Saturday, April 14, 2012

MARK ENGLISH

Eddie Bauer catalog cover, 1982

The career of famed illustrator Mark English can be divided into three phases.

His first job was picking cotton in the fields around Hubbard Texas for $1.50 per day.  There were no museums or art galleries in Hubbard, but one day English saw a picture on a sign in a store window saying "Welcome Rodeo Fans."  He escaped the cotton fields by teaching himself to paint those signs and earned a living chasing rodeos around the Texas countryside.  After being drafted into the Army he was able to put his experience to work lettering signs for latrines.

In the second phase he became a nationally renowned illustrator who received more awards from the Society of Illustrators than any other illustrator.

English's beautifully sensitive portrait of Dracula

Victorian Interior


In the third phase he became a fine artist, selling his artwork in galleries. 



Right now, some of you are probably saying, "Hey wait-- go back to that part about going from painting latrine signs to being a nationally renown artist.  How the heck did he manage that?"


Well, studying at the Art Center in Los Angeles after he got out of the army surely had something to do with it, but when he was asked about his "biggest break in becoming a nationally known illustrator, " he responded:
[T]here was one job.  I had moved to Connecticut and in my first year there I made 20% of the salary that i had made in my last year.... It was a tough year and I had a lot of time on my hands.  I think not having much work enhanced my career more than anything else.  I spent a lot of time experimenting, trying to come up with something unique and different, and I think toward the end of that year I managed to do that on a job for the Readers Digest [for the book, Little Women]....I think that three or four of the illustrations were accepted into the Society's annual exhibition that year.  One of them won an award and got me a little attention.  After that I got into magazines and my career was launched.
English recalls that during that dry spell at the beginning, he went 8 months without getting a single assignment. His wife was worried and money became very tight but he didn't surrender. "I think [it was] the best thing that ever happened to me, but at the time I didn't think so." English studied Vuillard, Bonnard and other painters, and gradually developed a style that worked for him. "I don't think that I ever worked harder at anytime than I did during those eight months, trying to get better and be more competitive."

That, friends, is how you go from painting latrine signs to becoming a nationally renown illustrator.

44 Comments:

Blogger Vincent Nappi said...

Thanks so much for posting this up!

I haven't seen a few of these pieces before. Such beautiful work.

4/14/2012 3:16 PM  
Blogger Cornnell Clarke said...

Great post! Thanks for the inspiration! This year has been a tough one for me but this is something that I needed to read to get me up again!

4/14/2012 3:18 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

I haven't heard about Mark English in years. Thanks for the reminder of how great he is. I never saw his Dracula but it is ten times better than Dracula by Frazetta, Wrightson or Colan.

4/14/2012 8:02 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Interview with Mark English
http://www.sidebarnation.com/my_weblog/2012/03/mark-english.html

4/14/2012 8:31 PM  
Blogger JonInFrance said...

Reminds me of Vincent somehow

4/15/2012 7:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inspiring post. Thanks Tom for that interview. JSL

4/15/2012 1:33 PM  
Anonymous Kazi said...

While admiring Mr English's skill and fortitude I prefer his earlier illustrative style, same as Peak, Schridde, Fuchs etc.

4/15/2012 2:04 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

I agree with Kazi about their earlier illustrative style. David did they make more money with their gallery art? Which was the first to turn to gallery art, English, Peak or Fuchs? Why did they do it?

4/15/2012 4:18 PM  
Blogger Philip Whisenhunt said...

Mr. Apatoff,

Another great article, thank you for your consistent quality and willingness to inform. While I knew a few things about Mark English I was not aware of that year that made such a difference in his life. It seems that so man people today are focused on getting a job quickly and then cranking out the work for it. But what a gift (although unknown at the time) to be able to really develop something unique and personal.

It was great meeting you a few months ago at Sterling's show, I hope you can make it to Richmond again soon.

-Phil

4/15/2012 6:29 PM  
Blogger Joss said...

Tom,
Thanks for the Sidebar link. That interview was excellent and there's so much more to explore!

Great post David, made my day.

4/16/2012 4:02 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Vincent Nappi-- Many thanks. Yes, there is a ton of work out there buried in magazines or Society of Illustrators annuals that we have forgotten about or missed when it came out. When we go back and take a fresh look, we are surprised.

Cornell Clarke-- I've heard from a number of illustrators who have been having a rough time in the market over the past 2 or 3 years (although none of them seems inclined to pick cotton in the hot Texas sun as an alternative). I know it can be brutal, and I hope Mark English's experience in the lean years can serve as an inspiration.

MORAN-- I agree, Mark English's Dracula has taste and restraint and brains, while the Dracula portrayed by the artists you mention is overworked and hackneyed. English is not known as a fantasy artist but he did a great job here.

Tom-- Great interview, thanks!

4/16/2012 10:35 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

JonInFrance-- there are a number of Vincents out there-- are we talking about THE Vincent?

Anonymous-- Agreed.

Kazi-- I know what you mean. The gallery paintings are nicely designed but I am a sucker for the earlier illustration work.

MORAN-- I think many of these top illustrators turned to limited edition prints and gallery paintings because the hey day of illustration had gone by. But English clearly enjoyed the freedom of gallery painting as well.

4/16/2012 10:49 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Philip Whisenhunt-- Thanks very much, Phil. I enjoyed meeting you at Sterling Hundley's show in Richmond, and I understand that the same gallery has a show of George Pratt's work coming up. Perhaps it's time for another road trip...

Joss-- Glad to hear it. Thanx for writing.

4/16/2012 11:31 AM  
Blogger Scott Quick said...

Wait- are you saying there's work available painting latrine signs? Sweet!

4/16/2012 1:09 PM  
Blogger JonInFrance said...

Yeah, THE Vincent :) . I'm just reading his letters so I guess I'm likely to see parallels all over the place...

4/16/2012 4:36 PM  
Anonymous Rita - juegos de cocina said...

well donde! that is great, is really cool...


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4/16/2012 10:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Incredible and powerful works. An American treasure!

4/16/2012 11:19 PM  
Blogger Mellie said...

That first image is too kitsch for me.

4/17/2012 8:49 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Great article, beautifully constructed and written. As always,

Many thanks,

Chris.

4/17/2012 9:00 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Scott Quick-- the line (both of them) forms to the left.

JonInFrance-- THE Vincent is so rarely invoked around here (and there are at least two or three contemporary illustrator / cartoonists named Vincent) that I had to make sure. I guess I see the connection, although English would claim he is a Bonnard / Vuillard man.

Anonymous-- Yes, he's quite something, isn't he?

4/17/2012 12:25 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Well, I would grant you that some of the color combinations seem a little lurid at first blush, but I think there is something really interesting going on in that picture. That big dot pattern simultaneously moderates the colors and emboldens the shapes. Look at the nuances in the colors of the various dots against their respective backgrounds; think about why he made the dots so unusually large and conspicuous. Look at how the dots make the figure disintegrate into the landscape (talk about atomism-- this looks like a painting by Democritus of Abedra). If Roy Lichtenstein were five times smarter and ten times more talented than Lichtenstein was, he might have worked with dots this way instead of the way he did. I think there some courageous and creative artistic choices here. I'm sure if the French impressionists were painting today, their colors would be a little gaudy too (and properly so).

Chris Bennett-- thanks very much, you are too kind.

4/17/2012 12:48 PM  
Blogger sterling hundley said...

David, Mark is an artist who continues to stretch the possibilities within the world of art- be it commercial or fine. He inspires in what he shows, as well as in that which he chooses not to show. As my eye and my taste mature, I find inspiration in the new work, the mid-career work, as well as the early work in a way that few have affected me. Thank you for honoring Mark.

4/18/2012 12:11 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

English is a remarkable talent. Great graphic imagination and stellar drawing skills combined. I was stunned at his landscapes I saw a few years ago in a soho gallery. Glowing with luminosity, influenced by Klimt. His Dracula is one of the all time great "takes" on the character, imo.

It is quite remarkable to me how quickly he encorporated the influences of his fallow year into professional work.

On a different note: I have to agree with one of your earlier posters; that first picture you posted with the cowboy and the dots is one ugly piece of art. God, that purple, it totally overwhelms the thing.... No reference to intellects of antiquity can rectify the situation either. The very thing needed was Atomism's opposite; Die Gestalt.

Of course it's nowhere near as bad as all this sordid sorriness: http://www.artnews.com/2012/04/12/when-bad-is-good/

4/18/2012 11:14 AM  
Blogger Hedvah said...

Inspirational. Thanks.

4/18/2012 1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really like his work , but regarding his take on Dracula , while the washed out face , blood engorged fingers, collar shadows and background texture form an interesting combination of elements - he might have done more interpretation with the reference for the face .

It looks as if the same nice looking guy's face could have been used for a clothing ad .

Al McLuckie

4/19/2012 12:47 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Sterling Hundley-- Thanks for stopping by, Sterling. I've heard you speak quite movingly in the past about how Mark's work has inspired you. He has had a long and varied career with many phases that are impossible to capture in a mere blog post, but Jill Bossert wrote a terrific book about him.

Kev Ferrara-- As you can probably guess, I have a different reaction to that first painting. I think that gaudy purple, which you might find on a black velvet painting in the barrio, is a bold, distinctive element which distinguishes this from 10,000 boring traditional paintings of a lone cowpoke gazing toward the mountains. The composition is strong, the draftsmanship is excellent, the figure is traditional-- so the rest of the image is quite stable enough to withstand the addition of an odd color choice. (As Francis Bacon said, "There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion." Or as Robert Fawcett said, "It almost seems as if the creative impulse involves a large ingredient of vulgarity to be a vital statement. In drawing, an excess of what we think of as good taste can only result in an anemic product, while the more vulgar statement... is invariably stimulating.")

4/19/2012 4:27 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Hedvah-- Glad you enjoyed Mr. English's story.

Al McLuckie-- I like the fact that Dracula is so handsome and simultaneously so ghostly/nondescript. It's an unusual take on a classic character. When I think about other artists who filled in more of the face (including the three talented artists mentioned above) I don't think the character was better off for it.

4/19/2012 4:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My reaction to the Dracula piece is 95% enthusiastically positive , the remaining 5% wishes there could have been a whisper of Rumanian physiogomy - something - worked into the face , not big Frazetta cheekbones and a widows peak , just a hint .

Don't know if he posed someone or found reference for the piece - but it looks like a generic handsome collegiat face you could see in an Esquire clothing ad .

Al McLuckie

4/19/2012 10:43 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

As Francis Bacon said, "There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion."

I guess if Francis Bacon likes the purple, it can't be all that bad.

4/19/2012 12:56 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I think we mary be talking about different Francis Bacons. I meant the 16th century British essayist, author of Novum Organum and primary scribe of the scientific method at the dawn of the scientific revolution. From my perspective, the greater of the two Bacons but you may not trust his judgment about Mark English's purple quite as much.

Al McLuckie-- well, you're right, this Dracula is a cross between Dick Tracy's character, "The Blank" and Leyendecker's Arrow shirt model. But maybe English was just being prescient-- years before the Twilight craze, this Dracula is a good looking seducer who isn't really there.

4/19/2012 11:28 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David,

I understood which Bacon your were backing. In fact, it never crossed my mind you might be speaking of the later Bacon.

On deferring to the earlier Bacon's taste, I was joking of course. I was trying to point out, wildly unsuccessfully apparently, that propping up poor Bacon's bones to defend the work in question won't fly. The poor fella may very well have retracted his statement had he lived to seen that purple.

4/19/2012 11:52 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Obviously he is a talented and seasoned artist who can't be accused of ineptitude, and the only legitimate criticism is to disagree with his aesthetic choices. I don't care for the flatness that he seems to have a propensity towards; for example, it took me awhile to perceive the visual narrative of "Victorian Interior", and afterwards I was more annoyed than amused, feeling it should have been either more abstract as some of his work is, or less abstract and more conventional. I suppose one man's perfect equilibrium mixture can be another man's mud.

4/20/2012 1:03 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I did understand that you were joking (and it was a pretty decent joke). I just wasn't sure which joke you were making-- that I couldn't prop up that purple with an English essayist from the 16th century, or I couldn't prop up that purple with a contemporary painter who was alive when English painted the picture (but probably had not studied it in great detail). I take it my Robert Fawcett quote was equally unpersuasive? (Fawcett was color blind.)

Etc, etc.-- English thrived in the 1970s and 1980s when much of illustration was in free fall. Everyone knew that the old, representational market was dying but nobody knew what would replace it. I think the "flatness" you describe may be English experimenting with design alternatives. Not every one of those experiments was successful, but I think some of them worked out very well, and in the end he certainly prospered.

4/21/2012 1:14 PM  
Blogger bill said...

Another vote, as if it really matters, for the purple and the design choices made in the first piece. Back when I was a student English's choices in working with conflicting space, flat vs. round, had an impact on my own work, and I apologize to him for that.

4/21/2012 10:20 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Bold? Vulgar? From the ground to the dying rays of the sun it's just a straight gradation! Blue~BP~P~RP~R~YellowRed

Or as Robert Fawcett said, "It almost seems as if the creative impulse involves a large ingredient of vulgarity to be a vital statement. Certain it is that almost every advance or change is greeted with this charge. After a time it becomes accepted, and soon the avant-garde pictures of yesterday are being used as background sets for the smart women's fashion photographers, a comedown I am sure their creators never anticipated.

In drawing, an excess of what we think of as good taste can only result in an anemic product, while the more vulgar statement — vulgar that is in the aesthetic sense — is invariably stimulating."


"A popular work does not have to be a vulgar one, and the public will accept and enjoy far better work than is at present being offered."

4/21/2012 11:54 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

or as Robert Fawcett also said, "…there is no record of a great draftsman having developed except by the rigorous discipline of conventional training. In the auction sale of his studio's contents following Degas' death were literally hundreds of his early student drawings, sweated over figure studies not too different from the average of any life class today.

It is interesting to note that not only did Degas submit to this academic training, but that over a long career he apparently felt no need to destroy these early studies."

• Vuillard studied at L'Académie Julian under Bouguereau & Tony Robert-Fleury, then briefly at the École under Gérôme. ~ Vuillard life drawing

4/21/2012 11:58 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

There are effects that are vulgar because they are true. (Because the world can be vulgar.) I only object to the vulgar which comes from falsity or vapidity, intensity for its own sake, say. (I just don't see how those bright colors serve the idea. Nor do I like the piece of ref used for the horse... the silhouette doesn't quite read because the bag at front looks like a giant goiter coming off the horse's chest, obscuring the long neck of the horse, one of its essential characteristics.)

Love Vuillard. Cecelia Beaux also studied under Bougereau and Robert-Fleury. (Hard to argue with success.)

4/22/2012 11:04 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

…all true…

1885- Vuillard joined the studio (atelier) of Diogène Maillart on Place de Furstenberg (formerly Delacroix's studio). Diogène Ulysse Napoléon Maillart (1840-1926) won the grand prix de Rome in 1864 (Homère dans l'île de Scyros). ~ What is interesting is that Picasso was also a student of Maillart… now being esoteric information, I don't know the particulars of Picasso's time with Maillart …could someone provide them?

Beaux- I'm surprised this is rarely mentioned, she first studied under Francis Adolf van der Wielen, 1872-74, which I believe overlaps 1 year of Howard Pyle's time with him.

4/22/2012 6:29 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

bill-- Thanks for your vote. I knew there had to be somebody else out there with taste.

अर्जुन--I remain, as ever, impressed by your knowledge of Fawcett and the amazing array of early Fawcett work that you reproduce on your excellent blog. However, it is hard to focus on any of that when I am still grappling to regain my senses in the wake of your Lee Hazlewood video of Cowboy in Sweden. Exactly how old are you anyway?

Kev Ferrara wrote: "I only object to the vulgar which comes from falsity or vapidity,"

Kev, I know you draw a distinction between "falsity" and "exaggeration" or "enhancement."

As for the image of the horse, keep in mind that English grew up in Texas where he worked painting pictures of horses on rodeo signs. I can't say that made him a "horse painter" in the tradition of Frederic Remington or Harold Von Schmidt but I would tend to defer to him on the way provisions look slung across a horse on a pack trip.

4/23/2012 5:15 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David,

I'm not arguing against the fact of the baggage on the horse. I'm sure it appears just so on the reference. I'm arguing against the quality of the silhouette that resulted from following the reference.

Whether those bands of garish color are an artful "enhancement" of reality is probably a matter of taste. Whether those colors are an exaggeration of reality... I suppose one can make that argument. That the exaggeration shifts the harmonious colorings of nature that might appear at the moment depicted such that they become false and garish, and for no sound aesthetic rationale... that is my argument.

I hate to keep harping on that one piece, given how good everything else you posted is, and how good most of his work has been. I am a great fan of English's work.

4/24/2012 12:09 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

re: Fawcett ~ Part of the narrative is missing. From poverty in Canada to a sold out 2-man show at the Dudensing Galleries. To the co-production EPITAPH, A Poem by Theodore Dreiser, Decorations by Robert Fawcett, limited to 1100 numbered copies each signed by the author and the illustrator. Advertising for Lesquendieu/Tussy, Knox, rayon(Courtaulds?), Cadillac/La Salle, Socony-Vacumm, Colgate, RCA, Johnnie Walker. Fashion, high end products, major corporations …full page colour ads in The Post, The New Yorker, Fortune, Good Housekeeping, Liberty, LIFE. Editorial work for Woman's Home Companion, Scribner's The American Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Esquire. He had to be making top dollar (note that he had already purchased his Ridgefield farm house in the middle of a 65 acre tract of woods before, as you wrote, 'He had arrived'). It's easy to see why Dorne engaged him for the Famous Artists, Fawcett had been at the top for the past 18 years!

from Illustrating for The Saturday Evening Post
'He studied at the Slade School, London University, in 1922-24 and in Paris. His first magazine illustrations were published several years later; just when and where, Fawcett cannot positively recall.'

Why was Fawcett so cagey?

or: That, friends, is how you go from an engraving shop to becoming a nationally renown illustrator.

4/24/2012 10:57 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Nix the Courtaulds, it was for The Rayon Institute of America.

4/27/2012 2:58 AM  
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