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

Gustav Rehberger: Shadows and Dread

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What could be more perfect to celebrate Hallowe'en than this lurid tale of torture, murder and the Black Death as goulishly rendered by Gustav Rehberger?


Coronet's editors chose well when they picked Rehberger to illustrate "The Shakespeare Murder Mystery" for the July 1955 issue of the digest magazine.


Another artist might have focused more on detailed accuracy of costume and architecture for this period piece, turning the images into snapshots from a Hollywood stage set. Rehberger understood better than most that conveying the mood and emotion of the dastardly goings on was more important than getting the right kind of button on a shirt.


His stylized, gothic images, filled with shadows and dread, transport us to an otherworldly place, complete with a swirling, churning Lovecraftian vortex hole that looks like it leads to some Cthulhu-like dimension.


Rehberger believed that the concept was "the all important core of a picture."


"No amount of good painting will redeem a poor conception."


* You can enjoy all of today's creepy images at full size in my Gustav Rehberger Flickr set. And have a Happy Hallowe'en!

Gustav Rehberger: Child Prodigy

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I first became aware of Gustav Rehberger when I encountered his innumerable illustrations from early 50's issues of Coronet magazine. When Rehberger did those pieces he was in his early 40's and had established himself as both a commercial illustrator and as a fine artist with several solo and group shows - and several prestigious awards - under his belt. But America had become acquainted with a much younger Gustav Rehberger...


In 1924 an article in the Chicago Tribune told of a 14 year old boy, recently emmigrated from Austria, who had won a scholarship to the Art Institute. It would not be his last. At sixteen, he was awarded a scholarship to Art Instruction Schools.


Time and again since childhood, adults had been both impressed and incredulous at the young Rehberger's abilities. He was, on several occassions, asked to redraw entries for competitions in front of the judges to verify that he had infact drawn the piece - and had not been assisted by an adult.


In spite of his early successes, Rehberger struggled to establish a career for himself. During the depression he was turned down for two college scholarships and instead took any kind of art-related job he could find: lettering, layout, design - even sculpture. He never turned down an assignment, designing a label one day and painting a mural the next. Thus Rehberger was never without work... but because his experience was so broad, it became difficult for art directors to categorize him.


"My career was not easy," said Rehberger in one interview, "It seemed I was always going upstream and agaist the grain."


"My timing was, almost always, at odds with the movement of the era."

After WWII, in which Rehberger served as an artist in the Air Force training division, he moved to New York. "Again I lost out on many important assignments," said the artist. "Agencies felt my work was too powerful and that I put too much of my personality into it."


"Ironically, however, I would again be chosen for big assignments because of that power and my emotional involvement in my work. For the next twenty-five years I enjoyed a lucrative and successful renaissance... mostly for magazines, motion picture promotions and religious paintings."

* You'll find all of today's images in my Gustav Rehberger Flickr set.

Gustav Rehberger (1910-1995)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Around this time last year I showed you an illustration by Gustav Rehberger. Not long after that post I was thrilled to receive a note from Pamela Demme, Gustav Rehberger's widow:


"I just discovered some of my husband’s old illustrations on your site. How exciting! I just had to write and say thank you. It’s so nice to see them. The colors are absolutely stunning. I’m sorry he’s not here to know that people are taking an interest in them. He’d be so pleased."


In a second message, Pamela continued:

"It’s been my goal for the last 10 years to keep Rehberger’s name alive. I would be happy to give you any information you need. A friend and former student of my husband's collects all of Gustav’s magazine illustrations. And I still have boxes of tear sheets. It was Gustav’s habit to rip the page out of the magazine and toss out the magazine. So I have all these pages without dates and in some cases, no clue which magazine it came from. Hopefully, between the two of us, we can answer any questions you may have about his commercial work."


Not long thereafter, a thick envelope arrived filled with artwork and information about Rehberger. Pamela wrote that she had been spending many weekends at the New York Public Research Library "trying discover and document as much as I can about [Gustav's] career. I think you will be amazed at the scope of it."

And truly, I was. This week, with the benefit of Pamela Demme's help, we'll learn about the amazing career and accomplishments of an illustrator I've long admired, Gustav Rehberger.


You'll find all of today's images - plus a half dozen more - in my Gustav Rehberger Flickr set.

Cosmo, Sept. '54: The unknows you don't know you know

Friday, October 26, 2007

In September of 1954, Cosmopolitan magazine AD, Robert C. Atherton conducted a daring experiment: ignoring his usual roster of well known and respected illustrators, he handed out every story assignment in that issue to a completely unknown artist.

The results were nothing short of spectacular.


This should have been the launching point of a half a dozen careers...but here's the really strange part: after completing their first ever high profile magazine illustration assignments, Karl Reap, Charles Kirkpatrick, Ed Robertson, Lloyd Viehman, Chuck Eubanks, and Otto Bender were never heard from again. What became of this talented group of unknowns... and why did they never again illustrate a story for a major national magazine?

Amazingly, I was able to unearth their stories:


Karl Reap began his career as an in-house layout man at various New York advertising agencies. His artwork was only used for presentation purposes at client meetings - then discarded. Reap had always wanted to do finished art so people would finally recognize his talents. Robert Atherton was married to Reap's cousin and the two men had met at many family functions over the years. When Atherton decided to undertake his bold experiment, Reap jumped at the chance to illustrate the first and longest of that issue's stories.


Karl Reap enjoyed seeing his work in print at last, but he found the time and attention one had to devote to creating finished art did not suit him. The roughness of his work here is a result of him struggling to meet the deadline after spending too much time on the initial painting. Frustrated, Reap returned to doing layout work and from then on only did finished paintings as gifts for family members in his spare time.


Charles Kirkpatrick, the oldest of that issue's unknowns, had actually painted many illustrations anonymously in the 20's and 30's for the pulp magazines in England. He had semi-retired but still taught part-time at a prestigous art college in London. Atherton had studied under Kirkpatrick and thought it might be fun to call on his old teacher for one of the stories. The older man agreed... and we might have seen more work by him in future issues of Cosmo but, sadly, he passed away the following month. His former student's assignment would be the last painting of Charles Kirkpatrick's career.


Ed Robertson was working as an art director when Atherton approached him to illustrate "Gift for Sylvia". The two men knew each other from attending meetings at the New York Art Directors Club. Atherton had always wondered why Robertson had never made use of his illustrative talents, and offered him the chance to do one of the longer, multiple image stories.


As you can see from the results, Robertson was tremendously accomplished and could easily have switched careers to full time illustration. But shortly after completing his first ever story assignment, Robertson was offered the Creative Director position with a large Wisconsin ad agency.


Robertson left New York shortly thereafter and we must assume he spent the rest of his days happily immersed in creating advertising for the cheese industry.


Lloyd Viehman was actually an animator at MGM Studios in Burbank, California. Viehman was in New York on a leave of absence from work, caring for his ailing mother. While in town he heard through the grapevine that Robert Atherton was looking for talented unknowns to fill an issue of Cosmopolitan, and thought it might be a good opportunity to earn a little extra money while away from the West Coast.

His art for "My Enemy... My Love" certainly reflects his animation background, and its been said that the illustration was actually done on a sheet of acetate, mimicking the process used to creat animation 'cels'.

After Viehman's mother passed away the artist returned to California where he got in on the ground floor of the Hanna Barbera studios. He eventually became a director with that company, and is credited with lending his nickname, "Auggie" to the HB character "Auggie Doggy".


Chuck Eubanks, the artist on "The Swan", was one of Cosmo's best fashion illustrators. He took up Atherton's challenge to produce a story illustration, and the results are very pleasing indeed. But for reasons of his own, he returned to doing strictly fashion illustrations after this one foray into story art.


And finally, Otto Bender, who was actually a comic book artist - though he had never made a name for himself in that area of the industry. Bender worked for many years as a "ghost", doing the artwork for other artists who then signed their names to the artwork. Years later, when asked why he had chosen to spend his entire career in anonymity, the now elderly Bender replied that he had been embarrassed to be working in the "illegitimate" field of comics. "I didn't want people to know," said Bender when he appeared on a panel at the 1997 San Diego Comics Convention. "Those Senate hearings and that Dr. Wertham... they made me feel ashamed of the work."

Bender said that this one piece he did for Cosmo was a highlight in his career and he proudly put his signature to it, but he found it easier to get assignments in the comic book field. "Little could I have imagined then," said Bender, "that the great American illustrators would fade into obscurity and that comic book artists would one day be treated like royalty!"


If you've been wondering how I managed to find out so much about such an obscure group of illustrators, its because I made it all up.

Trick or Treat!

In September of 1954, Robert C. Atherton conducted a daring experiment -- he hired one of his favourite and most trusted illustrators to produce all of the artwork for an entire issue of Cosmopolitan and had him use different styles and pseudonyms...


Who could pull off such a Herculean task? Why Al Parker, of course.


If you managed to guess Artist X's identity, good for you! And If I tricked you in my post above, well, remember that I also treated you to a lovely huge stack of Al Parker art... even if you didn't know it.

Happy Hallowe'en!

Robert G. Schneeberg: An unknown unknown

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Before seeing these illustrations in the July 1954 issue of Cosmopolitan, Robert G. Schneeberg's work was unknown to me. And after unsuccessfully searching the internet for more images or information about the artist I'm afraid I must report that Schneeberg will remain unknown for now.


Cosmo AD, Robert C. Atherton, made a brilliant choice in assigning this story to Schneeberg. He could have called upon any one of his regular stable of illustrators, any of whom would have delivered a thoroughly professional interpretation of this story of "Mme Pineau's Three Screams".

But Atherton decided to go far off the beaten path - even for this daring AD.

Schneeberg's work, filled with quaint stylized buildings, people and animals, cars and houses that look like they were drawn for a children's story book, and homey decorative elements, is entirely unlike anything I've seen used to illustrate articles in Cosmo during this period. By choosing Schneeberg to illustrate a murder story, Robert Atherton lulls the viewer into a sense of cosy security.

He has us completely fooled...


Until we turn to the third spread...


And look closely at this unnerving detail.


That such a violent act is being portrayed in such a naive, child-like style makes the visual so much more disturbing than if any of Cosmo's more "literal" contributors had illustrated it.

Whatever became of Rober G. Schneeberg after this one assignment? The internet offers only this one clue: The Smithsonian American Art Museum has a Schneeberg in its collection. No image was available.

* Take a closer look at these images in my Robert G. Schneeberg Flickr set.

Phil Hays: An unknown known

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How in the world could Phil Hays have been so entirely unknown to me until this past week? Because I have only this week heard his name and seen his work for the very first time.


But it turns out Philip Harrison Hays was very well know to a great many people (perhaps including you). Hays' illustrations from various 1956 issues of Cosmopolitan magazine are the only ones I've ever come across... but apparently he did quite a bit of work for magazines in the 50's.


Not only did Hays illustrations appear in such magazines as Cosmo, Esquire, Fortune and McCall's, but he did high profile advertising work for American Airlines, Coca-Cola and Columbia Records, among others.


Some aspects of Hays' style reminds me very much of Jack Potter's work, and this passage from Phil Hays' obituary in the NY TImes confirms my feelings:

"In the mid-1950's Mr. Hays was one of a young band of expressive and interpretative illustrators, including Robert Weaver, Jack Potter, Tom Allen and Robert Andrew Parker, who, rather than paint or draw literal scenes based entirely on an author's prose, interpreted texts with an eye toward expressive license."


Phil Hays won many prestigeous awards over the years and was the chairman of the illustration department of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California at the time of his death in 2005.

* Today's images can be seen at full size in my Phil Hays Flickr set.

Arpie Ermoyan: A known unknown

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

If you recall when Anita Virgil wrote about her late husband, Andy Virgil, you might remember she mentioned several other artists who worked at the same New York art studio, Rahl Studios. One of those artists was Arpie Ermoyan, the wife of Souren Ermoyan, who was at that time art directing Good Housekeeping magazine.


So Arpie Ermoyan became known to us... but aside from this one example of her work from the July 1954 issue of Collier's magazine, her work remained unknown.

Well today I'm pleased to be able to show you not only a few more examples of Arpie Ermoyan's appealing artwork, but a picture of the stylish young artist herself. Thanks to this short article in the September '53 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine we now also know that the Ermoyans were part of that same Westport, Connecticut community of high profile illustrators that included Al Parker and Austin Briggs.


The article mentions that she also modelled for some of those same artists. That's not surprising, considering what an attractive lady Arpie Ermoyan was. Over the course of the past few years, who knows how often we may have looked at some lovely lady in a painting by one of the Westport artists... and not realized we were actually looking at Arpie Ermoyan?


The article suggests that this assignment from Cosmo was a sort of "debut" for Ermoyan . She had apparently been studying illustration for the previous five years. If that's the case, then she arrived on the scene fully formed. Her work on this assignment is top notch. So why is there so little of it to be found in the various mainstream magazines of the mid-1950's?


That, for now, remains unknown.

* If you'd like to read the article on Arpie Ermoyan without straining your eyes - or just want to admire her illustrations at full size - you'll find all of today's scans in my Arpie Ermoyan Flickr set.

The Rumsfeld Principle of Illustration

Monday, October 22, 2007

I never thought the day would come when I would find reason to quote - or at least paraphrase - Donald Rumsfeld, but believe it or not, today is that day. Because as confusing as the former U.S. Secretary of Defense might have seemed, he actually perfectly summed up this week's topic regarding a category of illustrators who did work for Robert C. Atherton at Cosmopolitan magazine in the early 50's.

You see, there are known knowns; these are illustrators we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some illustrators we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the illustrators we don't know we don't know.

And I would add yet another nuance to Secretary Rumsfeld's apt description: there are also unknown knowns... those illustrators we don't know we know.

Confused? Don't worry, by the end of the week it'll all make sense. Let's begin...

Henry Koerner (1915-1991)

Robert C. Atherton didn't only hire well known illustrators to handle the story assignments in Cosmopolitan. He hired lesser known and entirely unknown artists as well. For instance, I'm willing to bet that, like me, most of Cosmo's readers had never heard of Henry Koerner.


But just because he is unknown to some of us doesn't mean he wasn't well known to many others. Koerner was a fine artist and an illustrator and had a long and storied career. A thorough biography and some examples of his work can be found here.


Not long after Robert Atherton hired him for this assignment in Cosmo, Koerner began doing covers for Time magazine - and this online archive of Koerner's cover illustrations is well worth taking a look at.


If you'd like to take a closer look at these pieces, you'll find full size versions in my Henry Koerner Flickr set.

Parker Challenges Atherton

Friday, October 19, 2007

Because really, what art director could ever hope to challenge Al Parker to try something "a little different"?


I like to imagine the conversation between Cosmopolitan magazine art director, Robert C. Atherton and Al Parker that resulted in this piece:

"So Al, have you come up with an idea for the opening spread on that manuscript I sent you?"

"Yes, Bob, I was thinking; why don't we print a full bleed across both pages of this wallpaper sample I have here. I'll do a tiny little line drawing in the top right-hand corner and handwrite the word "Heritage" and you can surprint that in 100% magenta across the whole spread."

(!)

Who but Al Parker could have proposed such a thing - and then pull it off beautifully? And what art director but Robert Atherton would have considered allowing it?


And then, Parker follows up this bold experiment with two stunning double page spreads in an entirely avante gard style -- remember, this is 1953. Parker considered every element of the page - not just the illustration - but the type, the design of the boxes in which the body copy would run, the diamond-shaped design element that highlights each pull-quote and his background motif... to create three spreads that together are a glorious visual experience.

Can you imagine what Parker's contemporaries said when they flipped open this issue of Cosmopolitan and saw these illustrations?

"Look what Al's done this time!"


Because, as it says in the Cosmo article on Al Parker which appeared two months previous to these pieces, "by the time other illustrators begin to follow a new technique he has perfected, Parker himself has dropped it and is busy exploring another unbeaten path."

* Many more examples of the artist's work in my Al Parker Flickr set.

Atherton Challenges Briggs, Ross & Fawcett

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Since I brought up the names Austin Briggs, Alex Ross and Robert Fawcett in conjunction with yesterday's pieces by Coby Whitmore, I thought it would only be fair to show you some examples what sort of work those other artists were doing for Cosmopolitan magazine AD, Robert C. Atherton.


Austin Briggs (above) was always experimenting with new styles and techniques. What you see here, I've come to realize, is one of Briggs' signature approaches to line art. Another example by the artist from 1954 here. Recently, a commentor wrote that he heard Briggs used a matchstick as a pen tip to accomplish this unique inking style. I'd be very curious to hear from anyone who might actually know if that's true.

* You'll find many more examples of Briggs' work in my Austin Briggs Flickr set.

Alex Ross, who did the spot illustration below, also loved to experiment.


Robert Atherton obviously liked using Alex Ross (his work appears very regularly throughout the issues I have from the first half of the 50's)... and the artist rarely handed in the same style twice - preferring to try something a little different at every opportunity. One of my favourite pieces by Ross is this one from the September 1950 issue of Cosmo.

* More examples by the artist in my Alex Ross flickr set.

Finally, this beautiful piece by Robert Fawcett. I wouldn't say that Fawcett created any highly experimental work for Atherton...

... but as David Apatoff has mentioned in an earlier post, art directors had so much respect for Fawcett's skill, they would hire "the illustrator's illustrator" just so there would be one more piece by Fawcett in the world.

* More examples by the artist in my Robert Fawcett Flickr set.
 

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