The Masters of Illustration

22 juin 2017

The Art of Illustration is a completely separate world in which great artists have distinguished themselves. Among them, masters of the 1950s and 1960s who inspired generations of illustrators. Let’s discover them.

Miroslav Sasek, the famous unknown.

Born on November 16, 1916 in Prague, Czech Republic, Miroslav Sasek is an international reference for illustrators. If this name does not ring a bell, his drawings made the joy and happiness of American, British and even French children in the 1960s. After studying architecture in his native city, he fled Czechoslovakia after the coup of Prague in 1948 to settle in Munich, Bavaria. In Germany, thanks to Pavel Tigrid, a great figure of Czechoslovak exile, he worked for Radio Free Europe a few years before devoting himself entirely to painting and illustration. If he had illustrated some storybooks, it was only with a particular series that his stroke of pencil gained all its magnitude... In 1959, he illustrated masterfully a youth book entitled "Paris". He will continue his momentum, and his series of portraits of cities, ten titles in total (London 1959, Rome 1960, New York 1960 or Washington 1969) as well as countries, five titles including Ireland (1965), Greece (1966) and Australia (1970), are universally successful and won numerous prizes. Four of them will even be adapted into animated films.

For Olga Cerna, a current author of children's books and whose grandmother was Sasek's cousin, the drawings of the Czech master have not aged. "The pictures were joyous, funny! I liked the slightest details. For example, in the book on Paris, there are two pages devoted to cats, or to the different types of bread. There are always a lot of people in his books. I think that's what kids like; that they are not only monuments, but that the images are alive, that he must have the sense of the atmosphere of a place to get the most out of it. I did not travel a lot but, when I discovered the West, when I went to Paris and Greece; I realized that the places were the same as in the books, even 30 or 40 years later. "

Miroslav Sasek disappeared in 1980 at the age of 63 in Wettingen, Switzerland, and, despite the success of his lifetime, he was forgotten in the following decades, but one of his publishers, the tenacious Casterman, began in 2009 a reissue of his portraits of cities. Telerama wrote about that: “They are today reissued and, by miracle, Sasek's drawing, elegant, inventive, brushes the burlesque and gives movement to these imposed figures of the illustrated city. His light and lively character gives rhythm." A rhythm that never stops.

Jim Flora, between Jazz and childhood

Any amateur and passionate of Jazz has necessarily crossed the great pencil stroke of Jim Flora, who illustrated from 1942, the music albums of Columbia Records and RCA Victor. He became known around 1950 through a few famous pockets like those of Gene Krupa or Bix Beiderbecke. James (Jim) Flora was born in Ohio in January 1914, after studying at the Art Academy in Cicinatti. His long artistic career led him to illustrate in the world of the press, advertising and commerce. His humorous and "diabolical" approach, sometimes even to the limit of abstraction, mixing absurdity and violence, shocks then the conservative manners of the time. Yet, his feature is rounded, tender, and calm when it comes to operating and illustrating in the universe of literature for children.

He himself was the father of five children. He wrote and illustrated seventeen books for youth, the first of which was published in 1955. Until his retirement in 1970, he worked with the famous publisher Margaret McElderry in Harcourt Brace (1957) and issued some best-sellers as The Fabulous Firework Family (1955), The Day the Cow Sneezed (1957), Charlie Yup and His Snip-Snap Boys (1959) or also Leopold, The See-Through Crumbpicker (1961).

After spending some time in Mexico and in the United States, Jim Flora died at the age of 84 in July 1998 in Connecticut. Inspired by the work of painters and artists like Joan Miro and Paul Klee, the personal work of Jim Flora has influenced and still influences the Art of Illustration and Graphics. Mission accomplished for him who declared, that all he wanted to do was to "create a small movement of excitement".

Charley Harper, animinimalist

An exemplary illustrator of the modernist trend of the 1960s in the United States, Charley Harper was unrivaled in giving animals an undeniable presence combined with impressive stylization. Most of his work was done in the context of magazines, posters or books on nature. Born in Frenchton, in Virginie, in 1922, Harper came from a family of farmers with whom he grew up and spent his childhood in the country. Being young, the first animal to have fascinated him was... the mosquito! This insect seems to be walking on the water in the marshes, intrigues Harper by drawing the rounds left on the water as it passes. This was the subject of his first paintings and for a long time one of those subjects preferred. Older, he hesitates professionally to become a journalist but eventually he joined the Cincinnati School of Art where he will study the theory of color with Josef Albers and meet his wife Eddie. He was called up for his military service and then, at the beginning of his professional career, he was a professor of drawing at his former school and also carried out advertising work for a company before later embarking on as a full-time independent illustrator. In his career as an illustrator, he made many illustrations for books but also for national parks. "When I look at an object of wildlife or nature, I do not see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings. I see exciting shapes, combinations of colors, patterns, textures, fascinating behaviors and an infinite number of possibilities for making interesting photos. I consider the image as an ecosystem in which all elements are intimately linked, interdependent, perfectly balanced, without useless parts, and this is where the attraction of painting is. Iin a world of chaos, the image is a small rectangle in which the artist can create an ordered universe."

His style is described as minimalist realism because he tried to grasp only the essence of his subject with as little element as possible. Harper will become a commercial illustrator and be bored quickly. He moves away from realism by asserting that "this does not reveal anything new about the subject." He then explores clear two-dimensional forms in a flat with simple lines, all without perspective. Drawing from Cubism and other modern currents, his illustrations are made in a style he himself called a "minimal realism". In addition to his illustrative work in articles in journals of the 1940s and 1950s, he illustrated many biology or children's books, working until his death at 83 years.

Miguel de Sousa, the sensitive and poetic universe

Miguel spent his childhood between the northern suburbs of Paris and the Portuguese countryside. He was passionate about drawing, but his family did not approve the choice of an artistic career. But the young man does not intend to undergo an imposed life. He goes out of the trajectory traced by his parents to embark on various small and varied jobs. A drawing workshop encourages him to reconnect with his vocation; he will be an artist and nothing else.

After a training in computer graphics, Miguel works as an industrial designer and then as a graphic designer for an advertising agency. He illustrates books for youth. Today, the artist devotes his life to painting. He lives and works in Provence, in Rognes. Miguel works spontaneously by letting his emotions guide his work through his imagination. His vaporous compositions have something surreal and mysterious. They lead us into a sensitive and poetic world, far from the material preoccupations of everyday life.

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