Sunday, July 3, 2011


Illustrator Henry Raleigh had a thing for shoulders.

Other artists loved to draw hands.  Al Dorne, Steve Ditko and Mort Drucker all emphasized hands in their pictures, building compositions around them and infusing them with significance.  Amedeo Modigliani's tastes were a little different; he seemed to have a thing for necks, extruding them to achieve the effects he wanted.   And Robert McGinnis consistently painted women with weirdly elongated legs.  He apparently found these proportions pleasing.

But to return to our story, Raleigh had a thing for shoulders.  Many artists didn't see much potential in shoulders, assuming that they were generally symmetrical and level.  Raleigh looked closer and saw them swooping and dipping like languorous gulls:

When Raleigh needed a figure in the foreground, sometimes it was little more than a shoulder in the "debutante slouch." 
Time and again, he placed women's shoulders at center stage, plunging and ascending to guide the viewer around his picture:

Most artists use facial expressions to convey attitude. Raleigh could convey it with shoulders:

Every chance he got, Raleigh looked for excuses to draw bare shoulders and backs (regardless of what he was being paid to illustrate).  Look at his loving treatment of these women and there is no mistaking his personal tastes:  

Why is one artist smitten by the lines and shapes of bare shoulders, while another lavishes attention on hands, and a third finds creative potential in necks?  Some say these preferences stem from cultural conditioning or climate or endocrinology or childhood experiences or intellect or sexual desire.

Whatever the explanation, pictures highlight the features that most appeal to the artist's personal taste.  You or I might walk through this world overlooking the special beauty of shoulder blades and  clavicles, but it's hard to do after viewing them through Raleigh's loving eyes.  We might not end up completely sharing his fetish, but we certainly have a heightened appreciation for what shoulders can be.  And that's a good thing.

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