Friday, January 16, 2009

Howard Willard: A Collage of a Thousand Influences

Howard Willard was a collector. Whenever he travelled to an exotic location, he would bring back momentos - materials with appealing textures and patterns that reminded him of the people and culture of the place he had visited.

From China he brought back scraps of fabric that would normally have been used to make the soles of shoes. For his own pleasure he would take such materials, paste them up and incorporate his own brisk, calligraphic drawings, and create collaged artworks.

What started as a kind of personal work, never intended by the artist to be seen by the public, ended up becoming a new way for Willard to do his illustrations. He avidly collected old Victorian magazines and catalogues, weather-worn posters and showbills scavenged from fences and construction hoardings, and cut out the bits that interested him. These he would amalgamate into his commercial assignments.

Having travelled so extensively, its not surprising that Howard Willard created hundreds of travel illustrations. His knowledge and love of other languages led him to illustrate many language textbooks. His passion for design elements like old typography, patterned papers and fabrics, and Victorian engravings is apparent... he included them in countless advertising and editorial assignments.

Two of Willard's favourite art director clients were John Begg of Oxford University Press and C.O. Woodbury of Reader's Digest. Willard complained of being pigeon-holed and felt it was important to work with those who were artists themselves - so as to collaborate with someone who understood and was sympathetic to the problems an illustrator confronts in his work. Willard believed both these men to be such ideal clients and did many assignments for them.

As a teenager, Howard Willard had worked as a dental assistant. He was engaged in making false teeth, largely for rancher clients, and could not resist the opportunity to insert tiny cowboy designs into the plates of coloured rubber. They proved to be very popular, and the young Willard may have the distinction of being the only artist ever to produce illustrated dental plates.

Always experimenting, passionate about exploring the world and discovering its people, drawing on a thousand influences, Howard Willard always found a practical and pleasurable outlet for his restless wanderings and boundless curiousity.

Today, we enjoy the benefit of seeing the results in the work he left behind.

*My Howard Willard Flickr set.

1 comment:

  1. Charlie Allen3:05 PM

    Thanks for the great blog on Willard, Leif. What a creative genius! Freedom, humor, excellent design and draftsmanship, originality....and amazing energy. Wish we saw more of that today....and I suppose we do, on occasion, in the digital world. 'Change....the only constant!' Again, thanks.