Monday, September 27, 2010

For What It's Worth No. 24

I always wanted to be Seymour Chwast. I can remember the day I got The Push Pin Style in the mail back in 1971. I was like a kid at Christmas, I poured over every image, read it cover to cover and left it on the night stand kind of like when I was a kid I would take my Christmas presents to bed with me that first night—this was that kind of night. The volume was a hardcover, slipcased catalog of the studio's exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris—the Louvre no less. The exhibit travelled all over Europe, South America and Japan. The book reprints over 448 examples of the studio's innovative design work for advertising, book and record covers, magazine illustrations, posters and other graphics by the members of the studio.

Sure it wasn't just Seymour's work I was looking at but his made the most impression on me; I wanted to draw like Seymour. I hadn't felt that way since grade school when Harry Miller was the best drawer in class and I was a distant second; his poster of the Easter bunny graced the third grade classroom wall until I asked Harry if I could have it and then it became my treasure. The Push Pin Style had a major influence on my career as an illustrator and designer, it shaped my view of illustration as a powerful art form, it showed me how design and illustration can work together, it opened doors to all sorts of possibilities. It planted firmly in mind that one day I too would be working in New York. I had just graduated from college in Austin, was starting an advertising agency and wanted to combine strong concept, wit and illustration in all our projects. Push Pin Style showed me that it could be done.

The folks at Push Pin revolutionized illustration—there's a wonderful interview with co-founder Edward Sorel in this issue of 3x3 where he talks about the early, heady days at the studio and how warm the reception was to their new style of illustration and design. I'm not exactly sure how we illustrators arrive at our style—perhaps a series of happy accidents—but you can certainly trace back influences in every illustrator's work. Mine relied heavily on Alan Cober, Murray Tinkleman, Seymour Chwast, Franklin McMahon and R.O. Blechman and yet as I finished copying each style it all melted into something that looked like none of the above. Or perhaps parts of the above.

It was interesting to see that it happens with all artists. Coincidentally I watched a program on Marcel Duchamp this weekend and discovered that Duchamp started out interpreting the styles of the times imitating Cezanne, Monet, Picasso—my art history classes never covered his earler paintings. He moved from style to style discarding one for another until his ultimate triumph: his Cubist-riff Nude Descending the Staircase. Then he stopped painting. He once said that he grew bored with each style once he had mastered it; he didn't become the Duchamp we know until after he stopped copying. The Ready-Made—the non-art is what he's famous for; with this he was totally original.

I'm often puzzled and dismayed when I see work that is so heavily influenced by present-day illustrators, my hope is that these illustrators too are just on the brink of creating something truly original and not just a copy.


  1. Regarding your last paragraph:
    I’m a big supporter of all of your initiatives and in particular 3x3 magazine. I think it’s great to encourage and reward new work and authentic visual voices. I’ve always enjoyed the articles and look forward to seeing new issues. When I received my latest issue of 3x3 magazine I though “Oh good! Another article about the brilliant Brian Cronin”. As everyone knows, Brian has for many years contributed gorgeous original thoughtful art to the culture. It has taken him years to developed his authentic and personal visual vocabulary.
    Well to my surprise I discovered that the article doesn’t celebrate Brian Cronin but rather his imitator Paul Blow.
    Brian Cronin has influenced many artists over the years, but this goes far beyond that. I’m saddened to see that such an influential magazine would reward such blatant plagiarism.

  2. Obviously I don't see the resemblance, nor do most of the art director's I've shown it to. We are not in a habit of promoting "copies" and in fact I have gone out of my way to make sure those that do are not included in our magazine or our shows.

    I spoke out loudly when Dick Krepel was featured on the front cover of the CA Illustration Annual 44. His image appeared as if he'd laid one of Brian's pieces on a light table and traced it! My letter was posted in the next issue.

    And I continue to speak out.

    What you may not know is that I chastised a young Canadian illustrator personally in a series of emails when he ripped-off Gary Taxali.

    I spoke with Jean-Manuel Duvivier when his work came too close to Jeffery Fisher's and refused to accept any work that was an imitation.

    I was instrumental in pulling a student finalist's work during the Zankel jurying process this year because it looked like a rip-off of Andrew Hem.

    In a conversation with Anelle Miller I objected to a piece that's in the current SOI Student Show that is a direct rip-off of David Hughes which I hope will lead to less unoriginal work. And I pulled the same student who had entered the professional show for the same reason and chastised him for ripping off Hughes, he actually contacted David and apologized.

    And I pulled a piece from our own show No. 7 that was way too close to Brian Cronin even after the judges had voted the piece in.

    And I have to also tell you that in my advertising days I was a pretty good faker of almost any style out there. I would do comps so close to an artist's work that the client would often think it was the finish and then I'd have to battle with them to hire the original artist so I know how to fake something meaning if I put my mind to it I could fake a pretty good Cronin. So in that respect I see no comparison between the Brian Cronin that I know and the Paul Blow that I know.

    Granted I haven't followed either Brian or Paul's careers in any great detail previous to 2002 so perhaps there were more similarities in the past but when I look at Brian's work--current and what he has up on his archive page with Renee Rhyner I see absolutely no similarities in style or content to Paul's.

    The figure drawings are different, the color palette is more subdued with Brian, Paul's backgrounds are simple, Brian's are complex, Paul's are flat, Brian's are textured and messy. Paul's drawings are much more commercial, Brian's more ethereal. Brian's lines are thin, Paul's are thick. Brian's figures are stylized, Paul's are realistic. And I could go on but hopefully you see that I see absolutely no connection between the two. No one artist owns the right to conceptual art; we all owe a debt to Magritte.

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