Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Thornton Utz: "Always doing the unexpected"

"Thornton Utz has no set formula for working," wrote Ernest W. Watson in his 1957 American Artist article.

"He works on glass and acetate as well as on canvas and illustration board. He starts with ink or pencil and may develop the picture with melted crayons, watercolor, oil or casein, generally mixing his mediums.'

"One is quickly impressed by Utz's inventiveness and ingenuity. He is always doing the unexpected in his painting and nothing daunts him."

And speaking about his own philosophy on the subject, Utz said, "Good illustration, regardless of techniques, still has a basic purpose - communication. Borrowing from a painter can be inspirational, but this is simply a beginning. The important thing is the illustrator's empathy to the situation, his sense of form and design and his ability to translate this into the viewers appreciation and understanding."

Thornton Utz sincerely believed in this philosophy: both pieces above are taken from the same August 1954 Cosmopolitan story, and the more 'traditional' style at top was done only two years previous to that. Art directors don't seem to have been daunted by expecting the unexpected from the ever-experimenting Thornton Utz.

I wonder why?

* My Thornton Utz Flickr set.


  1. Anonymous11:30 AM

    Very nice sense of color in these, particularly in the first picture. I think Art Directors were willing to trust artists like Utz because whatever the finish the underlying design and draughtsmanship were always solid.And for prestige magazines it always helps to use those artists with that 'little something extra'.

  2. It's hard to believe how different Utz's story illos were compared to his Saturday Evening Post cover illos. I hate to throw cold water on any of his Post covers, but I never really liked them. In my view, Rockwell stole the show when it came to 50's Post cover illustrations. But, I have to admit Utz was a good innovative story illustrator, and these examples prove it. No doubt he deserves the recognition, but personally, I wouldn't put him in the same league as Parker or Briggs. Perhaps, one level below. Hope I haven't offended Utz lovers. ;-)

    Tom Watson

  3. That's a very optimistic thought, Bandito, I would hope you are right, although based on what I've seen in all the hundreds of magazines in my collection (and what you've seen, by extension, via this blog) I think its more likely that ADs leaned toward the 'sure thing' than the wild card.

    I suspect there were a few trusted illustrators, like the ones we've looked at over the last two weeks, and a few adventurous ADs, like Robert C. Atherton of Cosmopolitan, who worked well together. But notice that Thornton Utz was professional enough to 'reign it in' for the Saturday Evening Post, and then let his hair down for Cosmo? Utz inately understood his experimental work wasn't going to fly with Post AD Ken Stuart. That family magazine wanted 'safe' artwork its small-town American audience could relate to, and Utz always deleivered the goods. :^)

  4. Anonymous2:57 AM

    I have a couple of Utz original paintings of Jack and the bean Stalk, and the Sandman I would like to Know if anyone would know the value of Such peices.