Friday, October 30, 2009

Dear James

R. O. Blechman's "The Juggler of Our Lady" is a well written book.

The art, on the other hand, is serviceable at best. It's stiff. Unexpressive.

In his later books, "The Life of Saint Nicholas" and especially "The Book of Jonah" it's just the opposite -the art if fluid, precise and beautiful. The writing, not so much.

His eagle eye became more and more developed over time (even if sometimes it was more like a hurricane's eye), I figure the trade off was a gradual tinning of the ear.

Simon and Schuster has just published "Dear James: Letters to a Young Illustrator".

And, wow, is it a good little book. And well written.

Since Halloween is upon us, we can say it's written in "Dracula" format, all these letters from Blechman's hand to a fictional young illustrator.

Having worked closely with Blechman for many years, I was familiar with most of the anecdotes shared. I've also recounted several of them on many occasions -his presumptive fan letter to Steinberg and its response, his immediately wastebasketing of handpainted Warhol postcards from the 50s, a mutual friend by the aforementioned artist his first camera.

Particularly pleasing to me is how he refutes Rilke's remark to an aspiring poet: "Ask yourself in the most silent of the night: Must I write?" His reply is inspiring (Rilke's position is deflating).

Most impressive is the easy range of literary he shows in this book. It should be handed out to aspiring artists and illustrators the moment they send in their first art school application.

Blechman can cite nearly any illustrator from Hogarth to John Hersey (illustrator) and he makes easy reference to Horace as well as Phillip Roth (with a little John Hersey, novelist, too, I'm sure).

He's not as fluent in animation literature. Film, I think, was always thrilling fling more than deep burning passion for him. His approach to animation was more like an illicit hot trot whereas illustration -that was his wife. Maybe that's why this terrific volume looks like it will be roundly and unjustly ignored by "animation people".

1 comment:

Michael Sporn said...

I remember when I first started working for Bob back in 1977. I had had an interview without showing him a frame of film or a drawing. I thought I'd be asked to bring it in after the preliminary meeting. No, Bob wasn't interested in seeing it; he just hired me to be his Asst Director on Simple Gifts.

Once I started working there, I was intent on bringing in my portfolio of drawings and illustrations, and I did. It took a couple of weeks before he looked at them. There was a silent rejection while he looked, though he wasn't TOO insulting to me, verbally, and I was a bit disheartened.

Several weeks later, I stood waiting to talk with Bob in his office while he was on the phone. He was put on hold, and to make small talk I asked him about Ralph Steadman, whose books stood just beneath us on his shelves. Bob scrunched up his nose in rejection and said he didn't like them. (I assumed it was because they weren't Bauhaus enough; they were dangerous.) I smiled. If Bob disliked my favorite illustrator, I was in good company and didn't mind his rejection as much.