When Barbara Bradley sent me the piece below, she wrote, "One of the earliest Parkers I've found, very early thirties."
As a historical reference point, it provides a fascinating look at how far the young Al Parker would go.
About a decade later, in the early-to-mid-40's, when almost all illustrators were utilizing the styles and techniques of the Old School, Al Parker was creating innovative artwork that caught the attention of his peers (and no doubt spurred many of them on to try their own experimentations).
I asked Barbara to comment on the three mid-40's Al Parker illustrations seen here today, and she graciously provided the following thoughtful analysis...
"Even in these early ones," writes Barbara, "Parker showed his extreme versatility: He approached every job as a separate challenge. The basic compositional design and approach for it, the technique, the lighting, all would differ greatly. The common grounds were that each was completely appropriate to the story and that his inspiration for each came from the story. They were never interchangeable for other stories as were illustrations of some of his followers. Every one, even in the forties, had a freshness and Parker touches that were unique to him. Props and design were like clasped hands. You can't tell which came first. On the first (above), look at the accents of dark, the placement of the plants and what they do for setting and composition, the spot of the ping pong ball, the pattern of the pillow and its delightful askewness. Value, line quality, types of people, perfect."
Regarding Al Parker's art for "Call Me Biscuit" (above), Barbara comments, "I like the contrast of texture in this one too, such as the rough heart edge and the dragged newspaper shadow. I might not have spotted the right hand page as being Parker but would have had no doubt about the left."
Of "The Search" (below) Barbara writes, "Very clever combination of full color and duotone on opposite page. the guitar head works for both."
"The design of the lettering and the way the "S" holds the key looks very Parker-like. I suspect he indicated exactly where he wanted the caption's letters to be (Parker was a great lettering designer). In the later forties, you'll find so many in which he did the captions himself. (How often he did the lettering on the Mother-daughter LHJ covers.) The keys are neat, mother of pearl inserts are simple but 'read', the cord ends are casually perfectly designed. The guitar inlay may even relate to the character in the story. I also like the combination of high contrast lighting on the figures and the hand combined with a flat graphic guitar."
*Barbara Bradley is an illustrator who began her career in the early 1950's at the famous Cooper studio in New York. She later moved to San Francisco and eventually went on to become the Director of Illustration at the Academy of Art University. Barbara knew Al Parker personally and professionally and I am most grateful for the keen insight she has so generously offered to add to this week's posts. Barbara was recently fêted at The Society of Illustrators in New York. She received the Distinguished Educator of the Arts Award for 2007.
Barbara's fascinating career will be the topic of an upcoming week here at Today's Inspiration but in the meantime, take a moment to visit this blog which was set up in her honor.
*The Norman Rockwell Museum is about to showcase Al Parker's work in a major retrospective. Go to the Rockwell Museum's site for more information.