Monday, December 31, 2012

Mario Cooper and His Glamorous Touch

The image above is a 1930 illustration by Mario Ruben Cooper (1905-1995). Yes, there are distortions, but who cares ... I think it's terrific.

Not much information on Cooper can be found on the Internet as I write this. Here is a collection of his illustrations, and here is a memoir by his wife.

Ernest W. Watson in his 1946 book "Forty Illustrators and How They Work" sketches Cooper's career on page 71 as follows: "Mario Cooper was born in Mexico City in 1905. His father was a Californian, his mother a native of Mexico. When Mario was nine, the Coopers moved to California where the boy received his education. He studied art at the Otis Art Institute and the Chouinard School. Later he studied at Columbia University under sculptor Oronzio Maldarelli. He plunged into the professional world via engraving house, art service, and advertising agencies. He became an expert letterer and layout man. He studied drawing in night classes wherever possible and copied the work of Dean Cornwell, Harvey Dunn and Pruett Carter." His professional break occurred in 1930 when Collier's magazine, a leading general interest publication, first accepted his work. Watson mentions that Cooper's preferred media were colored inks and watercolor.

Below are a few more Cooper illustrations.


From "The Flower Illusion" in the 26 April 1941 Collier's

A Collier's illustration - 11 October 1941

"Murder in Retrospect" - Collier's - 24 October 1941

"Patience" - Esquire magazine - 1948
This might have been for an Esquire calendar.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Lincoln 1953-58 Syling: Size Seemed to Matter

Ford Motor Company's Lincoln brand has had its ups and downs as this Wikipedia entry indicates. On very few occasions near the end of the 1990s did Lincoln sales top those of Cadillac, its main domestic luxury car rival. And for much of its existence, Lincoln was a distinct also-ran to Cadillac in sales terms.

I haven't time here to explore the entire history of the marque, instead focusing a period of exceptional interest from a styling standpoint, the middle part of the 1950s decade. To set the scene, Lincoln's first post- World War 2 restyling yielded 1949 models based on two basic bodies. One body was shared with the 1949 Mercury. The other, larger body was for the Lincoln Cosmopolitan and unique to the brand. 1952 marked the next complete restyling. The large Lincoln was abandoned and bodies were shared with Mercury, resulting in a comparatively small car at a time when top-of-the-line cars were expected to be larger than average.


This is a mild face-lift of the 1952s. It is an attractive design that was quite modern at the time, especially the low hood feature. Also stylish was the fake airscoop on the rear part of the side. It was a decorative element intended to break up otherwise potentially plain, tall sides. Ford and Mercury also sported fake side airscoops.

The next model year found the fake airscoop reduced to a bulge, the chrome strip defining the location of the notional air entry point being replaced by horizontal chrome strips intended to make the car seem longer.

To my eyes, the 1955 Lincoln was the last and best looking of its cars based on the 1952 body. The side bulge has been reshaped in a racier manner. Headlight bezels are now extended ahead of the headlamp faces (the term for this was "Frenching"), slightly physically lengthening the car. Further lengthening was due to redesigning the tail-light assembly as part of a rear fender extension.

Cadillac came up with a (for the time) futuristic new body design for the 1954 model year. Cadillacs were more squared-off (less voluptuous) than for 1953, but the big styling innovation was the wraparound windshield. It took Lincoln two model years to catch up with this total re-design. The 1956 Lincoln was much larger than in 1955, yet was a clean, attractive design.

Sales of nearly all 1956 model year cars were disappointing compared to record-setting 1955 sales. Lincoln management fought back with a major face-lift even though its restyled 1956s outsold its aging 1955s. I always thought the 1957 facelift was an aesthetic disaster, but the cars sold better than in 1956.

For 1958, Lincolns were totally restyled again, this time being based on a huge, heavy unitized body. The result was aesthetically better than for 1957, but not as nice as the 1955s and 1956s. Sales were down, however.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Not-So-Good Design

The great industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss (1904-1972) was especially concerned with "human factors" or "ergonomics" when designing a product. The idea was to made the item easy to understand and use. It also should be compatible with the physical dimensions and manipulation capabilities of the user. Finally, it should do its job well.

Vacationing at a fancy resort in the Hawaiian island of Kauai recently, I encountered something that failed on more than one of those criteria just mentioned. Here it is:

Apparently the resort refurbished its early 1960s-vintage buildings in the 1990s. Hotel rooms were smaller around 1960, so the modernization had to make do with available space. This was especially the case with the small bathroom area.

My problem had to do with the sink arrangement shown above. The style of sink that projects above the counter top was never my favorite, but it makes sense here. That's because toothbrushes, lipstick cases and other odds and ends can migrate under the sink's edge. The effect is to increase the usable amount of counter space compared to a normal sunken sink of the same size.

The failure has to do with the faucet. It doesn't extend far enough over the sink. Drawing a glass of water, brushing teeth, washing hands and all the other chores one does over a sink are harder and messier to do because the stream of water is too close to the side of the sink. Ideally, the water should fall near the drain hole rather than on the shallow slope of the sink's side.

So what we have here is a faucet design that's functionally not compatible with the design of the sink. One solution would have been to install a sink with steeper sides to better accommodate the water stream. But that would have meant a sunken sink and less counter space. The better solution would have been a faucet with a longer stem that would reach farther into the sink area. Maybe none were available at the time; I have no idea. Regardless, we were stuck with the result of decisions made years ago.

Monday, December 24, 2012

What I'm Up To

In 2012 I finally finished "Art Adrift" and had it published as an e-book on Amazon. The publishing process, once I learned it, was simple enough that I decided to write more books.

As 2012 draws to a close, I'm working on a book about American automobile styling. I posit two periods when the appearance of cars was evolutionary. Otherwise, aside from occasional exogenous nudges due to technological advances and government regulations, automobile styling has been far more a matter of fashion than design in the pure, ideal sense. The book will be richly illustrated to show the reader how my thesis applies.

While that is going on, I'm mulling about a book dealing with the early 20th century ideology/religion of Functionalism as applied to the fields of industrial design and architecture. No real thesis yet, but I'm collecting material on the subject.

And it also seems that I'm done yet done with Art Adrift. I recently read a couple of chapters and spotted enough typos needing correction to persuade me to do a clean-up to have in place for new purchasers before the end of the year. It's available now.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Turner Prize Finalists 2012

For the United Kingdom's avant-garde art world, the Annual Big Deal is the Turner Prize, named after the 19th century painter J.M.W. Turner, who many art historians regard as a precursor of modernist art because of the semi-abstract quality of large areas of many of his later paintings.

The Turner Prize is only one of several important scheduled events that reveal the present Modernist Art Establishment take on what art ought to be. But for what it's worth, here is a link to the 2012 prize finalists with the winner identified.

I find it interesting that only one of the four finalist works involved graphic art. The other three involve Installation, film and video (as best I can tell from the citations). None of the finals painted in oil.

This serves to help confirm the speculation in the final chapter of my book, Art Adrift, that self-styled avant-gardists had to abandon painting for other media because there was little room for major innovation in painting after 1920 or thereabouts.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

F.C.B. Cadell's Nearly Faceless Faces

F.C.B. (Francis Campbell Boileau) Cadell (1883-1937) was a member of the Scottish Colourists, an informal group active in the early decades of the 20th Century. I wrote abut him here, and his Wikipedia entry is here.

In August when I was browsing Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery, I got to see some of his paintings in person for the first time. Although it's actually pretty obvious even when inspecting reproductions, for some reason it struck me at Kelvingrove that many of Cadell's paintings feature sketchy treatments of facial features. He might have done this so that faces would not grab viewers' attention from the entire painting. Or perhaps he had another reason; I don't know what was on his mind.

Below are images of some Cadell paintings found on the Internet with close-up photos of facial detail I took at Kelvingrove.


Reflections (Girl in Blue) - c.1912

Reflections - c.1915

A Lady in Black - c.1925

The Orange Blind - c.1925

Monday, December 17, 2012

Early Fortune Magazine Cover Art

The business magazine Fortune was launched by Henry Luce's Time, Inc. in February 1930, only a few months after the October 1929 stock market crash that set off the Great Depression. While the timing seems poor in light of history, the concept surely made some sense during the period when the magazine was being planned.

Surprisingly, the magazine wasn't scrubbed as the Depression was dragging on far longer than originally thought. I don't know if or when it became profitable, but Luce stuck with it until prosperity finally returned. As I write this, it is still being published.

Fortune in its first decade or so was a classy publication. It was printed on thick, quality stock and illustrated by some of America's best illustrators and photographers. It was priced at $1 per copy or $10 for a yearly subscription. According to an inflation calculator I just accessed, those values translate into about $14 and $140 in 2012 dollars. On the high side, but not impossibly so.

Below are some covers from 1930 into 1940.


February, 1930
The first issue. Pictured seems to be a wheel of fortune adorned with Zodiac symbols.

August, 1933
The cover illustration was made by Ernest Hamlin Baker who did many portraits for Time magazine covers.

May, 1934

May, 1936
Illustration by John Cook.

February, 1938
Illustration by Alan Atkins.

September, 1940
By the start of the 1940s, Fortune was using photography for cover art. The aircraft pictured is a Douglas B-18 of the Army Air Corps' 9th Bomber Squadron based at March Field in southern California. By the time this Fortune cover was printed, the squadron was converting to B-17s.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Waterhouse Gallery, Santa Barbara

If you happen to find yourself in Santa Barbara, California and are hankering for viewing representational paintings, the Waterhouse Gallery should be on your to-see list.

It's tucked on the corner of an L-shaped pedestrian passageway (La Arcada) connecting the main drag (State Street) with East Figueroa Street, which runs at a right-angle to State. The image above shows the gallery from a small plaza at the angle of the L.

When I last visited, the gallery was having its annual Figurative Exhibition, a display of paintings by many of the better currently active painters who disdain abstraction and the edgy postmodern idiom.

The gallery is not large, so the paintings on view also tended to be of modest size and packed together. This was no problem, so far as I am concerned, because they were mostly up close and I could concentrate on nearly every one.

My main complaint is that the paintings lacked an accompanying label with the name of the artist and the title. I wonder why. One possible reason is that this forces the viewer to inquire the gallery staff, thereby starting a conversation that might lead to a sale. This is fine with capitalist tool me, though I can't afford quality paintings and would find it useful to simply gather information without interacting with the staff. However, the second link above is to the paintings on view and identifies who made them, so all was not totally lost.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Seen on the Road, November 2012

If it's Novemeber, then that's when my wife and I are on the road down to Las Vegas and then to Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and points north.

Here are a few things that caught my attention.

Yes, Las Vegas has lots of "visual clutter." But that's what can make it interesting. I don't gamble, but instead while away our annual weekly stay by strolling the streets, casinos and shops looking at architecture, products and people. The photo above features the plaza in front of the Venetian casino.

Nearby is the Fashion Show indoor mall which has many of the same upscale shops found in the casinos along with some of the usual mall fare. I have no idea what to make of that structure in front of it. Chalk it up to being in Vegas, I suppose. The truck with the sign advertising girls who really want to come visit you is one of a fleet that prowls up and down the Strip.

I noticed the "tasteful" jacket and matching shoes in a show window of the Billionaire shop in the Palazzo casino. Items in the shop are very expensive (more than a thousand for a pair of shoes, for instance), and if that jacket is any indication, marketed to the nouveau riche.

Meanwhile, over in the Wynn's, these ladies are setting up a window display at the Chanel shop. It seems that this season Chanel, Dior and some other couturiers are into puffy, above-the-knee dresses. Chanel in all its Vegas shops (and elsewhere, I suppose) has the mannequin's normal fake hair topped by a Louise Brooks style helmet wig of an unnatural shade (the wig leaves some of the other "hair" showing in all cases). I am not sure what Coco herself would make of this, given her preference for simple, understated, practical clothing.

On to Santa Barbara and its Nuevo Paseo, a downtown outdoor shopping mall. Before the Great Recession, Santa Barbara had plenty of stores. But now one sees a noticeable number of closed ones such as this former chocolate shop. Note that the Santa Barbara area has plenty of rich people. I noticed empty stores up in Carmel as well, Carmel being even more upscale. Given that the voters of California just voted in an income tax increase, I expect to find even more empty stores the next time I visit.

Speaking of Carmel, I thought it'd be fun to toss in a photo of Storybook Style as found in the village of Carmel-by-the-Sea itself. I've photographed this one before, but always there were cars parked in front, preventing a full view. I took this on a dreary day just before shops opened.

I thought they had been consigned to History. But no! It seems that Oscar Meyer has had some new Wienermobiles built such as this one seen in northern California. Long may they roll.

Monday, December 10, 2012

New Illustration Readings

Here are two items of interest to readers who like pre-1970s illustration.

First is issue No. 39 of Illustration magazine. I'm citing it because its cover and lead article deal with Pete Hawley, famous for the illustrations he made for Jantzen back in the 1950s. I really need to write a post about him. Another article in that issue you might enjoy concerns the somewhat enigmatic Heinrich Kley who also deserves a post.

The next item worth your while is the new book about Albert Dorne with text by primo illustration maven David Apatoff who mentions it in this post on his Illustration Art blog. The huge news in this post is that he is working on a book about the great Bernie Fuchs. If there's anyone more qualified to do a biography about Fuchs, I'll be stunned to know who it might be. I can hardly wait for the Fuchs book.

As for the book about Dorne, I'm not so sure. It isn't Apatoff's problem, but instead mine. That's because, while I respect Dorne for his work and career, I could never get excited about his illustrations, competently done though they were. So I'll mull over buying the book for a while. Oh: I ought to do a Dorne post too.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Herbert La Thangue: The Rural Life

Henry Herbert La Thangue (1859 – 1929), according to this Wikipedia entry, was associated with the Newlyn school of British rural genre painting. But that entry does not indicate that he painted in Cornwall. Rather, his British base of operations was mostly in Sussex, though he also painted on the continent.

La Thangue studied both in England and France (under Gér&oacic;me), but failed admission to the Royal Academy and went on to help found the New English Art Club, a rival organization.

Influences have been credited to the Barbizon school and Jules Bastien-Lepage. Most of his paintings dealt with farm life, if a Google search is any criterion. Images of some of his works are below.


The Return of the Reapers - 1886

The Sawing Horse

Winter in Liguria

An Autumn Morning - 1897

Packing Grapes

In the Orchards, Haylands, Graffham

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lhermitte: Rural Realist

Léon Augustin Lhermitte (1844-1925) was a "realist" painter in more than one sense. In the first place, his style was traditionally representational, to which the everyday usage of realist applies. He also was a Realist in the art history sense of depicting everyday scenes as opposed to subjects taken from mythology, history, religion and others favored by the Academic art establishment of his day. His Wikipedia entry is here, and more detailed biographical sketches can be found here and here.

Sources indicate that Van Gogh liked Lhermitte's work, his illustrations and pastels in particular. Perhaps that had to do with their subject matter.

That said, Lhermitte is not well known today even though his La paye des moissonneurs is usually on display at Paris' Musée d'Orsay.

Below are examples of his work. As can be seen, he favored rural scenes or, failing that, proletarian ones.


Les cordonniers de Mont-Saint-Père - 1880

La paye des moissonneurs - 1882

Moissonneurs à Mont-Saint-Père - 1883-84

Le reveil du faucheur - 1899

Le pardon de Ploumanach'h

Les Halles, study - 1889

The Gleaners - c. 1908

Monday, December 3, 2012

A.M. Cassandre, Master of the Poster ... and More

Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron (1901 - 1968), who was born of French parents in Kharkov and died by his own hand in Paris, is known to the commercial art world by his professional pseudonym, A.M. Cassandre. His Wikipedia entry is here, and a more detailed description of his professional work is here.

Cassandre's heyday was from the mid-1920s through the 1930s. His poster and magazine cover illustration style was Moderne with occasional touches of surrealism; it was highly regarded at the time and respected today. Little question that he was one of the best at his trade. Besides that, he designed types faces and later in his career was involved in theater work.


Étoile du Nord - 1927

Nord Express - 1927

Normandie - 1935
Above are three of his most famous travel posters.

Poster for Dubonnet
He did a long series of posters for Dubonnet.

Bifur typeface - 1929

Peignot typeface - 1937
Examples of two of his typeface designs.

Harper's Bazaar cover - September 1937

Harper's Bazaar cover - November, 1937
Some fashion magazine covers.