Considering the recent discussions we've had here about fine art vs. illustration, first with our look at Robert Weaver and the Avant-garde movement, and more recently with Tom Watson's analysis of the work of Daniel Schwartz, I had to smile when I read the following passage from the June 1952 issue of American Artist:
"The one-time popular presumption that the practice of illustration somehow disqualified an artist as a so-called fine arts painter seems by now to have been quite thoroughly dissipated."
William A. Smith is held up as proof positive of this contention. Smith, the article proclaims, "was an exhibiting painter before he got his first important illustration commission."
I dunno, perhaps this debate will rage on for all time... so long as there are people who consider the artwork hanging on a gallery wall to be somehow more worthy than the artwork printed on the pages of a magazine. To my way of thinking quality is quality, and because the artwork has a utilitarian purpose (interpreting genre fiction, for instance) that doesn't reduce my appreciation for it as 'art' or disqualify the illustrator as an artist.
William A. Smith left Toledo at age 19 to establish himself in New York as a freelance artist. During his career he won numerous awards from both the commercial and fine arts communities. What's most telling about the nature of the artist is how he describes approaching his subject:
When a subject... suggests a feeling that is provocative to me, I make very rapid pencil notes of it in a sketchbook. I study the sketch for a day or two, analyzing my reaction to the subject and doodling variations on the arrangement in an effort to eliminate factors that are extraneous and to develop those aspects that enhance the mood I wish to express."
Smith says he takes pains to avoid "too much coping of details. I juggle elements, eliminating some, exaggerating others and inventing new ones."
"A picture," says Smith, "should be a new entity rather than a replica of a bit of nature."
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you... art!
My William A. Smith Flickr set.