Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Al Parker: "more freshness, charm and vitality... than any other living illustrator"

This is the 995th post on Today's Inspiration. When it occurred to me that we were just one topic away from reaching a landmark for this blog, I struggled to determine what should be the final series of the first thousand posts.

After Tom Watson's excellent series last week, in which he declared, "I'm not ready to admit that Rockwell was the single greatest illustrator that ever lived, but he certainly has to be in the top of the list," I felt that the only suitable artist to feature next would be Al Parker. I think I can honestly say no other illustrator has so profoundly affected my thinking about illustration as Parker has. He is my single biggest inspiration and must certainly occupy a spot alongside Norman Rockwell in that list of "the greatest illustrators that ever lived."

And I know I'm not alone in believing this. At least one other illustrator felt the same way about Parker: Norman Rockwell.

In 1948, Rockwell wrote the "fan letter" reproduced below to his friend, Al Parker...

"This is the second fan letter of my long career. It is prompted by your superb illustration on page thirty-four of the current Ladies Home Journal."

"It is simply extraordinary; your amazing creativeness, taste, and versatility. While the rest of us are working knee-deep in a groove, you are forever changing and improving."

"You have brought more freshness, charm, and vitality to illustration than any other living illustrator. Now at last I have said it and I feel much better because I have been believing this for a long, long time."

Six decades later, when the Norman Rockwell Museum presented a show of Al Parker's work, NRM Director/CEO Laurie Moffat wrote in the show's catalogue that Parker was, "a fearless artistic innovator whose imagery was admired and emulated by artists and by millions of readers who were captivated by his work..."

"A celebrity in his time," Moffat continued, "Parker is today virtually unknown to general audiences." Which I think is a terrible shame.

That Al Parker is virtually unknown to most modern day graphic arts professionals and students is a tragedy.

Happily, we all have another opportunity to rediscover Al Parker's genius. Just yesterday Ms. Skye Lacerte, Curator of the Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University in St. Louis, where the Al Parker collection has a permanent home, sent me a note:

"I wanted to let you know about an exhibit that’s currently on view here, Double Exposure: Al Parker’s Illustrations, from Model to Magazine."

Skye wrote, "I’ve attached some information and a cool picture of Parker with his photographs."

And very cool it is, indeed! From the information Skye sent:

This exhibit, from the collection of the Modern Graphic History Library, explores the art-making process of magazine illustrator Al Parker. The display features original artwork and tear sheets from popular magazines published in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. The illustrations are presented alongside photographic studies taken by Parker, depicting women, men, and children from various viewpoints and poses. Through the juxtaposition of these images, we catch a glimpse of Parker's creative process, from his compositions captured in photos to his interpretations realized in print.

If you are in the St. Louis area - or are able to travel there - this is your chance to experience what is without a doubt a remarkable show.

For the rest of us, this week will attempt to provide a small taste of the same. From the January 1952 issue of American Artist, we'll look at an extensive Al Parker step-by-step that will take us to the conclusion of the first thousand post on Today's Inspiration.

* My thanks to TI list members Tom Johnson for sharing the scan of Norman Rockwell's letter to Al Parker and to Marvin Friedman for the Parker tear sheets I scanned for today's post.

* The program book from the NRM's 2007 Al Parker exhibition, "Ephemeral Beauty" is still available and well worth the very low price.

* My Al Parker Flickr set.

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