration style with a "conceptual twist," with images that skew perspective and even use illusion to create two images at once, such as his William Henry Harrison, that captures the short-lived American president speaking at a lectern and lying in a coffin simultaneously.

Cuneo utilizes one of the oldest mediums, pen and ink, to create modern illustrations with fearless subject matter. His rich, lively style will be familiar to readers of The New Yorker and Esquire, among others.

Eggleston was selected as one of the most important artists working for Disney's PIXAR Studios, known for films such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Wall-E. Pieces include character drawings done in pastels, offering a peek at well-loved PIXAR moments before they went high-tech.
School, Sequence Pastel for Finding Nemo (Pixar Animation Studios, 2003) 
Ralph Eggleston (born 1965)

Hale creates huge, dynamic paintings with a fearsome edge -- some bring to mind some of Pyle's darker work such as The Flying Dutchman, but the figures are not only off-center but at times painted with parts of the head and body cut off by the edge of the canvas. His work has been used as the cover artwork of novels by by Joseph Conrad and Stephen King.

Nostromo, 2007 Cover for Nostromo,
by Joseph Conrad (Penguin Classics, 2007)     

Phil Hale (born 1963)

Finally, Mort Drucker's illustration is known and loved by anyone who has ever spent their allowance money on the new MAD magazine. His distinctive caricatures and highly detailed comic panels have become respected at the level of other fine art -- and original panels for the pages of MAD are on display.

Put*on, for MAD, January 1971          
Mort Drucker (born 1929)

It's an eclectic mix, and one that will enthrall art lovers and illustration aficionados of all ages. State of the Art: Illustration 100 Years After Howard Pyle will be on view from February 9 to June 13 2013.


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