Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Al Parker: Illustrator-Innovator

Al Parker: Illustrator-Innovator is the gorgeous new book from Manuel Auad of Auad Publishing. This volume follows up the similarly beautiful treatment given to Albert Dorne and Robert Fawcett. I have been wanting to give this book a proper overview since it arrived in the mail and now is the time.

Those unfamiliar with the career and work of Al Parker will be pleased and surprised at the breadth and depth of Parker's work. I knew that he was a consummate experimenter, but this volume truly shows his reach and the incredible range he was able to exhibit in a career spanning five decades. Parker was a chameleon. Always searching for the latest look that would fuel his own aesthetic hunger and yet be something fresh and appealing to the public audiences he served.

Al Parker (1906-1985), is perhaps the most influential illustrator of the twentieth century which is no small claim given the incredible breadth of talent that has plied the trade since Howard Pyle began teaching N.C Wyeth and others in the Brandywine valley of Pennsylvania in the early 1900's. Parker's early career was spent filling the glamour and women's magazines of the 1930's with idealized pictures of beautiful women. His work was often featured in the most popular publications of the day such as Ladie's' Home Journal, Good Housekeeping and McCall's He is often credited with establishing the modern glamour aesthetic.

In the 1939 he began a string of covers for Ladies Home Journal that featured a mother and daughter pair engaging in various activities such as skating, sledding, raking or even changing a car tire. This series became so popular that it continued until 1952. As demand for his work increased, Parker became one of the most respected and famous illustrators in the country.

That fan following even extended to the most famous illustrator of the day, Norman Rockwell, who sent a letter to the younger Parker which read in part:
"It is simply extraordinary, your amazing creativeness, taste and versatility. While the rest of us are working knee-deep in a groove, you are forever changing and improving. You have brought more freshness, charm and vitality to illustration than any living illustrator"

Despite his success and popularity, Parker was never one to sit on his laurels. Regarding his own penchant for trying new things, he once remarked:
"I think one of the things I like most about illustration is the fact that things are always changing. It's always tomorrow."

Parker even once illustrated an entire issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, choosing a fake name and a different style for each piece of artwork he created for each story.

As evidenced by the following series of pictures, it is clear that Parker never shied away from trying new things.

Another aspect of the book I really enjoyed were the sections that included reference photos used by Parker with the accompanying finished illustrations, an interview with Parker reproduced from 22 Famous Painters and Illustrators Tell How They Work, and a short essay of remembrances by Parker's niece Margaret Matchin.

Although I was familiar with Al Parker from my studies of illustration history and an exhibit of his work at the Norman Rockwell museum, this volume brings into sharp focus the true depth of Parker's work as well as his impact on illustration and the public aesthetic. I highly recommend this volume to any fan of illustration, art or pop culture. It is well worth the cover price.

You can buy the book at Auad Publishing's site


Amy said...

Wow! Thanks for the introduction to this amazing artist! I was not familiar with his work, but I can see why he was so successful. Wonderful post. Love seeing Parker's work.

Elise N Black said...

Fabulous! Sometimes I love an illo and don't know where it came from or who created it! I knew I'd seen his work before!

Greg Newbold said...

Thanks Amy. It's always fun to revisit an artist whose work I love.

Elise,I was the same way a few years ago. I had heard the name, but when I started putting the work to it, I was blown away with how many pieces of his I had seen. He was remarkably talented and prolific.