Monday, June 09, 2008

J.C. Leyendecker at the S.I.

Being out in the NY area means, for an illustrator, much time spent at the historic Society of Illustrators. Part social club, part exhibit space, part illustration-services and lectures, this wonderful association was begun in 1901. In the years that followed, the list of illustrators who stopped in for events is a who's-who of illustration's greats.

A number of fully-painted "studies" like this one were done in preparation for each piece, from which he'd distill the folds and forms into very streamlined finals, removing unnecessary elements.

Among them, J.C. Leyendecker was a giant. Working about the same time as rival Normal Rockwell, on many of the same projects, J.C. was among the leading American illustrators in the first half of the 20c. While Rockwell took the major spotlight--and I confess, I prefer him to J.C. as well--Leyendecker was a powerhouse, bringing great drawing, simplicity in handling paint that belied the labor-intensive method underneath, and a stylistic approach that was eaten up in its day.

His hatch-work is an unmistakable stylistic motif. Note the almost Disney-like angularity of the hand pinning the medal, long before Disney.

Through mid-July, The Society of Illustrators is hosting a fantastic show featuring the work of Leyendecker, primarily, as well as other early illustrators who had in common early training in the European classical tradition around the time I've often described as the End of Institutional Greatness. The opening, on May 21st, was my first opening in a long, long time. The two show floors of the Society were packed full of wonderful paintings, sketches, and studies, including impressive works by Edwin Austin Abbey and others. Having missed the other traveling Leyendecker show, it was a pleasant surprise to learn about this show and to find so many incredible paintings there. Thankfully, the SI allows for photos.

Why is she kissing locked-up baby cupid? It's so gorgeous I don't care

Openings are interesting things--as much socializing as art-viewing. In attendance were a number of illustrator friends from the area, and I was introduced to a couple others--including one fella from my home town of San Jose, who also went to the same art school as I. We even had a professor in common, though he majored in Illustration, and I in Drawing. And he was quite a few years after me, making me feel old, at 33. I was so interested in the art that I failed to get pictures of people and the event. Then again, I'm not sure what interest there is in this blog becoming Access Hollywood for the world of Illustration. Maybe I can get Joan Rivers to dish on what folks are wearing.

Major respect goes out to Civil War painter Mort Kunstler. I got to know his work when my younger brother went through a few years of Civil War interest (in middle-school!). His subscription to Civil War Magazine always had Kunstler art in it. Mort happens to own probably a quarter of the original artwork in the show, and from what I'm told it's only a portion of his collection of classic Illustration. So, major respect for his collecting this fine work, and for loaning it to the show. I heard he was in attendance for a bit, but wouldn't have recognized him.

Anyway, being out in the area, you'll no doubt be seeing a number of entries relating to the SI. I may not be a giant in my own time, but it's nice to walk in the footsteps of those who were.