Saturday, May 27, 2017

THE OLD HOUSE ON TANGLEWOOD LANE, chapter 5

One night Bernie Fuchs awoke to noises in his studio on Tanglewood Lane.  He found his friend, the great illustrator Robert Fawcett, highly inebriated.  

It was not uncommon for illustrators who were working late to get together to paint and drink and talk about the art business.  Fawcett had stopped in for a chat (the door to the studio was always unlocked) and tipped over a chair.  Fuchs gave Fawcett coffee and sent him home in a cab. 

The following morning Fuchs discovered that Fawcett had come across Fuchs's checkbook lying out on a table and written himself a check on Bernie's account.


Fawcett drunkenly signed Bernie's name to the check, then left it behind.

Fuchs was so delighted he pinned the check to his bulletin board next to his easel.  It remained there for the rest of his life.  "Bob," he recalled fondly, "Was the first great illustrator I met when I moved to Westport."

Some nights the royalty of American illustration-- artists such as Mark English and Bob Heindel-- would sit around that Tanglewood studio, talking and working.  Heindel recalled,  "I liked hanging out with those guys.  The better your competition was, the better your own work was going to be."  He continued,  "Any time you worked on something and you knew that Bernie was involved, you knew that you had to do the very best you could possibly do. He brought that out in people.  And if you ever competed with Bernie, you knew going into it that he was going to beat the shit out of you.  But we never let the competition get in the way.  We are truly good friends."

For long years that generation of talented illustrators worked to do exciting and new things.  They got together, commented on each other's work, discussed how artists were mistreated and how to improve their profession. They transformed the direction of American illustration and changed the rights of artists for the generations that followed.

Today the studio is empty, stripped bare in preparation for the bulldozers.  Nothing left but the ghosts of what took place here. 


The local newspaper, Westport Now, considers it nothing more than "the Teardown of the Day."



But important and remarkable things happened here once.

The poet Isabel Allende urged, "write it down before it is erased by the wind."  My hope in writing down the story of Fuchs and his art is to prevent it from being erased by the wind.  


A final view of the window of Bernie Fuchs' studio, courtesy of the Westport blog, 06880



Thursday, May 25, 2017

THE OLD HOUSE ON TANGLEWOOD LANE, chapter 4


As years went by, more houses were built on Tanglewood Lane.  The residents decided they merited a street sign at the entrance.   Because it was a private street, the residents would normally have to pay for their own sign. But Bernie Fuchs volunteered to paint one.

He took a board, painted it white and hand lettered the words, "Tanglewood Lane."





Fuchs' artwork may look free and spontaneous, but he started his training in the rigorous world of car illustration where he had to master technical drawing and lettering.


Fuchs' pictures had to satisfy committees of automotive engineers who inspected every hubcap and headlight to make sure they conformed to specifications.  Long after he graduated from illustrating car brochures, the skills remained and Fuchs could summon them up whenever his neighbors needed a street sign.

The only time I ever saw Fuchs look smug was when I asked who did the very impressive lettering on one of his illustrations.  He gave me a look that was downright cocky.   Fuchs was a humble man and never mentioned his many honors and awards but he was clearly proud that he had paid his dues and knew how to do his own lettering.

Today, illustrators using Photoshop Text have no need for such skills.  But it mattered that Fuchs was able to experiment from a position of strength.  He knew enough about mechanical drawing, perspective, realistic painting, lettering and other skills so that he could choose what to abandon and what to retain, rather than developing a style around his inadequacies.

For decades, visitors to Tanglewood Lane didn't realize they were driving past an original Bernie Fuchs painting.  Recently the new residents decided to replace their sign with a new, mechanically produced version.




Tuesday, May 23, 2017

THE OLD HOUSE ON TANGLEWOOD LANE, chapter 3


Bernie Fuchs and his wife Anna Lee (known to all as Babe) in front of their new house        

In 1961 when the young Bernie Fuchs moved his family into the house on Tanglewood Lane, no one could've anticipated the explosive decade ahead.  The 1960s shook the whole field of illustration just as they shook the country.

The 60s brought revolutions in art, music and literature.  Assassinations, political unrest over civil rights, women's rights and the Vietnam War created great volatility and ferment.  A handful of illustrators sensed the new creative possibilities and were quick to jump the fence.

Illustrations that were merely representational in the 1950s exploded with energy in the 1960s:

Left side by an unknown artist in 1956, right side by Fuchs in 1961. See my earlier post comparing such images. 

Wild new DayGlo colors and psychedelic combinations changed the world's palette.  Bright orange was pitted against shocking pink.  Turquoise was pitted against purple. Writing and collage were introduced into illustrations:




Bold new leaders and radical political trends inspired bold new graphic treatments:

Martin Luther King done with an abstract expressionist's flair

An impressionistic treatment matched the youth and vigor of John F. Kennedy 

Illustrators took unprecedented liberties, leading public taste rather than catering to it:








Not only did illustration look different at the end of the 60s, but so did illustrators.

Compare the fresh faced kid at the top of this post with the hippie version of Bernie Fuchs

The white hot innovations of the 60s were still playing out 50 years later.  An uncanny number of these innovations were plotted in the art studio over the garage at 3 Tanglewood Lane:



If the city of Westport had a lick of sense, they'd put a bronze plaque on the studio rather than demolishing it .


Monday, May 22, 2017

THE OLD HOUSE ON TANGLEWOOD LANE, chapter 2

After World War II, the illustration market heated up again.  Westport illustrator Al Parker recalled, 
At the end of the war, the illustrator strutted amidst a pageant of plenty. Advertising budgets had skyrocketed and magazines bulged with fiction, providing work for all who painted in the style of the innovators.
It was also a profession dominated almost exclusively by male illustrators.

During this era Arpi and Suren Ermoyan--one of the power couples of illustration-- moved into the house on Tanglewood Lane. They purchased it from R.G. Harris in 1953 and Harris moved back west to Arizona. 

 Arpi was one of the very few women to become a respected illustrator in those days.

illustration from Cosmopolitan Magazine, June 1953

The novelty of a woman illustrator did not escape attention:

Cosmopolitan clipping from Leif Peng's Today's Inspiration




She went on to become the Director of the Society of Illustrators and author of one of the premier books on illustration, Famous American Illustrators.  She worked at the prestigious ad agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach, and curated gallery exhibitions of illustration art.  She was a multidisciplinary force to contend with. Today illustration is no longer a boy's club, but surprisingly I've yet to hear a contemporary woman illustrator acknowledge Arpi Ermoyan's contribution in the early years.

Illustrators in Westport during this era used each other for models all the time, and Arpi was a favorite. As Cosmopolitan Magazine noted, neighboring illustrators would stop by the house on Tanglewood Lane and before you know it, Arpi had to "put aside her drawing board and start modeling."  Several great illustrators of the era were inspired by her striking good looks and painted her into their illustrations:

Arpi by John LaGatta

Arpi by Austin Briggs
Arpi by Bernie Fuchs

Arpi's husband, Suren, was the highly regarded art director for a number of the top magazines of the day. In 1948 he was the young art editor at Cosmopolitan who first paired illustrator Robert Fawcett with the famous Sherlock Holmes series.  He was later the art director at Town & Country.  The year that he and Arpi moved into the house on Tanglewood Lane, Suren left Town & Country to become art director at Good Housekeeping. Arpi and Suren lived happily in the old house on Tanglewood Lane from 1953 to 1961, while Westport was a buzzing hive of creative activity.
  
By 1961, illustration had turned another page and the Ermoyans sold the house to the new kid in town, Bernie Fuchs.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

THE OLD HOUSE ON TANGLEWOOD LANE, chapter 1


They’re tearing down the house at 3 Tanglewood Lane in Westport Connecticut. 

The house was built in 1920, when Westport was growing from a sleepy farm community to a village where artists, musicians and writers could live inexpensively and commute to New York City.


Westport quickly became a Mecca for American illustrators and over the years the house on Tanglewood Lane served as the home for one generation of illustrator after another-- illustrators such as Robert George Harris, Arpi Ermoyan and Bernie Fuchs.


The artists got married, raised kids, and worked far into the night to meet deadlines.  They struggled for artistic accomplishment as times and styles changed.  In good times, the old house acquired a new studio or a swimming pool.  Whether good times or bad, the ivy from the adjacent forest always nibbled away at the house, trying to reclaim it for nature.   Eventually each illustrator moved on, passing the house to the next generation. 

Today illustrators are mostly gone from Westport.  The last time I took a cab from the Westport train station, the cab driver cursed the "fucking yuppie bankers" who he said had invaded the town and were tearing down the gracious old homes to build modern mansions.  Apparently investment bankers don't tip as well as illustrators.

All this week I’m going to tell you stories about the illustrators who lived at 3 Tanglewood Lane and the art they produced.

Robert George Harris rode his motorcycle from Kansas all the way to New York to seek his fortune as an illustrator.  In 1935 he married Marjorie Elenora King and they moved to the house in the woods on Tanglewood Lane to raise a family.  

Harris started out painting lurid pulp magazine covers on the outskirts of respectability: 



But gradually, his work became more refined and genteel.  So did the illustration field.  So did Westport.  The "slicks" (high class magazines printed on coated paper) were having their heyday.  Harris began working for McCall’s, The Saturday Evening Post, The Ladies' Home Journal, and Redbook 





He also began doing lucrative advertising work.  He developed a trademark of pretty girls with impossibly high eyebrows.





As he prospered, Harris was able to build a high ceilinged studio over the garage with great big windows for plenty of light. 

By the 1950s, Harris had gone from painting gunfights for Wild West Weekly to painting cute domestic scenes using his own kitchen in the house on Tanglewood Lane for the backgrounds. 



By 1953, his children were older and Harris was ready to move on.  He sold the house to a power couple of American illustration, Arpi and Suren Ermoyan.  We'll talk about them next.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

FOR THE LEYENDECKER FANS OUT THERE




In my latest column for The Saturday Evening Post I've posted several close ups from original oil paintings by J.C. Leyendecker, so you can see his brush strokes and the finer details of his work. For some reason I can get bigger and sharper images through the Post's web site than I can on blogger.  Take a look!

The close ups are courtesy of the fabulous Kelly Collection of American Illustration. 





Tuesday, May 02, 2017

W. HEATH ROBINSON AT THE DELAWARE ART MUSEUM



photo©The William Heath Robinson Trust.

If you aren’t a fan of the great English illustrator W. Heath Robinson, it’s probably because you haven’t found time to visit the marvelous exhibition of his work at the Delaware Art Museum. It’s a rare opportunity, and one you shouldn't let pass by.


photo©The William Heath Robinson Trust.

The show is the first one man exhibition of Robinson’s work in the United States and includes some of the top pictures from the Heath Robinson Museum in London (which apparently owns the mother lode of Robinson art).  If you don't make it to Delaware before the exhibition closes on May 21, you'll have to travel all the way to England to see these originals.

photo©The William Heath Robinson Trust.

photo©The William Heath Robinson Trust.


photo©The William Heath Robinson Trust.


I thought I knew Robinson’s work well; I've long admired his elegant design and his graceful, imaginative line work.  But seeing original illustrations such as the following half title from A Midsummer Night's Dream up close and personal gives you a whole different sense for the artist's accomplishment.

photo©The William Heath Robinson Trust.

 That swarm of fairies in the summer air is matched only by the loving treatment of the distinctive designs in the summer grass.

 Many people know Robinson's work for his bizarre inventions...
 
photo©The William Heath Robinson Trust.


 ...but it turns out that Robinson was also a serious lifelong painter, and there are examples of his landscape paintings and other serious watercolors in the show's nearly 70 works. 


photo©The William Heath Robinson Trust.

The exhibition offers a real reminder about the art of drawing with elegance and charm, but it also shows us a prolific artist who, despite a backbreaking load of commercial advertising and illustration work, took his artistic standards very seriously, and "tried all through my life as an artist to keep this side of my work alive.”

FOR MORE GREAT ROBINSON:

Recently The Saturday Evening Post selected me to be their new art critic (proving once again that there is no accounting for taste).   I've posted several additional works from the Robinson show, along with my full critique of the show, in my column there.  I urge you to take a look.

While you're there, you might be interested in some of my other columns on illustration.  The Post has generously made available to me their full archive of illustrations, so if you're interested in seeing more work from any of the great Post illustrators (which included just about everybody) let me know.  

Many thanks.