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Friday, October 20, 2017

George Lois

The "What's the big idea?" man.
If you are, or want to be, a doctor, bricklayer, electrician, or engineer, and you've never in your life heard of George Lois, you'll probably do just fine. But if you plan to be a photographer, designer, illustrator or virtually any other kind of artist, you need to know who this guy is. George Lois, though now retired at the age of eighty-six, was an artist who managed magazine covers. During his long career as an commercial artist he created an amazing and innovative style which led him to become the art director of Esquire magazine, where he created over 92 covers between the years 1962 and 1971. There is no one who works for a magazine design who does not know of him. The legendary George Lois is very simply the most creative, prolific, astute advertising communicator of our time.
 
A guy whose job it was to make people famous--people like Tommy Hilfiger, for instance.
George Lois was born in the Bronx in 1931, the son of Greek immigrants. Upon graduating from high school, he received a basketball scholarship to Syracuse University, but he chose to attend the Pratt Institute instead. Lois attended only one year at Pratt, before he was drafted by the Army to fight in the Korean War. After the war, he worked for a time at CBS and then several different advertising agencies. In the years to follow, he developed what he called "The Big Idea." He claims to have created the “I Want My MTV” campaign; helped create and introduce VH1; named Stouffer's Lean Cuisine frozen food line; and developed marketing and messaging for Jiffy Lube stations.
 
Though Lois' actual contribution to the design of many product and corporate logos has been disputed, there's pretty solid evidence for his hand in these and dozens of others.
George Lois also created the initial advertising campaign to raise awareness of designer Tommy Hilfiger ($200,000 and twenty days). Other clients have included: Xerox, Aunt Jemima, USA Today, ESPN, and four U.S. Senators: Jacob Javits of New York, Warren Magnuson of Washington, Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, and Robert Kennedy.
 
George Lois' first ad at an advertising agency came in 1955 when the Brooklyn Dodgers decided to move to the west coast. However no player had the guts to pose for his American Airlines ad. So, Lois donned a Dodgers cap and became a baseball athlete.
"Must" reading for any
would-be graphic designer.
In the mid-1950s, New York was traumatized by rumors that Brooklyn Dodgers owner, Walter O’Malley, would soon move the franchise to La-La land. It’s always advantageous when you can tie an ad with some-thing happening in the news. So for an American Airlines destination ad, Lois showed a Dodger peering west with the headline "Thinking of going to Los Angeles?" He tried to get one of the players to pose for the ad, but every-one chickened out. So he posed for it himself, casting his eyes westward. He plastered an airline logo over his lower face to keep the message authentic. Within days, bookings on American to Los Angeles took off the very next day. Alas, the treacherous O’Malley did, indeed, depart for the west coast taking with him (among others) Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Gil Hodges, and Duke Snider. No one remembers which airline they took.
 
Virtually all George Lois Esquire covers had a current events tie-in.
A whole library on how to use
friends to influence people.
George Lois was the great master of the conceptual magazine cover, especially Esquire in the 1960s. When Muhammad Ali was convicted of draft evasion and stripped of his heavyweight boxing title, Lois depicted him as the martyred St. Sebastian, with arrows sticking out of his body (above). Lois also persuaded celebrities such as Richard Nixon, Andy Warhol, Sonny Liston, Jack Nicholson (nude, no less), Tom Cruise, and Dustin Hoffman. Between 1962 and 1971, Esquire featured one remarkable cover after another, each conceived and designed by Madison Avenue’s 'king of covers'," George Lois. Esquire covers are icons of the age, acidic critiques of contemporary society, politics and manners that subverted the conventions of mainstream magazines. It was a chronicle in its golden age, a critical period of American social and political turmoil, and the legacy of a remarkable graphic designer and communicator.

Controversy sells. Richard Nixon looks as if he were being prepared by a pit crew of morticians for open-casket viewing.
The period when Harold Hayes was the editor of Esquire was called the "Golden Age of Journalism." George Lois recalls, "Everyone said I had the {guts] to do the covers. The covers were easy to do. Harold Hayes had the [guts] to run them. Every few covers we'd lose five or six advertisers. But we'd pick up other advertising. I'd say, 'Harold, this one is going to get us in big trouble.' He would smile and gleefully nod, 'Yeahhhh'."

The controversial New York logo. Did he or
didn't he name the magazine and design its
distinctive logo?

 










The conceptual phase of an
Esquire's Warhol cover.




























































Thursday, October 19, 2017

Francesco Borromini

Nothing could better symbolize the peculiar relationship of these to talented architects better that the Barberini Palace staircase. Borromini designed it, Bernini saw it to completion after his competitor's death.
Every once in a while as I'm writing on another artist or work of art I decided to link to a previous artist or topic I thought I'd covered only to find that, damn, there's nothing to link to. An outstanding artist has slipped through the cracks to be unceremoniously neglected. A few days ago, I was writing as to how one major artist so dominated a given era or medium from that virtually all others got crowded out. In this particular case I was referring to the Italian Baroque sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Like Michelangelo, a generation or two earlier, everything the man touched quite rightly fell into masterpiece territory. Bernini was both sculptor and architect, and despite the fact he is probably more remembered as a carver of marble, he was the reigning architectural genius of his time as well.
 
Bernini's Shadow
See the resemblance?
Pity his chief competitor in that relatively new profession for its time, Francesco Borromini. I should point out that due to the similarity of their surnames, it's easy to get them confused. They even looked somewhat alike (above and left). To add to the confusion, they were born just a year apart, Bernini in 1598, Borromini in 1599. Bernini died in 1680, outliving his friend and colleague by thirteen years. Two of their churches, Bernini's San Andrea al Quirinale (left) and Borro-mini's San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (below) are on the same street in Rome (Via Quirinal,) and less than a block apart. It's amazing seeing one right after the other and to compare the different ways these contemporaries created majestic places in such small spaces. Both are oval, but that’s where the similarities end.

As any artist will tell you, the more limitations, the more difficult the work. Borromini had dozens of them to contend with, not the least of which was costs.
Though Borromini and Bernini, were the two stalwarts of 17th century Italian architecture, were both masters of the Baroque style, they were very different in their approach to work and artistic expressions. Bernini, suave and charming, sought drama and theatrics in his works. His flamboyance oozed out through his creations. Bernini knew how to play with the audience’s emotional and spiritual responses. Borromini, on the other hand, was cold, melancholic, and somewhat lacking in the social graces of Bernini. He depended heavily on his studies of geometry and classical architecture. Borromini’s work was idiosyncratic with a modest approach towards purposeful dramatization, distancing the audience who failed to fully comprehend it even though they were unanimous in accepting its superiority. The great act of providence had both of these artist’s path intertwined for the rest of their career.

Baroque? Yes, but with Borromini's restrained drama and elegance to temper Bernini's overindulgence.
Four Rivers Fountain,
Piazza Navona, Rome,
Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Perhaps, no example would better exemplify the intermingling of Bernini and Borromini's careers than the story of the Four Rivers Fountain, the visual centerpiece of Rome's elongated Piazza Navona. It is one of Bernini’s most famous works taking him four years to complete. The base of this structure, which supports a Roman version of an Egyptian obelisk, topped with a dove holding an olive branch in its beak--the Pamphili family symbol. It is decorated with four large allegorical figures, representing the major rivers from the four regions of the world: Danube representing Europe, Nile representing Africa, Ganges representing Asia and the Rio de la Plata the Americas. Ironically, this was Borro-mini’s original suggestion, yet the commission for which after many fateful shifts and papal inter-ventions, went to Bernini.

To add further irony, Borromini got the commission to complete the Church of St. Agnese in Agone which forms the backdrop for Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain.
Francesco Borromini was born Francesco Castelli in 1599. He grew up in Bissone, Switzerland (which was then part of the Old Swiss Confederacy). The son of a stonemason, Francesco grew up listening to a constant lullaby of stone cutting pouring out from his father’s workshop. Thus, it surprise no one when he chose stonemasonry as his career later on in his life. Borromini was influenced by the work of Michelangelo and, in turn, influenced the work of late Baroque architect Camillo-Guarino Guarini. The boy was about 10 years old when he went to Milan to study and perfect his craft. Around 1619 he migrated to Rome where he started working for his distant relative Carlo Maderno, often considered one of the fathers of Baroque architecture. Together, Francesco and Maderno, worked at St Peter’s and then on the Palazzo Barberini. Under Maderno’s guidance, his protégé developed excellent technical and drafting skills that would become one of his greatest asset.

A modern day student notebook featuring different aspects of Borromini's version of the Baroque style.
Out of a high regard for St. Charles Borromeo, or his mother’s new family name Brumino from her second marriage, Francesco Castelli changed his name to Borromini. Meanwhile, Maderno passed away in 1629 with the work at Palazzo Barberini still to be completed. It fell to Borromini and Bernini, Borromini’s greatest rival, but also a friendly collaborator on many projects, to complete the task. In beginning his own career as an architect, in 1634 as he was asked to design the church, cloister and monastic buildings of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. It was his first "neighborhood" church, but certainly not his last.

 
Borromini went on to design the Church of St. Ivo alla Sapienza (left), working on the Dome and Facade periodically from 1640 through 1660. At the same time Borromini designed the church of Maria dei Sette Dolori starting in 1642, the Palazzo Pamphili (Piazza Navona) in 1645, St Giovani in Laterano, and the Villa Falconieri, Frascati during about the same time. And finally, in 1653, near the end of his life, came the commission from the influential (and wealthy) Pamphili family to work on the Church of St. Agnese in Agone, located just down the street on the Pizza Navona from his earlier Pamphili Palace.
 
Church of St Ivo alla Sapienza
1640-60, dome and facade

Copyright, Jim Lane
Church of St Agnese in Agone, Rome, 1653, Francesco Borromini
Borromini was one of several architects involved in the building of the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone in Rome. The decision to rebuild the church was taken in 1652 as part of Pope Innocent X’s project to enhance the Piazza Navona, the urban space onto which his family palace faced. The first plans for a Greek Cross church were drawn up by Girolamo Rainaldi and his son Carlo, who relocated the main entrance from the Via di Santa Maria dell'Anima to the Piazza Navona. The foundations were laid and much of the lower level walls had been constructed when the Rainaldis were dismissed due to criticisms of the design. Borromini was appointed in their stead. However, not only were some of his design intentions changed by succeeding architects but the net result is a building which reflects, rather unhappily, a mix of different approaches. In 1656, Innocent X died and the project lost momentum. The following year, Borromini resigned and Carlo Rainaldi was recalled. He made a number of significant changes to Borromini’s design. Further alterations were made by Bernini including the façade pediment. Further large scale statuary and colored marbling were also added. Once more, these were not part of Borromini’s design repertoire.

Tomb of Pope Innocent X, Gian Lorenzo Bernini,
Sant’Agnese in Agone in Rome
Always a forlorn man, and despairing of his own underachievement, not to mention a growing conflict with Bernini, Borromini succumbed to deep depression. In July, 1667 after learning that Bernini had been commissioned to design the tomb of Pope Innocent X, Borromini burned all his writings and designs then locked himself into his house. In a fit of despair he threw himself on a ceremonial sword and committed suicide. He lingered in agony an entire day before dying. He was sixty-seven.


































 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Inna Orlik

Bull, Inna Orlik
It does my heart good to come upon a former public school art instructor from time to time who has, as they say, "made it." After years of childhood art exploration, more years of public school art, college, teaching while producing, and finally a seeming eternity of dogged self-promotion, to finally land representation in one or more galleries allowing regional, national, and (with as much luck as determination) international recognition, is a path not for the faint of heart. With all that, comes frequent shows, sales, and respectable prices. I tried. God knows I tried. At times I almost "made it." But I apparently didn't try quite hard enough. To teach is not to fail, but it does represent a "safe" pathway to creative and financial success. Even in the worst of times, I was never a "starving artist" (as my waistline will attest). But, at the same time, I'm not likely to ever see my face on Wikipedia.
 
Memories, Inna Orlik
Inna Orlik has "made it." Not only has she achieved international gallery representation, she, in fact, owns her own art gallery, located in Athens, Greece, at the foot of the Acropolis, no less. The Orlik Gallery is an elegant contemporary fine art gallery established in 2013. The Gallery is housed in a neoclassical building, located in Plaka, the historic center of Athens. Though the gallery specializes in the exhibition of innovative contemporary art and sculptures of international artists from all over Europe, it mainly represents the work of Inna Orlik.
 
A picture of determination, talent, intelligence, and beauty.

Inna Orlik was born in 1964 in Tbilisi, Georgia (then part of the Soviet Union). She studied painting in the National Academy of Fine Arts in Tbilisi from 1982 to 1987. For the next three years she taught high school art in her hometown. However, in 1985, while still in college, she had her first solo show in Tbilisi, followed in 1988 and 1990 by shows in Moscow and St. Petersburg respectively. During that time she also participated in various group exhibitions. Since 1991 she has lived and worked in Greece. (I might add that, like myself, Inna Orlik is not listed in Wikipedia either.)
 
 
Reef, Inna Orlik
 
 
Jesus, Inna Orlik
Since the dawn of recorded history, Greece has been known for great philosophers and myths. The city of Athens is embedded with much of this rich cultural heritage centered upon its art. Art is a mark of the existence of human beings on earth, passed down from generation to generation. In creating any work of art there is a sense of complete confluence with current culture and a past heritage. For Inna Orlik, there is a feeling of beginning a new life, of breathing through illustrations, walking imaginary streets, lighting lamps, looking out windows of fairy-tale house, an art like swinging boats blown by the winds.
 
Midday, Inna Orlik
Bee, Inna Orlik
Inna sees the same things applied to colors. Each has its own sound, each its own mood. In the imagination, art is blessed with a soul, with a character, often with a life-like image. Seasons of the year, rain, wind, stones, birds, lost worlds, myth-ical images, all have soul. Completed work brings satisfaction, happiness, surprise, and aesthetic pleasure, which is the most valuable element of creativity. As an artist, what's most important is not to rest on past laurels, but to feel the constant necessity to move forward and see new icons, new forms, new amalgamations. That is the meaning of inspiration.

Jacques de Molay, Inna Orlik

























































Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Will Cotton

Abandoned Churro Cabin, 2002, Will Cotton
What do you do when you just like to draw two themes? Anyone who knows the art or illustration market would say you're limiting yourself too much and you're not going to get a lot of jobs. Or, you can become simply the best in whatever the combination and work it for the rest of your life! There are many such cases of artists who specialize in a single subject and earn their living from it. New York City artist, Will Cotton, falls into this category. Between paintings and illustrations, the guy always illustrates skinny woman in the middle of fat. And it makes for success! He only paints scantily clad models frolicking in sugary treats. Guys, if one doesn't make your mouth water, the other will.
 
Take two sweets and blend well. The result is a delectable confection--an iconic style and content some artists struggle to discover for decades.
Will Cotton didn't just one day decide to stir together "cotton" candy and naked ladies. Long before he mixed the two he delighted in painting both separately (above). Cotton works from models set up in his studio, which doesn't mean he works strictly from live models. He readily employs every trick and device available to artists today--photography, digital imaging, scale models, and real, edible sweets created in his own bakery. Cotton has even taken cooking classes to better fabricate these painstaking miniature worlds. The use of models (both live and homemade) lends the paintings all sorts of details and lighting effects that would be difficult to achieve from merely fantasizing about the subject. For all of their dreaminess, the painting process is more technical than whimsical. The structural logic of gingerbread, icing, marzipan, and various candies is carefully adhered to.
 
Not all that Will Cotton "cooks up" in his studio kitchen is edible, but much of it is...at least for a few days.
Although Cotton is a consummate painter, he's at least equally adept as a sculptor, as is every pastry chef. How can a pastry chef be so thin? It would appear he only photographs, draws, and paints his confections, somehow eschewing the temptation to consume them...or even lick the spoon. Will Cotton was born in 1965. He grew up in Melrose, Massachusetts, but lives today in New York City where he has recently published a book Painting & Works on Paper. In its 176 pages, between photography and post-production, he evokes a unique insatiable desire for sweetness and sweetness. He focuses on the photo elements ranging from sweets to candy, lollipops, menthol, icing, or ice cream. In his Manhattan studio, Cotton creates works combining iconographic burlesque and pin-ups with rococo references.

To create his permanent confectionary sculptures Cotton includes such tasty ingredients as plaster, polymers, wood, and various color pigments.
Cotton studied at the New York Academy of Art, but received his B.F.A. from the Cooper Union, in 1988. His works from the 1990s depicted pop icons sourced from contemporary advertisements. Cotton described his early works in as an impulse to make paintings out of an awareness of the commercial consumer landscape we live in. He notes that every day we're bombarded with thousands of messages designed specifically to incite desires within us. Then around 1996, Cotton began to develop an iconography in which the landscapes themselves became objects of desire. His paintings often feature scenery made up entirely of pastries, candy and melting ice cream (top). He creates elaborate miniatures of these settings from real baked goods made in his Manhattan studio as a visual source for the final works.

Candy Land, New York Magazine, May, 2013

Since about 2002, nude or nearly-nude pinup-type models have often populated these candy-land scenes. As in the past, the works project a tactile indulgence in fanciful gluttony. The female figures are icons of indulgence and languor, reflecting the feel of the landscape itself. Cotton notes that these paintings are all about a utopia where all desire is fulfilled all the time, meaning ultimately that there can be no desire, as there is no desire without lackings. Cotton's art makes use of the common language of consumer culture.

Cotton's Domino, from 2015, refines the sweetness to it's basic element--sugar--employing photography, superb draftsmanship, computers, and painting.
Visual threads in Cotton's work, are drawn from imaginary worlds as in a sort of Candy Land board game with gingerbread houses, pinup art, and cotton candy, as part of the cultural lexicon. The dream of a land of plenty paradise is also a thread that runs through not just Cotton's work, but all of human history. His work updates the idea of a "land of milk and honey" first mention in the Old Testament Bible, but also in European literature and art.

The Will Cotton cover portrait of a frosted Martha Stewart, 2015.
Peppermint
Will Cotton has exhibited throughout the United States and Europe. His works have also been exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Seattle Art Museum, the Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Germany; the Hudson River Museum; the Triennale di Milano, Italy, the Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, in Havana. His work is in the collections of the Seattle Art Museum, Washington and the Columbus Mu-seum of Art, in Ohio, as well as many prominent private collections, including, one would suppose, that of Martha Stewart (above). Cotton's brush would seem to be something of a fountain of youth. Obviously his most well-known subject is the teen idol, Katy Perry, with whom he has worked as the art director for the video hit California Gurls (bottom), as well as having designed the cover photo on the same album, which is all very sweet.

Will Cotton and his clones at work in his studio.

















































 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Alessandro Algardi

Pope Saint Leon arresting Attila, 1646-53, (St. Peter's Basilica), Alessandro Algardi--undoubted his major masterpiece.
It's not all that common an occurrence, but every generation or two there comes along a single artist who so far outshines the work of his peers that they get left behind in the dust. In the realm of the arts and sciences in general, Leonardo fits the bill. Raphael and Michelangelo competed for dominance in painting while Michelangelo stood head and shoulders over any other Renaissance sculptor. Although such masterful standing in their fields made for some incredibly powerful works of art, the "big three" also crowded into the background some very respectable competitors as evidenced by the fact that, at the moment, I find it difficult to list any from memory.
 
Terracotta sculpture, fired in two hollow halves, which were joined and filled with plaster to strengthen and stabilize the work. Obviously, a little more plaster in the shoulder areas would have been helpful.
During the Baroque era, Caravaggio grabbed the painting limelight while Gian Lorenzo Bernini took center stage in sculpture. Virtually the only sculptors of an note left in Rome where Francesco Borromini, Pietro da Cortona, and Alessandro Algardi. If you've drawn a blank on these unfortunate artists, you've served to prove my point. Borromini was better known as an architect of church facades than as a sculptor while Cortona was more famous for his frescoes than as a sculptor. That leaves onlys Algardi as any kind of competition for Bernini, who was both architect and sculptor.

An indication of why Bernini stands "head and shoulders" above all other Baroque sculptors.

Portrait of Alessandro Algardi,
artist and date unknown.
Alessandro Algardi was born in 1595. Algardi, was the son of a silk merchant from Bologna, one of the Papal States at the time. He was trained under Lodovico Carracci at the local art academy, where he acquired the skills of a first-rate draftsman. After a short period of activity in Mantua Algardi moved to Rome around 1625, where he designed the stucco decorations in San Silvestro al Quir-inale and gained some success as a restorer of classical sculptures. in carving the monu-ment to Cardinal Millini in Santa Maria del Popolo, the Frangipani monument in San Marcello al Corso, and the Bust of Cardinal Laudivio Zacchia (above, right). Algardi em-erged as the principal rival of Bernini in the field of portrait sculpture. Though his work lacks Bernini’s dynamic vitality (above, left) and penetrating characterization, Algardi’s portraits (above, right) were appreciated for their sober realism.

The Tomb of Leo XI, 1630-44, Alessandro Algardi.
 
Algardi maintained a close association with Pietro da Cortona, who helped establish his reputation in Rome and also familiarized him with the classical style in sculpture. Italian tastes in sculpture owed a great deal to their attitudes toward historical accuracy and the influence of Christian archaeology. One of Algardi's most important commission came in the 1630s for the marble tomb of Pope Leo XI in St. Peter’s. It was completed in 1644 and erected 1652 even though Pope Leo XI reigned as pontiff a mere 27 days in April of 1605. The commission came from the pope’s great-nephew, Cardinal Roberto Ubaldini. Algardi emphasized Leo’s munificence with allegorical figures of liberality and magnanimity. Unlike Bernini’s tomb for Pope Alexander VII, which combined white and colored marble with bronze, Algardi’s papal tomb was sculpted entirely from white marble.


Hercules and the Hydra,
copy of the Greek original,
Alessandro Algardi

Titan, 1659, Alessandro Algardi
After the election of Pope Innocent X in 1644, Algardi surpassed Bernini in papal favor. Between this date and his death in 1659, Algardi produced some of his most celebrated works, among them a colossal marble relief of the Meeting of Attila and Pope Leo in St. Peter’s created between 1646 and 1653 (top). Algardi's high relief was to influence strongly the development of illusionistic reliefs. Although he was generally less theatrical (less Baroque) than Bernini, in this particular work Algardi effectively created a larger than life-size narrative dramatically conveying its principal event. With his gesture of pushing away Attila, Leo points to the miraculously airborne Saints Peter and Paul, who have come to lend divine assistance. The deep shadows, emphatic gestures, and heavy drapery patterns work together to create an arresting and convincing sense of papal power.

 
Although Algardi was best known for his portraiture and an obsessive at-tention to details, from an artistic point of view, he was most successful in portrait-statues of groups of children, where he was obliged to follow nature most closely. His terracotta models, some of them finished works of art, were prized by collectors. An out-standing series of terracotta models is at the Hermitage Museum, Saint Pet-ersburg.
 
 
Head of an Angel,
Alessandro Algardi








































 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

1950s Art

My own recollection would probably read: "The Thrifty Fifties."
Several months ago (actually, more like several years ago) I began a series exploring in some depth the art of the 20th-Century. I arbitrarily started with the art of the 1960s. From there I've covered the art of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. I should logically move on to the art of the 2000s, but not only does that seem like an awkward title, it's actually the first decade of the 21st-century. I would also deem it much too recent from which to gain much of an historical perspective. So instead, I'm going backward from where I began to the art of the 1950s--an era I can barely remember, and thus one in which what I know about its art comes mostly second-hand.  

Those artists predicting life in the future were mostly optimists. With technology and science, all things seemed possibly.
Chronologically, decades are neat and tidy demarcations of history. However history (including art history) seldom cooperates with such artificial timespans. For example, Abstract Expressionism reached it's peak in the 1950s but didn't really pass from the picture until sometime in the mid-1960s. To add to this complexity we find that during the 20th-century art began to creep into virtually every aspect of modern life from advertising, to entertainment, fine art, not-so-fine art, to precincts in which its validity as art of any type was highly in doubt. For the sake of lending some semblance of order to the chaos inherent in art history, I'll divide the art of the 1950s into three categories--fine art, printed art, entertainment art, and dubious art.

Pollock's art evolved during the early 1950s. Search (just above) was his final painting before his death.
In the area of Modern Art (contemporary was the new buzzword), three names dominated during the 1950s. Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and totally in a realm of his own, Norman Rockwell. Jackson Pollock (above) only saw the early years of the decade. He died in a drunken car crash on August 11, 1956. Despite his truncated career, Pollock's "action paintings" stand well above all other from the Abstract Expressionist era.

de Kooning, more than any other artist of the era, let the Abstract Expressionism movement to its protracted death at the dawn of the 1960s.
If Jackson had a rival as the founder and major proponent of the New York School, it would be in the person of Willem de Kooning (above). In his work we can see something of a history of the artist's development as well as that of the entire movement as it served as a climactic exclamation mark leading to the Minimalist "curtain call" the following decade.

The favorite artist of the Saturday Evening Post and most of the rest of America as well during the halcyon days of the 1950s.
For myself and most other people living blissfully happy lives during the fifties, only one living artist was a household name--Norman Rockwell. Most people at the time were unaware of Pollock, de Kooning, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Frankenthaler, Motherwell, Gottlieb or any of the others making names for themselves on the New York art scene. Both as an artist, and visual storyteller, Rockwell might well be considered the heart and soul of the entire decade.

The "good ole days" weren't always good, but they were the best American had known in decades.
It was a decade in which a virtual flood of new products, inventions, and easy-living technologies hit the post-war market of the most prosperous nation in the world. It was the decade we were inundated with plastics, diet sodas, television, tail fins, V-8 engines, transistor radios, 707s, dishwashers, backyard grills, Barbie Dolls, Sputniks, and all manner of new food products from the overstocked corner grocery stores. Just as important, however, is the fact that the 1950s were the days before manned space travel, color TV, Pop Art, Pop Tarts, recreational drugs, the Beatles, the pill, men on the moon, and Vietnam.

Racism Incident at Little Rock, 1957, Domingo Ulloa
Before we loose our minds wallowing in nostalgia, it's important to remember that this era of postwar prosperity was not distributed evenly among those living at the time. While the middle-class likely never had it so good, and the upper classes basked in the gaudy luxuries of the day, many others struggled. Principally they were blacks, Latinos, Native-Americans, and those in rural areas still bearing the lingering effect of the Great Depression. The 1950s were also the years marked by the onset of the civil rights movement, Brown vs. the Board of Education, Little Rock, Jim Crow, and a host of other harbingers of things to come a few years later. Domingo Ulloa's Racism Incident at Little Rock (above) deftly captures the fear and hatred that blacks felt and endured as they waited for their equal rights, then nearly a century late in coming.

Propaganda art--artist were not immune to the demagoguery and fear mongering associated with the era. In fact, they were sometimes a willing party to it.
Art had a part in the unsettled political and social upheavals of the time--McCarthyism, "I Like Ike," war in Korea, "Ban the Bomb," and the first seeds of yet another war, this one in Vietnam. All this played upon the minds and efforts of artists to cope with a fundamental need to make their thoughts and opinions known despite a society far more interested in what was playing Saturday night on TV or at the local Drive-in Theater. It was prime time for James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.


By today's standards, movies of the 1950s could almost be termed "wholesome."

The Drive-in Theater, Dan Hatala.









Gil Elvgren, pin-up with photo source.