Monday, November 28, 2011

Illustration's Permanent Homes

I recently discovered Quentin Blake is in the process of setting up a devoted, permanent illustration museum. Excellent, all for it. But I am mystified why he says it's the first in the world. The Cutlers have done their best to do the same in the USA in their own way. The Norman Rockwell Museum isn't just about Rockwell.  The Society of Illustrators' Museum of American Illustration is public. There are other institutions in the US that support subfields of illustration, such as the Eric Carle Museum and the National Museum of Wildlife Art.  In Europe, there is Museo ABC.

I also find it odd that Blake's group has chosen the name "House of Illustration," as this seems to tread awfully close to Illustration House, which as a private commercial gallery has been a fixture for nearly 40 years.

I'm all for the more the merrier, but this kind of cultural poaching is not very merry. If we're to collectively work on the much needed effort to make illustration as valued as other arts, respecting our peers is essential.

I commend Quentin Blake for his efforts. Perhaps he just didn't do his research and the mistakes are innocent.  I hope he revises his PR to more truly reflect the situation, and I invite him to reach out to fellow institutions to make a strong network that would help him achieve his goals.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Giving a Talk on Russell Patterson, Oct 2

If you're in Massachusetts it would be lovely to see you for tea, at the Norman Rockwell Museum on Sunday, Oct. 2. I will be giving the following talk:

Sex, Booze, and All That Jazz:
The Humorous Illustration of Russell Patterson

This illustrated lecture presents the work of Russell Patterson with over 50 images and a film clip. We will examine how his cartoons of the “Patterson Girl” from the 1920s and 30s, like the earlier Gibson Girl, paradoxically symbolized both the excess and the containment of female sexuality in popular culture.
Russell Patterson’s girlie drawings were symptomatic of shifts in courtship, class behaviors, commercial culture, and changing conditions in the field of illustration following World War 1. Patterson helped redefine modern beauty standards and gender performance in comics, puppet shows, advertising, magazines, interior design, fashion design, and beauty contests.
Patterson’s illustrations were a response to a new norm, where illustrators were faced with models’ unprecedented sexual and business autonomy. The tension between the sexes in his work is reflective of the displacement of illustrated print media by the camera and the very models he had helped promote. The increasing tawdriness of his depictions of women may be seen as an attempt to hang on to power by showing what the camera could not, as well as a misogynist mocking of the very sexuality his illustrations celebrate. Widely imitated and famous in his day, Patterson’s masterful black and white line drawings express the rebellious spirit of the jazz age so outrageously that they still charm—and raise eyebrows—today.
Sunday, October 2 at 2:30 p.m.
Norman Rockwell Museum 

Giving a Talk on Robert Weaver Sept 29

Robert Weaver remains one of the more controversial figures in the illustration world. If you're in St Louis, I hope you will come to my presentation:

Blind Spots:
Robert Weaver and Juxtapositions of
Art and Illustration

In the 1950s, renowned illustrator Robert Weaver introduced into magazine illustration a painterliness and immediacy that related it to contemporary art. This put him in the controversial middle between gallery and illustration worlds at exactly the moment when commercial art was being held up by art and culture critics as the epitome of evil. Outspoken Weaver berated both illustrators and modern artists for their respective blind spots, and drove himself to keep looking where others were not. Throughout his life he eschewed singularity of vision for juxtaposition, revealing unseen third meanings. Then, as Weaver developed his interest in the relationship between diachronic and synchronic time and fractured vision, his eyesight began to deteriorate, leaving him seriously visually impaired. Still, he continued making art and speaking out, overcoming his own blind spots. In this talk I will survey Weaver’s career and work, and discuss his all-important defense of illustration as an art form.

Thursday, September 29, 4:30 p.m.
Ginkgo Reading Room, Olin Library, Level 1
Washington University, St Louis


Friday, September 9, 2011

Oscar Cahén: Oct 1-30

I've had my head down working on this project for the last month.... very much looking forward to presenting Oscar Cahén's illustrations from the 1940s and 1950s at Illustration House in New York. We had over 100 original works to go through to select these 35 or so. They're amazing. I've never seen such a versatile illustrator before.
Cahén is to Canadian illustrators what a mixture of Beckhoff, Weaver, Martin Stone, Steinberg and Peak would have been to Americans. He just never got recognition in the US because he did almost all his work for Canadian publications. The Toronto Art Directors Club, however, recognized him every year in multiple awards.
I'm writing a 10,000 word essay to go in a full colour catalogue. Web site is here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"Bad drawing"

We're having a discussion on Leif Peng's blog about the merits of "bad drawing" and when that started to be acceptable. Leif suggested Ben Shahn was the igniter. I have argued that sloppy drawing was in vogue in left-leaning circles going back to Daumier. To support my case, here are three cartoons from the New Yorker from the 1920s. I concede these are cartoons and so the artists had more leeway to break  rules; Shahn certainly managed to get it into "respectable" illustration.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Local art show

I have this work, titled Sleeping Beauty, in the local  juried art show Art in the County. It is on display until July 3rd, at the Old Town Hall in Picton.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Jaleen in Chinatown

This image was taken June 5, 2011 by Raymond St Arnaud. It is for a book he's making of members and ex-members of the Island Illustrators Society, which I belonged to 1991-1997, and about which I wrote my MA thesis. The location is Victoria's Chinatown. My husband George and I had a studio there, and my Grandad had a very funky old books and antiques shop there too throughout my childhood. The window above my head is a studio (once a gambling hall with secret exits and all) where the designer JC Scott hosted many years of an annual erotic art show (held on April Fool's Day). That's the first or second place I ever exhibited artwork in Victoria. And down Fantan Alley I used to model for my friend painter Glenn Howarth. Incidentally, my rebellious great grandmother was known to run through the alley on a dare, in the roaring twenties, when no respectable white woman would be seen in such a place (opium was legal there once). The fuschia cocktail dress speaks to all that history. The image on my computer is my own artwork, an illustration made in 2001 for User Friendly, where I was staff artist. I showed it at the NY Society of Illustrators in Nov 2010. Thanks to Raymond for the excellent work, Island Illustrators past and present, and Fantan Cafe for keeping the lights on ten minutes longer for us.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Victorian thank you letter

This is a page out of a 1891 handmade book thanking Adam Brown, prominent citizen of the City of Hamilton, for his contributions. I believe he was grandfather of illustrator Arthur William Brown. Adam's wife was a seminal influence of the founding of the Hamilton Art School.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Island Illustrators portraits

When I began my professional art career full time in 1990, I joined the Island Illustrators Society in Victoria BC. I served as Editor of the bi-monthly newsletter, and then as President in 1996. Then I moved away. In 2006 I wrote my Masters thesis on the history of the Society and the way they defined illustration and art.

Raymond St Arnaud, another member, has a lovely batch of photographic portraits of current and ex-members here. Pictured above is Barb Weaver Bosson, who with her husband Vic, has been the member of the longest standing.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

I'm giving a talk Friday April 29th on Chatelaine Magazine

I spent all day editing my presentation and making the powerpoint. It came out to 74 slides! I'll be mainly discussing the careers of Chatelaine's women illustrators 1928-1932, which was a high point for them. After that, the Depression reduced their work by half and women never did get that back, while men continued to get work. I will also be saying a bit about why illustrators in general have been left out of Canadian art history. 
The talk will be at the Toronto Arts and Letters Club, around 9pm. Doors open at 8pm. 
Image: Marie Cecilia Guard. Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 17, 2011


The above postage stamp uses a stock photo of the replica statue of Liberty Bringing Enlightenment, according to a BBC report. USPS is unapologetic.

For decades, stamps were a country's proud display of their accomplishment in the arts. Engravers were highly sought after, and artists and photographers were commissioned to do their best. It used to be an honour to be asked. In 2001 USPS issued a series celebrating American illustration. Here is the Rockwell Kent stamp based on Melville's famous book, which among other themes addresses a person's control over their own thoughts and person, ie liberty:

Kent was known for his Communist sympathies, and a rather libertine life. Yet he would never have abided by the Soviet style oppression of liberties, which would have never tolerated Kent's shenanigans in return. He stayed American, his artistic contribution celebrated.

While I'm sure the replica statue photographer is pleased, I doubt he/she made anything more than the same royalty they would have made had it been used for a story in one of those free travel magazines in the back of an airplane seat. Any old shot of Liberty would have sufficed; this person just got lucky that the designer turned them up in a search engine query. I bet the designer at USPS did their own cropping too.

Isn't it a bit hypocritical? Hasn't this nation always championed artistic liberty? Yet by depriving their creative people of the chance to address the theme of liberty in a thoughtful and innovative way, by going with a yawner of an overdone icon long since drained of all but bland unthinking symbolism, they have hampered not just artists' livelihood but liberty of thought too, that is, by not adding to the variety of thought circulating out there.

Conservatives grudgingly had to tolerate Kent, by the way. As they should. Opposition is an important part of thought, of reason, of logic. Liberty allows for opposition in order to refine thought and policy, you know, as in enlightenment.

Stamp art, as representative of good governance, can rightly reflect humanist values. But now they just download something mundane from a corporate stock site. They have taken liberties, not given them. Enlightenment awaits.

[this blog post is dedicated to D.A. :-P]

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Postcard reference books

I'd like to thank Michael J. Smith for his excellent reference books on Canadian postcards, especially the one on patriotic cards. I'll also point to for the above image, which I'm borrowing somewhat naughtily for this post.
Michael's boks are chock full of colour reproductions and meticulous cataloguing, and are a great resource for anyone interested in illustrated ephemera. Check out his essay about Canadian cards here.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Library of congress

It's been a strange couple of weeks, with a lot of family events overlapping my trip to Washington. Despite the distractions I came back with lots of new sources and images to work with. This shot is the roof of the Library of Congress's main reading room.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Graphic designers wrestle with consciences

There's a dust-up in the design community over this poster. The basic issue is: effective and smart way to fundraise, or despicable self-promotion?

Many designers are objecting to the guy who made the poster putting his logo and contact info on it, with no contact info for a charity. He says he is forwarding proceeds from the sale of this poster to Red Cross.

He doesn't specify but we shall assume he is keeping some money to cover the cost of business. How much? We won't ever know.

But hang on. Registered charities don't exactly advertise how much they keep either. Leaving their name off allows the viewer to consider whatever charity they like. As for signing it, I really prefer knowing who is behind a message. AND - since when did designers frown upon other designers receiving credit for their work, not to mention compensation? Haven't we been trying to get those rights through the heads of clients and students and the public?

The designer and purchaser here are also accused of indulging in "disaster porn." This is a paradox that is inherent in visual and even written communication: you can't show something and control exactly how it is to be taken. Some people will always read against the "preferred reading" (author's intent). As for the charge of exploiting a tragedy --- well, that will only hold true if he keeps more money than he'd have been paid by Red Cross if they'd commissioned the poster.

Why do we bother developing our talents if we're only going to be condemned for using them?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Alan Gowans, rogue art historian

I was excited that someone at UVic remembered and appreciated Alan Gowans enough to get this long overdue memorial together last year. He was a rogue art historian, bold enough to not only completely turn his back on the mega-powerful New York intellectuals of the 1950s (Greenberg et al), but gutsy enough to tell them what was wrong with them too. Unfortunately, few listened. Gowans rewrote art history, putting illustration at its core instead of at the periphery. But his willingness to live on the margins of North America (my hometown, Victoria) and of art theory meant that he did not really join the discourse so much as yell at it from behind a closed door. His best insights were compromised by an off-hand manner, casual writing style,  and disregard for citations. One of these days I will return to his work and put it through a rigorous analysis, as it deserves.

More nutty package design

Turkish coffee, complete with traditional Turkish coffee pot, traditional Turkish mosque, traditional-sounding Turkish-ish brand name "Barzula", and traditional Turkish Mexican.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Russian poster collection

The caption translates as "Let's Build Thoroughly!" As crappy as Soviet Russia turned out to be under Stalin, a lot of the graphics were sure marvelous. We could only dream of such empowered images of women here in North America in the 1930s.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Resurrection of the blog

A few years ago I chose LiveJournal over Blogger. I have decided to switch back to Blogger because LJ just got silly with ads, spam, and not migrating well to mobile media etc. Plus, more of my friends are now on Blogger.

I'll repost the odd thing from the now defunct LJ blog, but if you were looking for something you remember from there and can't find it, email me.