Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Baseball, Rodeos and Automobiles: The Art of Murray Tinkelman

Baseball, Rodeos and Automobiles: The Art of Murray Tinkelman

Part of the Distinguished Illustrator Series

At the Norman Rockwell Museum Stockbridge, MA.

March 29 – June 15, 2014

            If the folly of humanity has gotten you down—go to the Norman Rockwell Museum. Then spend some time with the stimulating Murray Tinkelman.

            Though not generally well-known, Tinkelman is considered a legend in the Illustrative Arts. In order to appreciate his contribution to the genre, it is important to understand a little bit about the history of illustration; a topic for which Tinkelman has considerable passion, so much so that he travels the country giving lectures on the subject.           

            Historically, art has been used to illuminate religious iconography and to glorify the wealthy. After the printing press and public education made reading a part of everyday life, art became a popular medium for selling goods as well as telling stories. Originally, all illustrations were either etchings or engravings which meant that every image depended upon the skill of the engravers and the printers to accurately transcribe the artist’s work. With the invention of the halftone process of photo-engraving, illustrators became the controlling force behind the image.  This invention sparked the Golden Age of Illustration (1880’s-1920’s). Norman Rockwell’s early popularity stemmed from the narrative styles of this era.

            Commercial and illustrative art of the 1930’s through the 1950’s was heavily influenced by Rockwell’s Populist narrative style.   Murray Tinkelman grew up in a world filled with images that sold the American Dream but which also belied the ugly underbelly of America. In contrast, most Fine Artists of the time were focusing on portraying their experience of what they saw as the real America.  When Tinkelman entered the advertising marketplace in the mid-1950’s, there was as large a divide between the imagery of the Illustrative and Fine Arts as there was between the races.

            Enter Murray Tinkelman, the artist-illustrator.

            Tinkelman’s early work has the feel of an engraving that is trying awfully hard to be a cartoon. His work earned him numerous awards but it wasn’t until he absent-mindedly doodled a rhinoceros in 1970 that he became a legend. This break-through is the focus of the exhibit.

            There is plenty of information available at the museum about his career and development as an illustrator so I want to take the time to tell you HOW he does what he does—because it is truly amazing. 

            He draws out the image as perfectly as possible in pencil and then uses a very fine technical pen, called a rapidograph, to draw tiny lines all over the sketch.  His first line always starts at 12:00 and ends at 6:00.  Working over the entire piece instead of sections, he then cross-hatches more small lines, each of which starts at 1:00 and ends at 7:00.  Then again from 2:00 to 8:00, continuing until he has filled the image with enough cross-hatches to achieve a middle-grey tone.  After this he works on the areas which will be lighter until he gets to 11:00.  If you look closely you can see this clock pattern. For a more thorough description of his process, please use the following link:

            This method gives his images a layered, sunlit, movement that is somehow incredibly still.  He ranges from whimsical “Mechanimals”, to expressive portraits of Native Americans at a Powwow and of cowboys at the rodeo. His later work involves a nostalgic look back to the ‘40s and ‘50s of his youth: details of old cars, homages to baseball heroes, movie monsters and Coney Island Kodak moments. 

Do as he recommends in the museum video: stop and listen with your eyes.  If you do you will see the colors he creates in black and white.

            Tinkelman describes his illustrations as “interpretive and descriptive” as compared to Rockwell’s narrative style. This is most especially shown in his illustrations for Ballantine’s re-release of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, the originals of which are shown in this exhibit.  The profound effect of his work and teaching methods within the Illustrative Arts comes from the fact that he was asked to illustrate books not because they amplified the text, but because they added to the content of the book itself.  He made what had once been a consequence of literature into a part of literature and an art unto itself. The once “mere” illustrator was now seen as an Artist with as much standing as many of the great Fine Artists.  With respect comes power and with power comes creative control. Because of Tinkelman, author and illustrator have become equal parents in the creation of what we read: a union perfectly illustrated by the art of Wendell Minor whose work is also shown at the Rockwell Museum through May 26, 2014.



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