Rob Dunlavey
July 2010
Field Trip Part 1: William Steig & Lisbeth Zwerger
I took a few days off recently and visited western Massachusetts where, there are a few really good art museums. In this post, I’ll review two exhibits I really wanted to see: the William Steig (NY Times obit) show at the Norman Rockwell Museum and a retrospective of Lisbeth Zwergers children’s book illustrations at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.
In Part 2, I’ll talk about the "Picasso looks at Degas" show at The Clark Art Institute, some reflections on The Williams College Art Museum and The Petah Coyne exhibit at Mass MoCA.
© estate of William Steig
I drove to Stockbridge and the Norman Rockwell Museum on Saturday morning. It was a rainy, summer weekend so the place was filled with busloads of tourists there to gawk at Norman Rockwell's Americana. But the show I came to see was an exhibit of William Steig's cartoons, New Yorker covers and children's book illustrations. The exhibit included sculptures by Jeanne Steig, William Steig's widow and coauthor of several of his books. The cartoons covered a number of themes: Clowns, Angels & Demons, Artists at Work, People in Love and others. According to the exhibit copy, Steig created 1676 cartoons and 123 cover illustrations for the New Yorker from 1930-2003! I lingered and roamed the exhibit, criss-crossing the three rooms, dodging parents with cranky children, marooned husbands and a group of Young Republican types on a field trip from some nearby academic camp.
There was nowhere to sit down and cogitate so I ate my lunch in the car and finally headed off back East in the drizzle for Amherst where the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is located.
A reception for and talk by the great Austrian children's book illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger was the nucleus for my trip out west. The exhibit is a retrospective that clarifies the two major phases in her career. Lisbeth Zwerger was recognized early in her career and in 1990 was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen medal, a coveted European award for children's book illustration.
She's always been drawn to classic fairy tales and the earlier work shows her admiration for Carl Larssen and Arthur Rackham. Her figures have a loose-limbed grotesque character that is accented by her lyrical sepia pen line and atmospheric watercolor washes. The other half of her oeuvre displays a purposeful distancing from the European fairy tale style to a more psychological and emotional theater-like space. During a talk on Sunday, she compared her early version of the Nutcracker story and a more recently published version. You’ll have to compare the two and decide for yourself that you prefer. She made an eloquent argument in favor of her artistic integrity and the price to be paid for fame with an easily copied style. Consequently, she went deeper into her self and the classic texts and created an original approach that has little to do with technique and materials.
After touring the exhibit with some friends (the talented James Steinberg among them -picture to the right) we settled into the auditorium for a Q & A session led by founding director and exhibit curator Nick Clark, Lisbeth Zwerger and her long-time publisher Michael Neugebauer. Many luminaries were present ( I spied Jerry Pinkney in the crowd) and I had the pleasure of chatting with Leonard Marcus, Etienne Delessert, Barbara McClintock and Leslie Breen Withrow.
The surprise of the evening was Neugebauer’s announcement that he was donating his extensive collection of Lisbeth Zwerger’s original art to the Eric Carle Museum.
Le weekend
A personal project: cardboard, colored pencil, white glue, watercolor
A nation of second home owners streams out of the city for a bit of R & R down by the Midi or up in the French Alps. In these dog days, even the dogs clear out.
I delivered the job and my invoice two weeks before « les vacances nationales »… when will I see my euros? À la rentrée? Je l'espère!!
Bon weekend!
cars 4 sale
Space Invader
Upscale Suburban Practical!
His True Love
All-Terrain Vehicle
Lunar Dragster
Boxy and Bullet-Proof.
State of The Union
Just stating the obvious
Keeping cool?
Summer Cleaning
It's a quiet day, July 3rd. Kids are at camp for a few weeks. The suburbs have emptied out. Things are loose. Sort of. It's always sort of loose in this business (self-employed artist) singing for your supper …every damn day. At least for me. Some of you may be more disciplined, thick-skinned and unhampered by thoughtfulness. It's not a debilitating indecision but I find that things take longer than expected and one symptom is that it's hard to toss things out. Here's one example.
Back in 2005 I accepted an art director position for an educational software developer in San Francisco. The job required long phone conferences with software people, engineers, writers, project managers, animators and teachers. They'd never had an art director. You know the drill: the product is stylistically all over the place and somehow they've take a brave leap to polish things up and clean up their act. They've sweated it out long enough and now not only have they earned the right to a make-over, they NEED it!
I would sketch hundreds of drawings to flesh out our vision of the content and they would be reinterpreted by a band of free-lance animators and Flash programmers. Over the year or two that I worked for them, I amassed a big pile of drawings of teenagers and teachers in various educational settings. Sketches I'm certain will have no use for any other application. I suppose it's possible, but probably not. Why do we save sketches? Do you?? Sketches are raw material. In these ones I drew on all my years of training to make interesting drawings of people doing uninteresting things.
I sorted through them this morning and tossed out about half and put the rest in a binder. Maybe next year, in a similar pique, I'll weed that binder by half again. I have boxes of sketches for editorial jobs too. Why? They're old business and they clutter up life. I want to be free of all that but yet I hang on to them!
Illustrators make sketches. That's what we do. For this extraordinary skill, we get paid. Imagine a business where somebody (your client) thinks of something and needs to SEE it but can't draw to save their life. Bring in the illustrator/artist/designer and things start moving again.
There was a time when I had a few more brain cells and sketches would get weeded through as soon as the job ended. Certain preparatory files were deleted and things got cleaned up and curated. Maybe kids happened, or some other insidious life perturbation and I found all the sketches (and files) piling up. Piles!
This particular job ended with a whimper and the relationship slowed to an ambiguous end. So I saved the sketches. You never know, they might want them for some reason… I do have scans and those are all archived… why keep the analog versions?
In this paper bag: a bunch that are headed to the recycling. I feel lighter already!
I definitely saved that Noah Woods paper promo cover though!
Maybe I'll use them in another project: do I really want to do this type of work? Educational software? Really?? Pictures of people scratching their heads, writing, talking, doing math problems? I don't think so! I'd rather draw castles, cars, eagles, elves, flowers, boats and monkeys. Anything but politically correct teenagers.
I am a draftsman and these drawings are evidence of this facility. So it's really just vanity isn't it?
These things will never reside in the climate-controlled rare-drawings collection at the Metropolitan Museum or the Louvre along with Raphael, Michaelangelo and Degas… but they were commercial artists (sort of) and not so different from me. Weren't they? 
Summer is a time for dreaming and somehow, among all the nests in my hair, there's one filled with a dream of Gulley Jimson: impractical and always hoping that the best lies ahead somewhere. Even these pedestrian, workaday drawings point the way from ephemeral problem-solving thought to something larger than life. It's hard to let go of that but then again, it's hard to climb a steep mountain with too many things in your hands.
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