Sunday 8 February 2015

Al Parker – Up in the Air

Parker is one of the Great American Illustrators of mid-century America in the days when the artists whose work illuminated the pages of Colliers, McCalls, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Ladies’ Home Journal and Saturday Evening Post often became minor celebrities. Some were recruited for product endorsements, some had regular columns of their own and some turned up on the features pages showing readers around their beautiful homes or their collection of vintage vehicles. From his suburban home in New Rochelle NY he produced an enormous volume of print-ready illustrations for editorial and commercial clients. Like most of his neighbours in New Rochelle (who between them accounted for half the published illustration in the US at that time) he was a consummate professional taking pride in offering a wide variety of styles and delivering work on time and to the client’s brief. 

Above all else Parker was a master of asymmetric composition and spatial organisation equally at home with shallow compressed space and deep plunges from foreground to distant horizons. Every physical gesture was analysed and brilliantly portrayed and orchestrated into a complex ensemble of dynamic contrasts. Parker had a long association with American Airlines and this modest selection from his vast output is a good place to observe his compositional skills fully extended as he meets the challenge of composing in a letterbox format. The first two examples are from the 1950s when he was still offering tonally defined forms. The rest come from the early 1960s by which time a flatter style with sharply defined contours that Parker had long deployed in his repertoire had become much more fashionable among his younger colleagues in the illustration business. Cinematic composition at its finest and most convincing. This is a mere snapshot of Parker’s versatility so more posts will follow. 

Leif Peng has a stunning display of Al Parker on his Flickr pages.

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