Over the last two weeks we've looked at what I call "The Old School" of illustration and "The New School" of illustration. There were a lot of reasons for the birth of the New School. Artists working in the relatively new medium of designer's colour/gouache found the chalky, fast drying paint required a different approach than oils (or even watercolour) so, by extension, flat, graphic treatments and a looser, rougher painting style with less blending were a natural result. We saw how styles changed and evolved and how some members of the Old School were among the pioneers of the of the New School. As America entered the modern, urban, atomic age of the 50's, a multitude of factors; social, cultural, economic, all played a part in the contemporary look of the New School style.
And always experimenting on the leading edge of that evolving approach to commercial art was one man whose work was being watched by the public, the clients and his peers: Al Parker.
Al Parker's biography is available in a number of locations on the net including at The Illustration House and at The University of St. Louis, so we will skip over those details here and get straight to the point:
I have wanted to better understand Parker's status as an illustrator without equal since reading this Noel Sickles interview in The Comics Journal #242. In speaking about the state of illustration in America, interviewer Gil Kane says to Sickles,
"When you started going into illustration, magazine illustration - at that point, or up to that point - had almost totally been dominated by what I call masculine illustrators - even Norman Rockwell. Then [Al] Parker came in, in the 30's, and set up a situation where - I don't know whether it was Parker who was reflecting a change in magazines or whether Parker's appearance triggered a change in certain magazines - but by degrees, women's stories started to come in.
And people like Jon Whitcomb and that whole Parker school of artists came in and, little by little, adventure illustration - which was represented overwhelmingly in the magazines during those periods - for a while was rather even [with a Parkeresque illustration] in a magazine like The Saturday Evening Post. They kept a pretty good balance, nearly always favoring the masculine illustrator. But it seemed that in advertising and in so many other magazines they were developing the people... I hate to classify Parker with them because he was so much better... still, he created a school that ultimately dominated magazine illustration for a while."
Well, clearly Gil Kane didn't think much of the New School - but why the qualifier, "I hate to classify Parker with them because he was so much better", for Al Parker?
And why did Parker deserve praise from his clients like this highlight in the September 1952 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine...
And why did my friend, Will Davies, and virtually every other illustrator who knew of Parker's work speak with such awe and reverence at the mention of Parker's name? This week, with the help of my friend, Barbara Bradley, we will try to better understand Al Parker's remarkable influence on mid-20th century illustration.
Barbara 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.
* By coincidence, 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.