Showing posts from June, 2006


George Nathan once wrote, "art is the sex of the imagination."

That strikes me as a pretty dumb thing to say. However, it does serve as a useful springboard for talking about the intriguing relationship between art and love.

Maxfield Parrish was 33, a successful illustrator living on a grand country estate, when he first met Sue Lewin. She was a 16 year old girl from a nearby farm town hired to help Parrish and his wife care for their two young children. Because Parrish's wife would no longer pose for him, he drafted their young nanny to pose in fairy tale costumes.

Lewin soon became his muse, modeling for his most famous illustrations.

Eventually Parrish moved out of the mansion where his wife and children stayed and set up residence in his art studio so that he and Lewin could work closely together. Not long after that, Parrish's wife began taking their children away on extended trips.

The villagers from the tiny farm town were scandalized by this living arrangement an…


Don't feel bad that you've never heard of Ervine Metzl. No one else has either.

In the 1920s, the Chicago Rapid Transit Company employed a small staff of artists to create subway posters to encourage ridership. The audience was mostly harried commuters who were fighting their way through crowded stations coated with soot and grit. Most of the posters were predictably mediocre. But one of the artists, Ervine Metzl, sat at his board and created timeless designs that transcended the narrow limitations of his forum and his assignment.

Metzl later found work illustrating for Fortune Magazine. He wrote a book which no one reads anymore about illustrating posters. Then he trundled off to oblivion. But while he was working on art like this, he connected with something far larger and more permanent than himself. No matter how little he got paid, and no matter how little he is remembered today, there is something perfectly True about these wonderful designs. This process may be the best s…


Australian war illustrator Ivor Hele painted jungle fighting in New Guinea during World War II. One day, three men in his unit were killed. Their bodies were left sprawled in the mud while the remaining troops scrambled to dig foxholes. Hele, who felt the tragedy must be recorded, crouched by the bodies to draw them. The soldiers watched him in grim silence.
Then it began to rain.
Without a word, several soldiers left the safety of their foxholes to build a makeshift shelter over Hele with sticks and a tarp so he could finish the precious drawing. These soldiers, who were in the midst of battling for their own lives, felt that Hele's drawing of their fallen comrades was so important that it was worth the risk. Hele later recalled their gesture as "my most moving event in New Guinea."

I would guess these soldiers did not have highly refined taste in art. They would probably flunk a quiz on the difference between modernism and postmodernism. Yet, Hele's experience shows…


Sometimes it takes the greatest amount of self-discipline to capture the things that are most free and elusive. You might think that painting water-- that most fluid, shimmering substance-- would permit an illustrator to indulge in the wildest excesses. But I was surprised to discover that some of the painters who are best at capturing the freedom of water can only do so using the most exacting self-discipline and control. (There's probably a metaphor for life in there somewhere.)

Stanley Meltzoff, whose spectacular paintings are featured in this and my previous post, described to me a similar process for painting water:

So far as I can tell depicting water depends on following the complex rules of illumination, refraction, reflection, color absorption, distortions of all these by the shape of the waves and the color of the bottom and supended particles, all in perspective. There are now computer dependent rules for depicting water in different wave shapes and lighting used by anima…