Wednesday, June 25, 2008
I have anxiously been awaiting the return of two watercolors that I had lent to the San Francisco Cartoon Art Museum's "The Art and Flair of Mary Blair" exhibit which ran from October 2007 until its extended closing in May of 2008. Word is out that the exhibit may be traveling overseas next year! I think I'll wait until things are more concrete before I divulge the exact location of the exhibition. I know that Mary has a lot of fans in the country that will possibly host the show, so they should be pleased to see her works up close.
I have three of these large watercolors that appear to be illustrations from period classics such as Dickens' "Great Expectations", Wilde's "Picture of Dorian Gray", and Dumas' "Count of Monte Cristo". Two of these were in the San Francisco exhibit and the third can be seen in John Canemaker's book, "The Art and Flair of Mary Blair". My guess is that they were done for Mary's Chouinard class in illustration taught by Pruett Carter, or they were done for her portfolio immediatedly after art school and just about the time of her wedding to Lee Blair - I say this because she signs her name, "Mary Robinson Blair" on all three pieces and she shortened her signature to "Mary Blair" not long after she was married. If you look at some of Pruett Carter's illustrations, such as the ones he did for stories in Ladies Home Companion and other magazines, there are some remarkable similarities in the compositions and mannerisms.
The image above is one of Carter's illustrations and a few similarities that struck me were:
1. The tipped lower floor plane showing pattern in both the floor and the striped chair. In Mary's vertical composition above, she shows pattern in the carpet to better advantage by tipping the ground plane down in an exaggerated manner similar to the Carter image.
2. The elongated figures - in an almost El Greco-like or Thomas Hart Benton-like manner, the figures in both Carter and Blair's work are impossibly thin and tall. This would have been standard in many illustrator's work at the time and I'm sure Carter would have brought this preference to his student's attention.
3. The halo of light around the figure's heads/faces. The values are carefully modulated so that the lightest light and the darkest dark in the composition are found at the main character's head; the focal point of each composition.
All three of these points would be common in Mary's work in the years to follow. I am really fascinated by how these pictures show the beginnings of Mary's personal style.