Sunday, 24 June 2012

TEAM ARTWORK

Comic artist Will Elder described how he and Harvey Kurtzman made art on an assembly line:
We had to bring in guys to help make [Little Annie Fanny]. We rented a suite at the Algonquin Hotel in New York, turned on every light in the suite, and with the assistance of Frank Frazetta, Jack Davis, Al Jaffee, Russ heath and Arnold Roth, we were able to make our deadlines. It was a great time, ordering eggs benedict, orange juice and plenty of coffee.
Will Elder,  Jack Davis and Frank Frazetta combined
We set up an assembly line type of arrangement : some of the guys were doing backgrounds, some were doing other details.  We were following Harvey's layouts.  After one artist was done with his part of the work, he'd pass it on to the next guy who would fill in the next step of the story.  It would eventually get back to Harvey, who was such a perfectionist that he often had changes to the work.  He would mark the work with his changes and send it back to the assembly line unbeknownst to the artists who thought they were done with that panel.  Suddenly I heard Jaffee say, "Hey, this is the third time I did this panel."  To which Harvey replied, "Do it again!"  We laughed a lot, but we worked very hard.  
Judge and police on the left by Elder, police on the right by Davis, Annie by Frazetta

When you examine the originals, you see how these artists blended their distinctive styles to create seamless images.   Like solo performers singing together in harmony, each understood what the job required and worked toward a common goal.



We like to think of picture-making as a highly personal expression of taste, uncompromised by groups and committees.

But a surprising percentage of art is collaborative: 19th century illustrators teamed with talented wood engravers who redrew each picture and carved it into a wooden block so it could be printed. The drawings of comic artists are often inked by other artists.  Digital illustrators such as the prominent Mirko Ilic create images by preparing rough conceptual sketches which helpers then use to construct computer images.

Perhaps the largest, most ambitious "group effort" between artists these days is the animated film.  If you watch the (very long) credits after films such as Pixar's splendid new Brave, you'll see the names of hundred of artists roll by, each one making his or her contribution to a blended work of art.

Group art has the unfortunate effect of diluting individual artistic personalities. For example, animated films are  corporate artwork, polished and refined by so many hands that it is sometimes difficult to see the fingerprints of any individual artist in the end product.  Yet they are also epic achievements that could not be achieved by any individual artist.  In fact, most of the collaborations listed above were essential to achieve a particular result.

There is a separate pleasure from watching well teamed artists interacting.  One of my favorite parts of Martin Scorsese's concert film, The Last Waltz,  is watching the eyes and subtle exchanges between musicians at work.  When Eric Clapton is in the middle of a brisk guitar solo, his guitar strap unexpectedly breaks (at :47).  Clapton stops mid note to clutch at his guitar, but the audience doesn't notice because guitarist Robbie Robertson jumps in, improvising a riff without missing a beat.  He watches Clapton out of the corner of his eye and once the strap is fixed,  Robertson smoothly returns the lead.


A great example of the telepathy between working artists.

Whether in a suite at the Algonquin Hotel or on a concert stage in San Francisco, there is a special kind of pleasure from watching talented professionals combine their talents in harmony.