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Frank Redlinger’s Jazz-Age West

Frank Redlinger - Grand Canyon color block print, 1933.

Frank Redlinger – Grand Canyon color block print, 1933.

I grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, which bills itself as “The West’s Most Western Town.” Although most of my childhood was epitomized by breezy walks to school (half a block from the house!) and being glued to the TV with a box of Cheerios, the town’s quirky fake-Western character also played a part in my development. Scottsdale was still a fairly small town back in the ’70s, with a main drag characterized by wooden-slatted souvenir shops done up like the set of Gunsmoke and a cutout figure of a lasso-toting cowboy. Back then it was just there, but that filtered, sanitized version of history still influences my work – especially the 4 Color Cowboy tumblr.

While outright kitsch definitely has a place at 4 Color Cowboy, I wanted to use it to find artists, movies, music and other projects that use that iconic Western stuff in a different, thought-provoking way. One such discovery was an artist named Frank Redlinger. After coming across his stuff while browsing through the Heritage Auctions site (fantastic place, by the way), I fell in love with his crude, beautiful landscapes, cowboys and other subjects rendered in wood-block prints. The artist maintained studios in two different places (Abilene, Texas and Los Angeles). The only pieces of his I’ve found date from about 1930-35, when he was in his forties. Simple and bold, they look to be inspired by the California Impressionists and Western movie posters from the silent era. He died in Los Angeles, a few days shy of his 66th birthday, in 1951.

Enjoy this little gallery of Frank Redlinger’s work. More can be seen at Heritage Auctions.

Frank Redlinger - Rainbow Arch block print, 1931.

Frank Redlinger – Rainbow Arch block print, 1931.

Frank Redlinger - On the Prod block print, 1934.

Frank Redlinger – On the Prod block print, 1934.

Frank Redlinger - Untitled block print, early 1930s.

Frank Redlinger – Untitled block print, early 1930s.

Frank Redlinger - Untitled Desert Caravan block print, 1932.

Frank Redlinger – Untitled Desert Caravan block print, 1932.

Frank Redlinger - personal Christmas card, 1932.

Frank Redlinger – personal Christmas card, 1932.

Frank Redlinger - Camelback Mtn. block print, 1932.

Frank Redlinger – Camelback Mtn. block print, 1932.

Frank Redlinger - Action In The Abstract block print, 1933.

Frank Redlinger – Action In The Abstract block print, 1933.

Frank Redlinger - Canyon De Chelly block print, 1931.

Frank Redlinger – Canyon De Chelly block print, 1931.

Frank Redlinger - Untitled Cowboy Being Bucked Off print, 1930s.

Frank Redlinger – Untitled Cowboy Being Bucked Off print, 1930s.

Frank Redlinger - Untitled Grand Canyon block print, early 1930s.

Frank Redlinger – Untitled Grand Canyon block print, early 1930s.

Frank Redlinger - Untitled Yucca Silhouettes block print, early 1930s.

Frank Redlinger – Untitled Yucca Silhouettes block print, early 1930s.

Look What I Found: Two from Helen Borten

Little Don Pedro (1965) and What Makes Day and Night (1961), illustrated by Helen Borten.

Little Don Pedro (1965) and What Makes Day and Night (1961), illustrated by Helen Borten.

In the annals of vintage kiddie books, the name of Helen Borten is a lesser-known yet beloved one. The Philadelphia-based artist remains well-regarded for the beautifully composed, deceptively simple visuals she made for a series of science-instructional books in the 1960s. Franklyn M. Branley’s What Makes Day and Night is a typically lovely example. While Branley’s text teaches children about the earth’s rotation around the sun in a fun, accessible way, Borten’s illustrations visualize the concepts perfectly. Working with a limited color palette of black, red, and yellow, Borten does fantastic things with composition and texture – parts of it are rendered in a primitive-modern lines, while others have a tactile, woodblock feel. It’s wonderful.

In addition to science books, Ms. Borten illustrated across a wide swath of subjects. I wasn’t aware of this, however, which made it a special delight when coming across the story of Little Don Pedro by Helen Holland Graham. This 1965 effort revolves around a timid Mexican boy who bravely faces off against an escaped bull in his tiny village. Four years on from What Makes Day and Night, we find Borten continuing the clever use of limited colors (here, green joins the solid red-yellow-black family), while the subject matter brings out a looser style. I love this stuff! In 1968, she authored and illustrated a lovely looking book on animals, The Jungle, which is on my to-get list.

As far as I can tell, Ms. Borten is still active. Although she apparently left illustration behind for a successful career change into producing radio documentaries, hopefully she has some awareness of how well-regarded her art continues to be.

Source: Fishink – Helen Borten A Creative And Illustrative Genius. (July 5, 2012)











Overspray: L.A. Looks Like You

The 2008 coffee table book Overspray: Riding High with the Kings of L.A. Airbrush Art came to my attention while seeking artwork for my Don’t Make Me Over mix. The book delves head-first into a scene that was a red hot confluence of L.A. style and rock ‘n roll-fueled merchandising, as practiced by four of its biggest proponents. Oddly, however, this labor-intensive art style hasn’t enjoyed a resurgence in the same way that other art and design movements of the period have had.

That’s too bad – at the very least, this stuff is very evocative of the ’70s. I can definitely remember digging it as a teen, even though the part I latched onto came at the very tail end of this movement. My first alluring peek was (don’t laugh) in the overstuffed musical classic Xanadu – recall how the Michael Beck character worked as an artist reproducing album covers at billboard size? The brief scene at his workplace showed all these covers done up in that plastic pop-art style, and to me it seemed like the coolest job ever. I later found more art in that style within the pages of a book called Fame 2, which had me hooked. Up to the late ’80s, I’d still see examples of that hyper-slick artwork within the pages of Rolling Stone, or plastered on the free wall calendars they’d hand out at Tower Records every December.

The artists profiled in Overspray – Dave Willardson, Charles White III, Peter Lloyd, and Peter Palombi – all indulged in that style. As the book plainly demonstrates, however, each one put his own stamp on his work. Willardson’s was the most retro-slick and technically accomplished of all (and my favorite), responsible for iconic pieces such as the Rolling Stone cover that literally interpreted Steely Dan’s name and American Graffitti‘s cheerful carhop. White’s stuff was a lot more funky and hallucinatory, where photo-realistic scenes bump up against Maxfield Parrish-inspired fantasy-scapes. Lloyd brought on the weird with his imaginative, spacey LP covers and kinky illustrations for magazines like Oui. Palombi’s nostalgic, irony-drenched scenes astonished with their playfulness and expertly rendered surfaces. Along with absorbing interviews with all four men, the book reprints big and colorful representative samplings of their work. It also has a rather self-indulgent introductory essay, printed in a hard-to-read peach script font, that sets the scene in a smug way (you can easily skip that part and get the jist in the interviews). In the end, I ended up envying these guys for being in there at such a fantastic, creative time, and also admiring the painstaking technique and work ethic required to master the airbrush.

P.S. I still want that Xanadu guy’s job.

Another nifty thing about Overspray is the dust jacket with different designs printed on both sides which enables the book to have four unique covers, one for each artist profiled. The book can be ordered at here.

Dave Willardson LP art for the Spinners, 1978.

Charles White III illustration for National Lampoon, 1972.

Dave Willardson art for American Graffitti soundtrack LP, 1973.

Charles White II art for the Rolling Stones (1973); Star Wars (1977).

Peter Lloyd illustration for Oui magazine, 1975.

Peter Palombi magazine cover illustration, 1975.

Mishmash Addendum

Two things I forgot to put in last Sunday’s Mishmash, probably because neither are all that memorable:
Letter from an Unknown Woman (2004). This was the result of an odd switcheroo from Netflix. Originally I put the 1948 version of Letter from an Unknown Woman starring Joan Fontaine on my queue. When it came time for it to be shipped, however, I noticed they switched the ’48 version with this newer Chinese remake (making matters worse, the ’48 version is no longer available at Netflix!). This was a strictly okay movie, slow-paced but absorbing, with a premise that hinges on the unbelievable probability that a man wouldn’t recognize the woman he’d slept with years earlier. This one takes place during the cultural revolution of the ’30s and ’40s, which makes it mildly interesting. What I really want to see is Max Ophuls’ 1948 original, however, which ranks among the hardest classic films to see. In twenty-plus years, I’ve never heard of it being shown on classic movie channels or on home video.
What Makes Sammy Run? (Sunday Showcase DVD). Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run? is one of the great Hollywood novels, but the book is so bitter about the subject that it has rarely been adapted anywhere else. This 1959 live TV drama, which survives on DVD via a kinescope, is one of the few that made it to the screen. Larry Blyden is all intensity as Sammy Glick, world class suck-up who makes his way from newspaper copy boy to powerful Hollywood player. Although this version has all the hallmarks of early TV (clumsy pacing, technical glitches), it was a fun and interesting watch.

Bama Bama Bo Bama

Obama’s infomercial might have been too slick and manipulative, but it reminds me that very few politicians can be called “inspiring.” I can’t believe we might actually have a calm, rational, statesmanlike president. We’ve already sent in our early ballots and made the right choice.

As far as campaign ads go, I much prefer this:

Weekly Mishmash: September 28-October 4

Kay FrancisDr. Monica (1934) and Confession (1937). More Tivo’d Kay Francis. Dr. Monica is the second film in which Kay played a doctor. For this go-round, she’s treating a young woman who has gotten “into trouble” — by Kay’s husband, Warren William! All in all, a typically soapy outing for her that flies by (literally!) in less than an hour. Probably the best thing about this movie is the amazing Verree Teasdale playing Miss Francis’ tart best friend. Teasdale only appeared in 27 films over a career that scarcely lasted a decade, but the woman could do more with an arched eyebrow and sideways glance than most actors could do with their whole bodies. Confession was one of those films that first got me into seeing obscure old b&w films, when it showed up amongst several other Warner Bros. quickies in my local channel’s “Late Show” slot. The story is typical to the extreme (basically Kay avenging an indiscretion by verminlike ex-lover Basil Rathbone), but what really sets this melodrama apart is the stylized German Expressionist direction. The gauzy shots of ceiling fixtures and closed eyes give this film a curiously outdated feel for 1937 — but now that I know the director was making a shot-for-shot remake of an earlier film, the whole thing makes nutty sense. The re-viewing finds that the film holds up nicely, with an excellent performance from Francis. Even Christopher, a die hard Kay-hater, enjoyed this.
The Rape of Europa (2006) and King Corn (2007). Two thought provoking documentaries arrived this week. The stuffily titled Rape of Europa is a fascinating look into the myriad ways the Nazis stole and plundered priceless works of art throughout World War II, and the great lengths those who owned unplundered pieces went through to preserve their holdings. Although it becomes somewhat dull in the second (post-WWII era) half, the film was chock full of excellent interviews from those who were there, along with a host of art/history experts. On a superficial note, I loved all the beautiful tracking shots of paintings in sumptuous widescreen. King Corn deals with the here and now, namely how the mass production of cheap, grainy corn has dominated America’s farmland in the last 25 years or so. In it, two regular guys decide to plant an acre of corn to see how it’s grown and where it goes once harvested. Although a lot of the material was familiar to me, it still had several eye-opening (and sad) moments. Quirky stop-motion animation and lots of lovely, languid shots of Iowa farmland contribute to a thoughtful film that simply illustrates the cost of getting us fed (and, consequently, why we’ve gotten so fat).
Storm Warning (1951). Doris Day and the Klu Klux Klan, who’da thunk it? This was an engrossing melodrama starring Ginger Rogers as a woman who visits her sister (Day) in a small Southern town. Upon arriving, she witnesses a ghastly murder committed by Klansmen, and is shocked to find that one of the men involved is her own brother-in-law (Steve Cochran, slimy yet sexy). As the film unfolds, Rogers finds that the town will go to great lengths to keep her from spilling the beans to the D.A. investigating the crime (Ronald Reagan). This was a very unusual and interesting film which piles on the creepy, sweaty atmosphere effectively. The cast is excellent; even Reagan surprised. One pointy hood up.
You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story (American Masters, PBS). I was totally looking forward to this, since American Masters‘ thoroughness makes even a semi-decent subject worthwhile (personally I enjoy American Experience more, but that’s neither here nor there). But then I got a bit leery when seeing that this six hour opus was the work of Richard Schickel. The guy is the McDonalds of documentary filmmaking — ubiquitous and boring — and I hate how he uses the same experts over and over again (Martin Scorcese, anyone?). On the plus side, there are a lot of great movie clips used througout, and the first hour nicely summarizes Warners’ zippy pre-Code era. Unfortunately, it quickly turns disjointed and at times downright dishonest (from watching this you’d think Warners only did critically acclaimed auteur films in the ’70s). Full disclosure: I never watched the final part, dealing with 1980 to the present, but I can guess how it turned out. The later stuff doesn’t appeal much to me, anyhow.