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Celebrating Illustration, Design, Cartoon and Comic Art of the Mid-20th Century

The Propaganda of Capitalism

Monday, February 28, 2011

Last week's series of American Legion magazine covers resulted in an interesting discussion in the comments section about Communism, Capitalism and the nature of propaganda. It got me thinking once again about how industry presented itself to the public through advertising during the mid-century. So I pulled out my stack of early 1950s Fortune magazines and found something very interesting.

The cover of the February 1953 issue of Fortune describes how this issue contains an in-depth look at the Soviet military/industrial complex.

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Ironically, those 4 articles on Russia share space with an ad campaign unlike any I've ever seen - in Fortune or any other magazine.

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General Electric chose that issue to present a multi-page ad campaign extolling their seemingly limitless accomplishments in industrial innovation.

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The design esthetic GE employed for this campaign - a multitude of propaganda-style mini-posters - is so similar to that seen in Russian Constructivist art, one could easily imagine these posters being produced behind the Iron Curtain by some Soviet "Ministry of Machine Parts."

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Sometimes the imagery (and the message) is fervently militaristic.

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Sometimes it is aptly industrial.

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Often it is remarkably pleasing, despite some really dull subject matter...

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... and sometimes its amusingly obscure (to anyone but the hardcore technician, that is).

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But what really impresses me is how consistently visually excellent it is. I could stare at these posters for hours. I could see hanging them on my walls!

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Page after page after page of clean, colourful, simple, beautiful poster design - about subject matter I (and I'm guessing most other people) have absolutely no interest in!

These posters make the dull, utilitarian mechanisms of industry seem like something actually worth celebrating!

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But then, isn't that the role of advertising... and propaganda?

* You'll find many more examples of mid-century 'industrial propaganda' in my Industry Flickr set.

The Great Al Hirschfeld

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Toby Neighbors has put together another fantastic tribute to a mid-century illustrator - this time its the great Al Hirschfeld. Visit Toby's site, illostribute.com for an extensive biography of Hirschfeld, a nice selection of his art and, of course, a whole series of wonderful 'tribute' pieces by contemporary illustrators!

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All of today's images are © The Al Hirschfeld Foundation

More at illostribute.com

A Little More Lucia

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Another gift from Steve Scott - one I'm particularly thrilled about: a 1956 magazine cover by Lucia Lerner - wow!

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And a scan of the interior story art as well.

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Lucia is one of my absolute favourite mid-century illustrators. If you're a new reader and would like to learn about her career, I collected the installments originally presented here on Today's Inspiration and republished them as one long story here.

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Steve very kindly sent me scans from another story in that same issue of Redbook - this time by Walter Skor.

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Skor is an artist about whom I've never been able to find very much information... but he certainly did a lot of terrific work for various magazines back in the '50s, so expect to see more examples here some time soon!

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Once again, many thanks to Steve Scott for providing these great scans. Please visit Steve's blog, which celebrates the work of author John D. MacDonald. You'll also find many wonderful illustrations from various magazines and paperbacks by the illustrators featured here on TI.

American Legion Magazine, 1951

Monday, February 21, 2011

A couple of weeks ago my friend Steve Scott sent me an email:

"I purchased a lot of old American Legion magazines, as one of them contained a John D MacDonald story I was looking for. I now own all twelve issues from 1951, plus a few more, and noticed several familiar names -- familiar to me now thanks to following Today's Inspiration. I thought I would send them along to you for your collection."

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What a great surprise! These covers are priceless. Not only are many of them by some of my favourite mid-century illustrators (like this one directly below by James R. Bingham)...

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... but I also love their portrayal of American society of that era.

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Often that portrayal is not dissimilar from what one might find on the covers of The Saturday Evening Post or Collier's...

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... but sometimes there is a distinctly right-of-center editorial message that I suppose must have seemed perfectly appropriate to American Legion subscribers (and probably a significant portion of the broader American population).

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This was, after all, the beginning of the Cold War era. Communists were everywhere!

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Here's my favourite cover of the year. I love the tag line on that subhead: "Parents can rid campuses of communists who cloak themselves in "academic freedom." As Steve wrote in his note, "a typical left-wing college professor poisoning the minds of his students. I think the bow tie says it all." Yes. Yes it does.

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Steve sent quite a few more American Legion covers, which we'll look at on another day. For now, to all our American friends, Happy President's Day!

* Visit Steve Scott's blog, which celebrates the work of author John D MacDonald and offers many great examples of mid-century art! Thanks again, Steve!

Robert Fawcett and Manuel Auad on Doing Your Best Work

Friday, February 18, 2011

Excerpt from David Apatoff's text in the new Robert Fawcett book:

As his work matured, Fawcett continued exploring new ways of making images. He was always willing to abandon conventional wisdom and experiment with new tools and techniques in his work. he told students, "There are no hard and fast rules. The more you look for them as crutches to support you, and the harder you try to produce something which 'looks professional' because it follows some procedure which you believe is standard..."

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"... the more you will stifle your own creative ability."

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Art Director Howard Munce described Fawcett's highly unusual approach to foraging for drawing tools: "Bob had a habit of poking around the studios of his friends and finding beat-up brushes that had known better days. The owner was always amused and pleased to give them to him when he showed an interest. Back in his own studio, he'd give the tired discards a shave and a haircut with a sharp blade and refashion them to suit his needs."

"Mostly he made wedged tips of various angles to serve special functions in his illustrations. In his hands, an old brush would begin a new life. he might use it to stroke in lines, to indicate a bit of rococo moulding, or to scrumble in a particular texture. But however he used it, it would always leave his unmistakable imprint."

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[Fawcett] urged young artists not to compromise to satisfy popular taste. "Young illustrators will not find guidance by studying the currently popular. The popular is usually just on its way out."

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He also warned young artists about the consequences of failing to do their best possible work: "The argument that 'it won't be appreciated anyway' may be true... "

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"... but in the end this attitude does infinitely more harm to the artist than to his client."

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Excerpted from David Apatoff's text in the new Robert Fawcett book

And speaking of doing one's best work, here are some final thoughts from Editor/Publisher, Manuel Auad:

"Some transparencies that were taken from the originals, and I have to assume that when they were made, the colors from the illustration were already fading. I spent many hours trying to make sure I didn’t overcompensate with the colors and have them end up looking like neon signs... Since Fawcett’s colors are rather subtle and understated it made it rather difficult to try and bring it back to its original colors. In some cases I would have to scan an image from a tear sheet, and then place it over a transparency, thus, getting the best part from each. Above all, I tried to stay as faithful to what Fawcett’s illustration should be. The other ‘obstacle’ I came across was to eliminate moirĂ©s as much as possible without losing the quality of the image. At times it seemed like after solving one problem another would pop up."

"I can’t recall when I worked as hard as I did with the Fawcett book. But I enjoyed every minute of it. It was always a labor of love for me."

"The other day I received a letter from a doctor from Idaho and he wanted to know what moved me to produce this work. I said to him; I suppose I could give you several answers to your question, but in the end, it simply comes down to a dream that you carry with you for many years."

"I believe, if you dream long enough, the dream eventually happens."

The new Robert Fawcett book is available now from Auad Publishing.

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Robert Fawcett, Abstract Artist

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Excerpt from David Apatoff's text in the new Robert Fawcett book:

Despite Fawcett's lack of formal education, his house became a center of cultural activity. Fawcett had a strong interest in music and became friends with world famous musicians including Toscanini and Heifetz, who visited his home. He also kept company with a wide variety of artists, such as the famous English sculptor Jacob Eptsein, and embraced the latest modern art.

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Original drawings by the abstract sculptor Henry Moore and the modernist painter Graham Sutherland hung on his walls.

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Fawcett believed this intellectually fertile environment was important to his development as an artist. He claimed that the greatest influence on his illustrations came not from visual arts but from opera. he also asserted that illustration was "more closely akin to theatre" than to gallery painting...

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... because the primary function of the illustrator is to intrigue the viewer, "whether to intrigue the reader into starting a story..."

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"... or intrigue the lady into a first-hand look at the garment."

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He related music to the abstract designs that were the foundation of his "realistic" pictures.

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As Fawcett finalized [his pictures], he went over the whole work again to make sure its design, composition and abstract qualities held together. "At any stage I am likely to pick up anything handy - some colored crayons, an old paint palette - and crudely rub in colour, articulating and highlighting this, setting the black."

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As he worked on an illustration, realistic details inevitably came into focus...

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... but Fawcett always stressed that "the longer the idea can be considered in the abstract, the better."

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The new Robert Fawcett book is available now from Auad Publishing.

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