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

James R. Bingham: War & Peace

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Some people are born to illustrate and it would appear James R. Bingham was such a person. An entry on Bingham in the book, Illustrating for the Saturday Evening Post certainly suggests as much. "In a way," writes author Ashley Halsey Jr., "James R. Bingham was spared a lot of worrying over what he would be when he grew up. At the extremely early age of three, he decided to be an artist."

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Bingham was born in Pittsburgh in 1917 and according to his son, Jim Jr., "Dad attended Carnegie Art in Pittsburgh, Pa for one or two semesters, then was offered a teaching position. At that point he decided if he was good enough to teach he was probably good enough to work, so he went to NY and found an advertising agency to represent him. And the rest is history - he never looked back."

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It must have been at Carnegie Art where Bingham met the girl he would marry. Ashley Halsey Jr. wrote, "In his sophomore year in college, he began dating a nice girl who lived across the street."

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"They are now married, and have a son and a daughter."

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Bingham's art career wasn't really interrupted by WWII. He simply switched from working for himself to working for Uncle Sam.

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Bingham's son told me, "Dad was attached to the army to illustrate manuals for operation & maintenance of secret bomb sites and other things under development as pictures weren't available."

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"The bulk of this work never saw the light of day as the units became obsolete faster than the art work could be utilized."

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"Some of it was in animation style to show usage of the unit."

After his stint with the Army Airforce, Bingham became a Navy officer attached to the Office of Research and Invention.

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After the war, Bingham returned to New York and commercial art, where he was represented by Thompson Associates. "My Dad was the first artist Seymour [Thompson] represented and did so for many years," Jim Jr. told me. Below, a Thompson ad from the 1946 NY Art Directors Annual.

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In that same annual Bingham received an Art Directors Club Medal for magazine editorial art.

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One of his advertising pieces also made it in that year's show.

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In Illustrating for the Saturday Evening Post, Halsey Jr. wrote, "Bingham commutes daily to his studio in New York City - and then brings work home with him nearly every night. In one nine-year stretch, he took exactly eleven days of vacation."

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And Jim Jr. confirms his dad's superhuman work ethic, although he hints at its unfortunate consequences:

"Dad didn't garner a lot of attention as he always worked at home or in a private studio. He, as with a lot of artists, was a loner in regards to most of the trappings of life. Art was his life and the rest of it was sometimes a strain. I believe great artists make lousy parents and more times than not, poor soul mates. Dad was giving of his money and other assets but very stingy with his time. Although never stingy with his grandchildern."

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* Many thanks to TI list member Bruce Hettema, owner of P&H Creative Group, who sent me a huge package of old tearsheets from the early days of his studio, when it was known as Patterson & Hall, a San Francisco-based advertising art studio. Among those tearsheets were most of the images you see in todays post.

* Thanks also to Heritage Auctions for the scan of the WWII Defence poster in today's post.

The Impactful Art of James R. Bingham

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

If I could use only one word to describe the work of James R. Bingham, it would be this:

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"Impactful."

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Bingham had the innate ability to take any scene, from the most benign...

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... to the most ferocious...

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... and give to it a sense of drama that transcended the work of most other illustrators.

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That's because James R. Bingham could do so much more than just draw and paint well. Bingham had a masterful understanding of all the elements that make up a great picture. It takes more than the ability to render well; a great picture must have great lighting, staging, and colour.

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Bingham may have considered himself an illustrator...

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... but I believe he was, at heart, a designer. Bingham's attention to the essential elements of composition...

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... his thoughtful choice of colour palette...

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... his conscious decision to employ strong silhouetted shapes and to arrange them as effectively as possible...

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... his love of dramatic lighting and contrasting values...

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... all speak to the kind of picture making one expects from the best designer/illustrators; the Rockwells, the Leyendeckers, and the Pyles.

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Great design is the key to great illustration - but its something many artists often overlook because they are caught up in the pleasing (and perhaps challenging) act of rendering forms in pencil or paint. Bingham understood the importance of design and always employed it to great effect.

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This week, let's take another look at the always impactful art of James R. Bingham!

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* This week's subject is a result of my having recently received a wonderful gift in the mail. TI list member Bruce Hettema, owner of P&H Creative Group, sent me a huge package of old tearsheets from the early days of his studio, when it was known as Patterson & Hall, a San Francisco-based advertising art studio. Among those tearsheets was the image at the very top of today's post -- and many more that I'll be presenting this week will also come from that pile. So many thanks, Bruce, for sharing this treasure trove of wonderful artwork with me and the rest of the TI readers!

Albert Pucci (1920-2005)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Last week I was away at a conference in Windsor, Ontario. Whenever I visit another town I try to find some time to visit its used book stores. I'm always hopeful that some overlooked treasure will present itself to me - and that's what happened when I dropped in at Juniper Used Books in Windsor. I found these two slim mid-1960s volumes from the long-running Grumbacher Library series of art instruction booklets; The Art of Landscape Painting and The Art of Seascape Painting.

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Several excellent artists share a couple of demos each in the pages of both books (and we'll revisit these volumes at another time to examine their work). But I was especially taken by the drawings and paintings of an artist named Albert Pucci.

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There's a strong structural quality to Pucci's drawings I really liked. At the same time there's a nice stylization in his interpretation of the world he was observing that appeals to me on a level beyond my admiration for those artists who work in more 'literally real' styles.

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I've included all the steps of Pucci's painting process for those who might find the instructions interesting and helpful (as I do)...

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... and here's the finished painting, which really knocked me on my ass! Wow!

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Whenever I see work this good - and from that '50s/'60s period - and the artist's name is entirely unfamiliar to me, I wonder how that could be. The next thing I do is start researching online.

Happily, I quickly discovered that someone has put together a website in honour of Albert Pucci, who died in 2005. There I found a biography and a wealth of photos, fine art, and even some illustration examples by the artist.

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According to his biography, "Albert John Pucci was born in Cleveland, Ohio on March 11, 1920. He moved to Brooklyn, New York at the age of three and would live in Brooklyn Heights for the next 80 years."

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"Albert studied at the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts and then attended the Pratt Institute, where he would work as an instructor in figure drawing, and layout and design for 24 years."

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"Albert Pucci’s first one-artist exhibition was held in 1954 at the Associated American Artists Galleries in Manhattan."

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Among the many examples of Pucci's art at the website I was pleased to find a gallery of his book covers. Some truly wonderful stuff!

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Since the website invites visitors to download the images in the gallery, I took the liberty of choosing a few for your enjoyment.

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There's so much more at Albert Pucci's website, I hope you'll take a few minutes to explore it yourself!

"Rowland Wilson (the cartoonist's cartoonist)" - Bill Peckmann

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Last week's look at Rowland B. Wilson's Playboy cartoons certainly prompted a lot of enthusiastic commentary, including this nice note from Bill Peckmann:

"Dear Leif; All of us die hard Rowland Wilson fans can't thank you enough for posting 3 days of Rowland's (the cartoonist's cartoonist) art! Any chance of posting more?"

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Knowing that RBW had done work for Esquire magazine, I dug out a bunch from my old magazine collection and found some wonderful pieces from 1959/'60...

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It seems that no matter what generation you're from, Rowland Wilson has probably touched your life. During the '50s and '60s he did gag cartoons for the Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, Playboy, and many others. Here's a two-page spread Wilson both wrote and drew for Esquire in 1967.

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Also during the '60s, Wilson created a newspaper comic strip called "Noon."

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I found one daily strip original at the Heritage Auctions website.

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Until Bill mentioned it, I had no idea I was exposed to Rowland B. Wilson's work when I was a kid in the '70s watching Schoolhouse Rock on Saturday mornings on ABC. Bill wrote, "the two titles that Rowland designed were "Lucky Seven Sampson" and "Twelve Toes". (Side note- "Conjunction Junction" was designed by Tom Yohe and myself)."

For those of you too young (or too old?) to remember Schoolhouse Rock, here's Wilson's "Lucky Seven Sampson," found on YouTube...



Bill wrote, "Row's life's work includes so many pieces of great art done for many different venues. New England Life campaign, editorial art, TV Guide (inside & covers), other magazines and print ads, animated TV commercials, on staff at animation studios: Richard Williams studios in London where he won awards, Don Bluth studios in Dublin working on feature films, Disney Studios in LA, working on feature films. I'm sure I've left some stuff out."

While doing my online research, I found many examples of Rowland Wilson's magazine and TV commercial artwork - especially pencil sketches! - at a site called The Deep Archives, which sells original animation artwork.

Also, Michael Sporn has posted many wonderful photos of Rowland Wilson and many more examples of his work on his blog. If you click on Wilson's name in the sidebar of Michael's "Splog" you'll see tons and tons of RBW artwork from every period of his career.

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One last note from Bill, who wrote, "The good news there was that we found out Suzanne Wilson (RBW's wife) is in the process of putting together a "How To" book using Row's art and notes. I've seen some of those and they are unbelievable. There are also completed and unpublished graphic novels that Suzanne has that Row did before his untimely death."

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Bill concluded, "Suzanne and all of us fans still hope that some visionary publisher would still do a bio/collection of RBW and his art. It would certainly rank up there with the recent Sickles, Fawcett and Toth books."

* Many thanks to Heritage Auctions for allowing me to use the scans of the RBW "Noon" daily comic strip and the final image in this post, which is a watercolour original of a Playboy gag cartoon by Wilson, both from the image archives at ha.com
 

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