Thursday, June 25, 2009

When I first attended art school in the '70s, one of the hottest books to own among artist was a book collecting images from a group of artists known as "The Studio". (I wish I still had my copy that was stolen.)

The four artist that made up this group were: Jeffrey Jones, Bernie Wrightson, Barry Windsor-Smith and Michael Kaluta, whose Art Nouveau influences are the topic of this weeks items in my web search. For years, before our decor changed, my wife and I had signed and numbered original prints hanging throughout our home of three of these artist, Bernie Wrightson, Barry Smith and Michael Kaluta. I was never able to secure a print signed by Jones.

Each artist had their own visual style but they were all related in some ways. One thing that was common among them were that they were all professional comic book artist. Who at this time were creating original pieces of illustration that were created for the fine-art sake rather than for a commissioned job. Jones had a traditional paint style of classical painters with fantasy images as the subject matter. Wrightson whom I've had the pleasure of meeting and sitting and watching him do his amazing work, in person; used a style that was very similar to 19th century engravers. Smith being a British citizen was heavily influenced by the English artist that were dominant in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. And as I hinted at earlier, Kaluta was very much influenced by Art Nouveau.

All of these artist have played a big role in my work as well as the styles in which they were influenced by. In visiting their sites you will see that they are professional illustrators who have a wide range of subject matter and stylistic content. But if you treat yourself to looking about their sites you will find the influences I mention.
First on our list is Michael W. Kaluta. While being very famous for the images he created of the pulp character, The Shadow, be sure to follow the link to his portfolio containing the "Wings of Twilight" and you will see his Art Nouveau influences.

Next is Jeff Jones. An artist who was once a man but has since all of his successes as an artist, is now a woman. Yes that is correct, he had a sex change. But since we are concerned about his period as a male artist I will refer to him as him and not her. I surfed over to his web site but it seems to be having troubles loading images, instead check out this tribute site to his work:

Our third artist is unparalleled in his line work. It is a joy to behold. When looking at his artwork you feel like you are looking at an engraved image. But it is all had drawn. As I mentioned above I met Mr... Wrightson and spent some time watching him at work. On request he sat down took out a sharpie marker and just began hatching away. No underdrawing, no pencil study, nothing. Just a black sharpie that allows no mistakes, and a drawing pad. He produced imagery just like the section of his site I have zeroed in for you today. This takes you into the depths of his site on this link. I did this because he is the victim of a goofy webmaster who has set up his site as a forum. Feel free to back track your way through the site. But I wanted you to see the amazing work from the Frankenstein prints. I own some of these as I mentioned earlier. Be ready to be AMAZED!

Rounding out The Studio's founding members is the only non-U.S. citizen, Barry Windsor Smith. Smith moved to NYC to draw the first 20 or so issues of Marvel Comics published version of the Robert E. Howard, sword and sorcery character, Conan The Barbarian. Smith came to the states and lived and drew on a park bench in Central park until he was paid enough to get a place to live. Soon after the artist joined in the new group that became The Studio.

That completes our look at the members of the Studio. Let me know which of these artist you like best and why.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

When asked about my influences in my creative work I have to do a mental sorting of a long list of people who's work has played a roll in my development as a visual artist. I last wrote about influences from the graphic design field and told you about design legend, Paul Rand. Another of my design influences is also a legendary designer, Milton Glaser.

To understand Glaser's work you have to realize that it has a very deep rooting in the history of visual communication. One has to look at the influences of Glaser himself to see the depth and insight his work has on so many different levels. Identifying the historical influences in the artworks of Milton Glaser is a very intriguing study. Glaser has had an effect on my personal history as an artist as well as thousands of other designers and illustrators.

I first encountered Glaser in the late ‘70s when Push-pin Studios was all the rage among design students and working designers in general. Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast were both founding members in this legendary design studio they called, Push-pin. As a design student I spent many hours studying their ever changing styles, as these guys pulled in artistic references from many varied sources across the historical timeline of visual arts. And to be noticed they had to. Staying fresh was the only way to survive and scores of imitators were always on their heals doing similar work based on whatever style they were currently using.

The imitators didn’t seem to realize that Glaser and fellow studio partners were mining the deep bins of art history and looking at things with a different eye. Every since those early years as a budding designer I’ve looked at Glaser’s work as something to aspire to and like him I’ve utilized elements from art history.
Things that influenced both of us would include several pieces listed on his site,
The piece used on the cover of his book, Milton Glaser The First 25 Years”, came from a poster included in copies of a classic Bob Dylan album. Here you see Glaser using a black silhouette figure of Dylan with brightly colored flowing hair. The black art style relates to early Phoenician and Greek imagery where figures were in profile and seen more as shadows. While the hair appears to be a direct influence of the works of Peter Max a very popular illustrator at that point in time who was setting the tone for the psychadelic hippie look that was evolving with the culture. In his work we see Glaser manageing to use both the old and the new in visual influences. We can tell this is someone who looked at the world around them and was able to look at things in a non-traditional fashion. Giving him insight into producing work that allowed others to see things in a new way.

Similarly we see the same black profiled shape in the piece called, “Sony Full Color Sound”. This time we see the ancient style presentation mixed with the then popular style of a 'boler style' hat wearing fellow with the bright colors indicating that the quality of sound can be found inside the ear of the listener. The modern style this was influenced by reminds me of the popular artwork that emerged from Beatles imagery. This piece harkens back to the movie, “Yellow Submarine” and some of the pieces Terry Gilliam produced for Monty Python.

Finally in “Pan” we see Glaser touching on the Art Nouveau movement and influences of artist like Alphonse Mucha, one of my favorites along with fellow Art Nouveau artist, Aubrey Beardsley. The colorful notes/shapes we see coming from the flute are very much influenced by the symbolic shapes we see in cuneiform and early communication styles. Like those early styles of communication they are not literal notes, or letters in the case of early writing but more indicative of a aural sensation allowing the viewer to perceive the sounds that Pan is producing.

Glasser's work continues this way throughout his career. You see that the designer has had a rich education in visual imagery. And his intelligent creations filter this historical influence to contemporary viewers in a way that allows them to enjoy some of the finest elements of antiquity in a new setting.

I could continue to site examples from his extinsive portfolio of work and share my thoughts about said works. I could go on and on about Glaser's influence on myself and my work; but looking at his web site, I find that I have a wealth of great Glaser art to pursue still with many pieces needing to be revisited. If you have any interest in design and seeing how important art history is to a designers work, I highly recommend you spend some time with the artist, Milton Glaser.

© 2009 R. David Price All Rights Reserved.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Some people ask me who my influences are. So I thought I would start by sharing a few of them every so often. Since I have been dealing a lot with graphic design, I'll start with one of my chief influences in that area.

The late Paul Rand (1914-1996) is chief among the giants of the design field and is still a big influence on my thinking when dealing with design.

Paul Rand is one of those guys people refer to as the ‘everyman’. Looking at him he was pretty nondescript. Talking to him he wouldn’t embellish his remarks to suit his audience. You might think of him as one of those guys you just pass in the street or at the mall. You would never realize this guy was so HUGE in the design world. Every day you see something with this designers work plastered on it. It could be your light bulbs, your toaster, your computer, the delivery truck that stops in your neighborhood or even images on your TV screen. Paul’s work is everywhere, just like the ‘everyman’.

It is all so very simple and unobtrusive that it almost goes unnoticed. Yet when it is pointed out, we all recognize it. His work communicates. It communicates so well it digs deep into our brains and locks in. It hits that ancient part of our communication centers, tapping into the historical collective of man’s need to communicate. You may have noticed companies like, Apple, IBM, ABC, Westinghouse, UPS and many others. And you probably noticed them because of Paul Rand. Not only has he touched the lives of virtually every American, he is in demand worldwide.

How does his work reach us? To quote an over used cliche, he used the "KISS method"or to put it simply, ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’. He was not creating Rocket Science, but he was doing something just as hard. He was creating design with mass universal appeal. He summed it up when he said, “Don’t try to be original, try to be good.”

Rand kept it simple by tapping into ancient design techniques. Just like ancient Chinese scribes who tapered down their communication system for better communication. Or even the early printers who reshaped existing typefaces to simpler more elegant and easily recognizable letter forms. Like the 19th century French artist, Cezanne and Matisse, Rand broke the visuals down to their bare form for greatest ease of communication. He wasn’t showing off his latest Photoshop skills; instead he is communicating for maximum understanding and recognition. Rand said, “Tension, scale, shape, balance, texture, light are the basis for form.” He worked with the raw elements of design. “Simplicity doesn’t come easy,” he said. People think a child could create the work because of its simplicity. They are naive when they do so. “Something that looks very simple takes forever to do,” reinforces Rand in his statement about his style.

People take his abstract forms and imply their own impressions on top of them, thus giving them added appeal. The popular broken lines in the IBM logo so overly copied, appears to be the same simple horizontal stripes found in the American flag, or similar to the shapes formed with lines of type placed on a page. Something IBM supposedly does in their line of work, dealing with blocks of text. The logo he designed for IBM showing an eyeball, a bumble bee, and the letter M is reminiscent of the Rosetta Stone using symbols and letters simultaneously to interpret his message. Not unlike a comic book creator who uses words and pictures to convey his message, Rand says, “When form predominates, meaning is blunted. When content predominates, interest lags. Genius comes in when both parts are used.” It’s the combination of the two elements that make the design sing.

Just like the simple style of UPA animation in the 1950's with their animated hits, “Mr. Magoo” and “Gerald Mc Boing Boing” the simple style allows someone to project their inner thougts onto the visual image. They can then relate to the image with better acceptance. Looking at the artwork on his web site, the ‘books and articles’ piece captures the Chinese abacus in its
imagery. The bee along with the eye shape in the IBM logo, seem to draw from Egyptian hieroglyphics. His ‘Editorial’ icon strongly reminds one of the 1940s jazz era. To make it clear, Rand is a fascinating subject. Like Milton Glaser, (another of my big influences from the design world) he to like Rand draws on history and keeps things simple. Both designers are recognized as two of the most influential designers from the 20th century. And both had their impact on my work and still do. In fact I recommend if you are a student of design or if you just like to know more about creative people Rand is a designer every student or art lover should spend time studying. Paul Rand, a giant in the design field and one of my influences.

Fine out more about Rand's work at: