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

Murray Tinkelman on Alex Ross: "He was vastly underrated."

Friday, April 11, 2014

In May of 2009, I interviewed Murray Tinkelman about his career. Our far-ranging discussion included many sidebars; one in particular, about Alex Ross, provides a fitting conclusion to this week's series on the artist... ~ Leif


LP: There was a guy at Cooper's who left before you got there... a guy named Alex Ross.

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MT: Yeah, I knew Alex.

LP: Oh really?

MT: Yeah. He did leave before I got there. The covers he did for Good Housekeeping were wonderful.

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MT: But he could also do a sexy woman...

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... he was also very innovative. 

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MT: He's second only to Al Parker in his innovation and experimentation.

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(Above: one of eight Alex Ross illustrations from Cosmopolitan magazine, June 1956. Ross did each illustration for each story in a different style - repeating a feat previously accomplished only by Al Parker, to the best of my knowledge)

LP: I'm so happy to hear you say that, Murray - especially you - because when I look at Ross' work, I see a lot of departure from the traditional look of that period.

MT: Absolutely.

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LP: And I look at that stuff and I wonder: "How come this guy isn't getting more attention?"

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MT: I haven't got the slightest idea.

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MT: I'm still trying to get Alex into the [Society of Illustrators] Hall of Fame. I showed a about half a dozen of his slides at our last Hall of Fame meeting.*

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MT: Y'know, I was boarding an airplane in a small commuter airport about seventeen, twenty years ago... and we're on the tarmac. (There was no jetway, you just went out onto the tarmac and up two steps into the plane). And there was a guy in front of me - a very handsome guy - and he was carrying a package under his arm.

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MT: ... and it looked like an illustrator's package because it was neatly taped and so on. And I kinda strained my neck and bent way over and I see a return address... and it's Alex Ross.

LP: Wow!

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MT: So I tapped him on the shoulder and I said, "Mr. Ross, I'm a huge fan of yours. I've admired your work for years!" "Oh really," he says, "and what's your name?" "Murray Tinkelman," I says. "Oh, I've admired your work, too!"

LP: Very cool.

MT: Yeah. Y'know, when his illustration career ended, Alex Ross turned to painting.

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MT: And he painted untold numbers of absolutely gorgeous semi-abstract floral paintings - maybe 20" x 30" acrylic - very bright, very cheerful... joyous paintings. 

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MT: I don't think they were really heavyweight, but they were incredibly sellable. He'd have an annual one-man show every year for maybe six or eight years at Joe DeMers' gallery on Hiltonhead Island. He was a terrific artist, vastly underrated.

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Addendum: In a 1980 speech about Ross’s achievements as an illustrator, Fred Whitaker, long-time American Artist writer and celebrated water colour painter, likening his work to such famous American illustrators as Remington, Homer and Hopper.

Whitaker said, “When the story of today’s art epoch is written, there may well be general agreement that the real art contribution of the mid-twentieth century was that of the illustrators and commercial artists. I know of no artist who experiments more than Ross in approach to the mode of presentation; in color, in the manner of applying paint, in his brushing, in the use of new angles of compositional arrangement. His one great fear is that he may become static, even afraid of copying himself.”

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* To date, Alex Ross has not been inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame.

The Norman Rockwell Museum Presents: Baseball, Rodeos, and Automobiles: The Art of Murray Tinkelman - on view through June 15, 2014

“Baseball, Rodeos, and Automobiles” celebrates over 60 years of artistic creation by Murray Tinkelman, one of the nation’s most prominent illustrators, educators, and illustration historians. The exhibition explores the artist’s interests, imagination and evolving technique, including elaborate pen-and-ink drawings that have become his trademark.

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