Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fletcher Martin: "Good pictures are always an experience"

In the broad scheme of things, its unlikely that one would categorize Fletcher Martin as an illustrator. He was truly a fine arts painter who occasionally took on illustration assignments. Here is one of the earliest I've ever seen - found online - from 1942.

Martin firmly believed in painting what he knew, what he had experienced, and considering his youth and early adulthood, wandering hobo-like through Depression era America, the Shell ad seems more than appropriate subject matter for him.

Martin had hopped freight trains, worked as a day labourer picking fruit, done highway construction jobs and been a lumberjack. He had joined the Navy and sailed the oceans of the world... he was an ex-prize fighter. So years later when he said in an interview, "In painting a prize fight, for example, you need to know what it feels like to fight. Before you can draw and order a thing you need to get the feel of it. Good pictures come out of one's experience, out of one's life."

Asked how he consolidated his inclination for painting what he chose to paint with the needs of a commercial client, he replied, "There was never any problem for me because there was never any art direction involved. I was not restricted. I brought in the drawings and they chose those they wanted me to develop into paintings."

Hard for most illustrators to imagine - having such complete freedom!

Fletcher Martin was hardly as prolific an advertising illustrator as many others we've looked at here, but the trade-off of complete creative freedom was clearly too essential for him to compromise. Martin said, "I could have been much more solvent doing something else. Being an artist has been a difficult thing, but I paint because it has been my major interest ever since I can remember."

"I never even thought of being anything else but an artist. As a kid I didn't know exactly what I wanted to be but there was an awareness that I was longing for something. Art satisfied that longing."

Art directors clearly appreciated Fletcher Martin's commitment to his personal vision. His work was included in several volumes of the New York Art Directors Club Annuals during the '40s and '50s... and advertising assignments from major national corporations were offered time and again.

Even so, to those who would follow in his footsteps Martin proffered this qualifier: "The freedom to do what you want to do doesn't automatically produce a good thing. I don't suffer, because I enjoy the whole trial and tribulation of the problem."

"But a commission has a much more positive and definable goal than a painting that you're just doing to please yourself. Freedom is desirable..."

" ... but it can be an adversary too."

* My Fletcher Martin Flickr set.

* For those who missed yesterday's comments, Joyce K. Schiller, Curator at the Norman Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies wrote to tell us that the study drawing for the December 27, 1943 cover of Life magazine by Fletcher Martin was a recent gift to the Norman Rockwell Museum collections and is currently hanging in a gallery called "Curator's Choice: Selections from the Norman Rockwell Museum Collections."

What a great opportunity for those within striking distance of the NRM! Thanks for the heads-up, Joyce.

*Also: Be sure to drop by Charlie Allen's Blog for the latest CAWS - wherein Charlie concludes his adventures in "duck stamping".

*And finally: A new post at Storyboard Central showcasing more amazing artwork by Italian illustrator, Roberto Molino.


  1. There is something about the paintings that remind me of Arizona painter Philip C. Curtis. Perhaps it's the treatment of cloth and light? Maybe it's just me?

  2. I can only hope one day advertising is this good again. These things were art, as compared to the quickly thrown together ads today.