The Circus and The Great Santini

THE CIRCUS

circus degas miss-la-la-at-the-cirque-1879

Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando by Edgar Degas, 1897

Précis:

Before anyone attacks me for liking circuses – let me categorically state that I am against the use of exotic animals in circus acts. Times and attitudes have progressed and society now understands (for the most part) that chimps, tigers, lions, elephants, hippos, bears and other animals should not be forced to suffer in captivity and be made to perform tricks for people’s entertainment

Indeed, thanks to Dr. Jane Goodall’s breakthrough research on the chimps at Gombe, it is now widely understood that animals (other than humans) have emotional lives, many demonstrate culture and social history, and have intelligence far beyond what was previously accepted.

And now on with the show!

clown cropped

Not all clowns are scary – some, like this fellow, are absolutely wonderful.

As a child I loved the circus.When I was very little my family went to see the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was truly a spectacle. I loved all the sparkle and drama.

And I admit that as a kid, I loved seeing all the animals during the show. I especially loved the horses and wanted to be one of those lovely ladies that leaps about and does acrobatics on the broad back of a horse.

And who doesn’t love to see tiny poodles dance around in skirts?

One of my favorite TV shows when I was a kid, was simply called Circus and featured international circus performers every week.

And I never missed the Ed Sullivan Show which regularly featured circus performers, as well other more famous acts (like the Beatles).

circus horse 1890

Circus lady with horse 1908

I was also a big fan of the 1956 movie Trapeze starring Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida, because there was a lot about circus life in the movie – how the girls learned to stand on the backs of cantering horses, and particularly how the acrobats trained and performed on the trapeze.

(Burt Lancaster had actually been an acrobat before he became an actor, and performed with the Kay Brothers circus early in his life.)

circus movie Trapeze

Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida in Trapeze, 1956

When I was maybe 10 or 11 years old my mother gave me a book to read called Umberto’s Circus. It was a charming story about a small European circus trying to just get by. It made me love the circus even more.

The last time I went to an old-fashioned circus, I was in my twenties. There was a trapeze act as usual, and as usual it was a family act. They came out to great fan fare, climbed the high tower to get to the trapeze swings and performed without a net below them. That was the draw of the act – trapeze without a net.

During most trapeze acts one or more of the acrobats falls by accident into the net underneath – this usually brings a huge gasp from the audience. Sometimes, it seems to be intentionally done to heighten the tension during the terrifying leaps. This time, however, the high flyer fell all the way to the floor and didn’t move – it was a real and deadly accident, and it was terrible to witness.

Ringmaster, Petit Gougou as Monsieur Loyal at the Monte Carlo Festival of Circus, 2011 (www.montecarlodailyphoto.com)

Ringmaster, Petit Gougou as Monsieur Loyal at the Monte Carlo Festival of Circus, 2011 (montecarlodailyphoto.com)

Now back to more happy memories with –

The Great Santini!

One of the happiest and most memorable circus experiences I had, was one Summer when I was 13 or 14. My cousin took me to see the circus in Moncton, New Brunswick.

My sister and cousins were all a lot older than me and so when I did get to go along with them somewhere, I was always just tagging along, quiet, out of the way – the dumb kid that no one really took any notice of. But this time my cousin asked me to go with her – just me, and it was very special.

It was a hot sunny day and when we arrived at the parking lot there were already many cars there. The circus tent was full with a noisy, excited crowd.

As we were walking through the parking lot a man approached us and introduced himself. He said he was The Great Santini and that he was the sword swallower and knife thrower in the circus. He wasn’t in costume, just street clothes, but he looked like a circus performer. He had slicked back, collar length black hair and a mustache and goatee. He looked devilish.

circus knife thrower 1890s

Circus Knife Thrower 1890s

He flirted with us and I can’t remember what he was saying, but we giggled, and declined his attentions and went in to watch the show.

The circus was not a famous one and had some not so fancy acts. I seem to remember that there were acrobatic goats that walked along a board about 3 feet in the air (or something like that), but it was very entertaining and it was very sentimental.

circus Lucy-long-knives-300

I Love Lucy, 1951

When The Great Santini came out, he was wearing a dramatic black body suit with winged sleeves. The costume had red and gold flames all over it and he wore high black boots. He had the usual knife throwing wall that a glamorous woman has to stand in front of, and he had a tall shiny silver rack holding long, shiny, scary looking swords.

He swallowed the swords, he juggled the swords, he swallowed fire and blew fire from his mouth, and he threw daggers with relish.

He was a great showman. It was very exciting to have met him in the parking lot.

The weekend magazine in the newspaper even featured a big color photo of him blowing fire. I kept that magazine for years. Unfortunately, my parents threw it out when they moved from the farmhouse, and it is now gone forever.

Too bad there is no record of The Great Santini online that I can find – but he must be out there somewhere.

circus DecorativeOrnament_vector

And now for some photographs of circus performers new and old for your enjoyment !

konchak snake handler

The Great Konchak

cirque du soleil

Cirque du Soleil (www.wsj.com)

circus triple cycle highwire

19th century triple cycle highwire

circus tightrope

circus poster of gorilla

Created before King Kong existed – a hand painted Sideshow banner

circus tall walkers stilts

Life Magazine

circus 1910 trapeze

Life Magazine photo Nina Leen

circus snake charmer 1900scircus little girl on horse

James Stewart starred as Buttons the clown in the 1952 Academy Award®-winning film "The Greatest Show on Earth." The film was the 25th to win the Oscar® for Best Picture. Restored by Nick & jane for Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans Website: http:www.doctormacro.com. Enjoy!

James Stewart starred as Buttons the clown in the 1952 Academy Award-winning film “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Life Visits the Circus in Florida- Acrobats clowning around on ropes

Life (Magazine) Visits the Circus in Florida- Acrobats clowning around on ropes. photo Nina Leen

circus george bellows circus 1912

Circus by George Bellows, 1912

circus horse toulouse lautrec

by Toulouse Lautrec

circus Pierre-Auguste Renoir 1879 Jongleuses au cirque Fernando

Jongleuses au cirque Fernando by Pierrre Auguste Renoir, 1879

Circus-Barnum and Bailey dog

This is the kind of dancing dog I remember, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus

circus At-The-Circus-by-Ottokar-Walter

At the Circus by Ottokar Walter, 1889

circus Bridgman-American-Circus-in-France-1869-1870

The American Circus in France by Frederick Arthur Bridgman, 1869-1870

circus toulouse latrec entering the ring

Entering the Ring by Toulouse Latrec 1899

circus WC Fields Sally of the Sawdust

A scene from the movie Sally of the Sawdust starring WC Fields 1925

circus sideshow art

Life (Magazine) Visits the Circus in Florida

circus trapeze artist

Life (Magazine) Visits the Circus in Florida

circus dog Fifi Roncycircus acrobatscircus old postercircus trapeze Gaston Paris Roger-Viollet-Photo-Agency-since-1938

Life Visits the Circus in Florida- Acrobats and stage performers in various stages of action.

Life (Magazine) Visits the Circus in Florida

Cavalia edmonton sun acrobats

Scene from Cavalia from the Edmonton Sun

cavalia edmonton sun

Scene from Cavalia from the Edmonton Sun

circus wagon

Circus Wagon. When the circus came to town it usually paraded down Main Street with a series of intricately carved wagons pulled by the circus animals and showing the performers.

circus Nellie-McHenry-A-night-at-the-circus-by-H-Grattan-Donnelly-1893-Theater-Poster

 

 

Cavalia Odysseo-11

Cavalia is a contemporary circus employing only humans and horses. It is a love song to the Horse.

Cavallia

Cavalia. The horses are royalty, and treated with respect and admiration.

 

circus charlie chaplin

Charlie Chaplin in love with a circus girl in The Circus, 1928

Two dogs dance during a performance at ZoppŽ Italian Family Circus at Chandler Center for the Arts, on Friday, Jan. 6, 2011. Michel Duarte/The Arizona Republic.

Two dogs dance during a performance at ZoppeŽ Italian Family Circus

circus contortionist

Contortionist late 19th century

Juggling with fire

Juggling with fire, 19th c

circus clowns-or-798393

Congress of Clowns

circus tatoo lady national geo 1931

Tatoo Lady from National Geographic 1931

circus zelda boden

cavalia stallions

A final and beautiful image from Cavalia

 

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My Career in New York – Bernard Safran

Introduction:

My father Bernard Safran had a long career as a fine artist from the early 1960s til his death in 1995. He created unparalleled paintings of city life, rural life, and portraits of family and patrons, but he was always asked about his years in New York City working as an illustrator, and later as a portrait artist for Time Magazine. I guess New York City seemed more glamorous to people than picturing him sitting in his home studio, quietly painting what he wanted to paint. In this talk given at Holland College on Prince Edward Island, he was asked to speak about those years.

 

 … It was very hard work for me. It had to be good, and I was always very tired when finished, and needed a few days rest as do baseball pitchers – or operatic tenors

Holland College – September 11, 1980

Bernie Safran in park 1950

Bernie Safran c 1950

I’d like to talk to you today about my career in New York. After going to a special high school, the High School of Music and Art where I majored in art, I realized that I wanted to be a professional artist.

I decided to study illustration at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, which was, and is one of the leading art schools in the United States. I picked illustration because I had to be able to earn my living, and illustration would allow me to do it by painting and drawing. Illustrators at that time were held in great esteem, and earned at the top, a lot of money; the business was quite large and there was a good deal of opportunity. It has all changed in the last number of years with the explosive growth of TV, which eliminated many of the markets by absorbing their advertising dollars. The illustration business now bears no resemblance to what it was then.

The course at Pratt had been set up by a graduate of the famous German Bauhaus. This was an experimental art school formed at the end of the first World War when what is now called Modern Art was already reaching its maturity. The Bauhaus and it’s ideas have exercised a tremendous influence on all our lives since.

Vassily_Kandinsky,_1913_Composition STate Hermitage Museum

1913 Composition by Wassily Kandinsky, State Hermitage Museum

It is responsible for a great deal of contemporary architecture through the work of Gropius and Mies Van der Roh; it invented industrial design (so that the design of our cars, toasters and everything else resulted); it created the current use of layout and typography in advertising; revived such crafts as weaving and ceramics; strongly influenced stage design, and also the development of modern painting through Paul Klee and Kandinsky. It was destroyed by Hitler when he came to power. Many of its people came to the United States, others perished.

Bauhaus Eva Zeisel 1929

Bauhaus ceramic design by Eva Zeisel 1929. Eva Zeisel taught at Pratt when my father was a student there.

So at Pratt this legacy was continued, and permeated the school. We had many experimental classes in both 2 and 3 dimensional design, using varieties of materials and methods. In the illustrative course we also studied figure drawing, painting and illustrative design and color. In the final year we were brought into contact through the Society of Illustrators with some of the leading personalities in the field, were able to see their work and discuss it with them. All in all, I think it was a well balanced, and well rounded program, and it was supplemented by the many museums and galleries in New York.

Bernie Safran army tent Burma 1945

Bernie Safran, Burma 1945

Just before I finished, I went into the Army for three years, and served in the US Army Corps of Engineers in China, Burma and India.

At the end of the War, I returned to Pratt for six months. After the Army I found going to school less than exciting, and though I could have continued further study, I decided to try to be a free lance illustrator. This I might add, was the ambition of us all.

How do you start? First I had to have a portfolio of samples of my work. I made some, and used some of the the things that I had done at school. Then I got the yellow pages out of the Manhattan phone book, and began to go see people. There were three main categories of places that bought illustrations; the advertising agencies; the art studios that did most of the work of the agencies; and the publishers of magazines and books. There were literally hundreds in the yellow pages.

Illustration and ink fawn

Fawn, pen and ink sample illustration by Bernie Safran

I was able to make appointments with art directors at some places, others would see me if I came in. Many were a waste of time, as they handled the kind of thing that I didn’t do. It took a long time, and a lot of shoe leather before I found out where to go, and where not to go; and I soon found out that what I thought was finished work was not, and that I didn’t know anything about the business. I didn’t know anything about production which is the mechanical means of producing a magazine page, or ad; or even what constituted a professional sketch or how to present it.

scale for photos

Back in the old days before computers, you had to figure out proportional sizing of photographs and reproductions for print with a scale like this.

So, I tried to get a job as an apprentice in an art studio to learn how things were done. I did get one in an art studio that did sales presentations. It was fairly small with an art director, and five or six people working on mechanicals (which are preparations of pages for reproduction by scaling photos to fit, pasting in type in place and so on). There was one fellow there that did layouts for these pages, and any finished art and lettering that was required. We became friends and he advised me to re-do my portfolio in black and white line and halftone which is cheap to reproduce. He also suggested that I do it in dyes which look like watercolors, reproduce well, and can be worked over and over without losing the look of freshness, as watercolor does. I then left the studio, did another portfolio, and set out again.

Love Starved Woman Bernard Safran

A pulp cover by Safran. He would have hired a model for the main figure of the woman with the cigarette, and then photographed himself and probably his wife (my mother) for the figures at the piano.

I was soon able to enter an illustration studio run by Gail Phillips who was at that time an illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post. It was an ideal working set up. I was taken on as all of the people there were, on a free lance basis. The studio provided working space, and all art materials. For any work done for the studio, they received a 50% commission, but you were free to have any accounts of your own without commission. The studio occupied a three story brownstone house on 50th Street and 3rd Avenue, a central location. There was a complete photographic studio with a full time photographer who took pictures for you and processed them. There was even a room full of costumes. That is where I learned to be a professional illustrator. I was able to see work being done of all kinds, and learn the methods. All work of whatever kind, by the way, was done from black and white photographs. To meet deadlines and because of the expense of models this is necessary. If, for example, you are doing an illustration of a boy and girl, you must hire models, and at that time their fee would be about $20 an hour each. Obviously if the job paid $200 dollars as some paper back books did in 1947, you couldn’t hire them for long. So you would pose them, and photograph them and the photos would cost something too. Why is it necessary to hire models? Well an illustrator can’t compete if he doesn’t. Pretty girls had to look like the current types, and the models had the proper clothes, make up and look. You couldn’t fake it, or make it up, and expect to get the work. Also there were conventions on how these things were done. The paper back books at that time interestingly enough had a self-imposed censor. Some of the things that were banned were: that men and women couldn’t be portrayed lying down; if a woman was partially clothed there could be no physical contact between her and a man, and despite the allowance of all kinds of suggestive situations for some reason known only to the censor, bare feet were banned.

Gumshoe illustration fishing in canoe pt2198

The right page of a two page spread for Outdoor Life magazine by Safran, June 1950

I wasn’t earning much at this place, and I went from there to another studio, and then another on similar arrangements. By this time, I had several accounts of my own. I also had some of my work with 2 or 3 agents. Illustration agents would cover specific areas and accounts. Agents were concerned primarily with making money, and they would operate on the idea that they did all right, if they had a large number of artists work, and were just able to produce one or two jobs for each one. I never knew an illustrator that didn’t have to look for work on his own to keep busy, though he may have been represented in one way or another by numerous agents.

I found after a while that I was taking more and more work home with me, and finally decided that I’d get more done if I gave up the coffee breaks, and paper airplane fights, and worked at home. I was married at this time, and my wife worked in the art department of a trade magazine publisher. They published such magazines as Aviation Maintenance, Purchasing, and Liquor Store and Dispenser. she didn’t like her job, contrived to be fired, and began to look for another job.

Adele glamorous 1950

My mother Adele worked as my father’s agent in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

She did a series of spot drawings (which are small pen and ink fillers, used when type does not quite fill the space on a magazine page). I added some of my own to her portfolio, and she set out. On the first day she sold three to Women’s Day for $25 apiece. As a result of this, we got the idea that she would act as my agent. This would allow me to concentrate on my work entirely.

It was necessary for an illustrator to continually change his portfolio by adding new samples. Trends and styles changed fairly quickly. In addition any work done must have accurate research so things are correct. The New York Public Library has a massive clipping collection for this purpose, but I also tried to build up a file of my own for research. My wife went out daily and saw people with my work. I stayed home, did my work, painted samples, and worked on the file. We also had arrangements with various agents from time to time. We slowly became known in the business, and were at the point where we had a number of steady accounts, and I did a great variety of work.

The bulk of my work was for book publishers. I did many paper back book covers, and a lot of book jackets for the major publishers. I also worked in magazines such as Outdoor Life, Boys Life and numerous lesser ones; and did an occasional ad. There were times when there was no work, and it always seemed to arrive in bunches. So there would be a lot at once, and great pressure to meet deadlines. I might add that it was a sudden death business. One job not quite up to snuff, and you lost the account.

Golden Treasury of Bible Stories Bernard Safran

The Bible illustrated by Safran

In one six week period that I remember, I did six paper back book covers, 40 pen drawings for an illustrated Bible, two two color halftone paintings, and a line drawing for the first installment of a Boy’s Life serial, and two book condensations for Outdoor Life consisting of about 8 large pen drawings each; one of which was Farley Mowat’s People of the Deer. As I look back on this sort of thing, I find it hard to believe that I did it. The subject matter was very diverse; the research had to be accurate; there were sketches to be made and then approved, models to be hired and photographed, and the finished work done. My wife did the research, got the sketches approved with the inevitable changes, and hired the models. I did the sketches and the finished work. During a spell like this, I was literally chained to the drawing board.

After a number of years at this, we were going to have a baby, so my wife retired, and I returned to selling my work. I found it very difficult to keep it all going. I was in the middle area of the business, and earning a reasonably good living. I decided after a good deal of thought to take a rest, and think the whole thing over. We had saved some money, and I thought I’d just quit for six months. I stopped working, went to the beach, and read a lot. An interesting thing happened. The work began to come in itself, and I found that by the end of the year that I had lost $200. At that rate, I could continue in this way indefinitely.

Father oil sketch 1956 Bernard Safran

Quick 3 hour oil portrait of Bernie’s father, Harry Safran 1956

I got the idea that perhaps I could be a portrait painter. So I let it be known to whoever I met that I would paint oil portraits for $25 apiece. I had not painted portraits since art school and wanted the practice. I did them from life in three hours, and did 40. I then felt that I could paint portraits.

Through all the 10 years that I had been illustrating, I had experimented with all kinds of painting media, and had not been satisfied. Painting had always been a struggle with the paint itself, and I was looking for something that would allow me freedom from this. I slowly came to the conclusion that I must study more. I read as much of the technical material I could find on the Old Master methods, and tried many formulas without success.

I finally came across a book by Jacques Maroger, “The Secret Formulas and Techniques of the Masters”. Maroger had been director of the Louvre’s laboratory, and had spent his life trying to reconstitute the formulas of the masters. Years later I was fortunate in spending a day with him at his home in Baltimore. He was dying of cancer, and had written to me to come if I wanted to see him. When I read his book, it sounded to me like just what I  had been looking for. And so to put it to the test, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to try to copy a Rubens. My idea was to reconstruct the picture. I found that as far as I could see by the striations the brush made, and by the look of the paint, that I had something very similar. I continued doing this, studying the work of Rubens, Velasquez, Rembrandt, and Holbein mostly. This is a time honored way of study, and has been done by almost every artist of note in the history of painting. I found that aside from learning the methods of the painters, the close proximity with the great helped me immeasurably in every way. It improved my taste, improved my drawing and conception of form, and the way that I used color. Of course it is impossible to reproduce these paintings exactly, and I didn’t try. You may just as well attempt to imitate a wild dance.

Safran's study of Ruben's The Holy Family

Safran’s study of Ruben’s The Holy Family, oil on illustration board, 1958

After doing this at every opportunity, and for many months, I noticed that Time Magazine was occasionally using fine artists on their covers. I thought that I would paint a portrait with a non objective background using my newly found knowledge, and take it up there. I chose a fine old photograph of General Grant, and suggested an army behind him.

I was extremely lucky. I had been going to Time which was then at the height of its power and prestige, on and off for years, and had always been told by the art director that they were bought up for 2 or 3 years. This time I was, by accident, connected with the man who was buying covers at that time. He was a senior editor, and temporarily sitting in for the Assistant Managing Editor whose job it was. He was quite busy, but agreed to look at my work if I left it at his office. When I returned a week later, I could see he that he hadn’t. So I asked the secretary who was also temporary if I could just show him one picture, and she said “Sure”. He asked me in and suggested that I leave it with him for a few days. He then called me and asked me to do an unscheduled cover. Needless to say I was elated and worked very hard on the sketches. I had no idea how Time operated then, and was quite amazed when the cover researcher asked whether the man, the Sultan of Morocco, wore the same colored hat as robe. The photos showed it both ways. The editor picked up the phone and said, “Get me Paris,” then said “Send a man over to Rabat, and find out whether the Sultan wears the same colored robe as hat. I got a cable shortly which said that he did.

Sultan of Morocco April 1957

Safran’s first cover portrait for Time Magazine, April 1957

When I delivered the painting I had a few anxious moments as it was taken out of the office and shown to the various editors; but as he came down the hall with it he shouted, “Sold”. I was told by this man that he wouldn’t be doing the job again til summer, and that he might have another for me then. It was months before it appeared, and I wondered if it ever would; but it reproduced well, and they were so happy with it, that they presented it to the Sultan, after first exhibiting it at the US Information Library in Rabat.

I dropped into the office in August eight months later, and the same man gave me my second assignment which was Sukarno. Fortunately he had an excellent head, and the photos for the background were by a great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. I did a number of layouts, and this job was handled by the Assistant Managing Editor. He was very happy with the result. He asked me how quickly I could paint a head, and I said three days. He thereupon gave me a cover to do in three days. When I had delivered it, I was asked, “How often would you like to do them?”, and I said “As often as I can get them.” After that I was one of the regular Time cover artists, and was kept busy.

The Time cover begins at the weekly cover conference presided over by the Assistant Managing Editor. All the senior editors who head the various sections of the book are there along with their researchers, the Art Director and the production man. The cover for the coming week is decided on, but this can be changed at the last moment before the magazine goes to press late on Saturday night. There is a backlog of covers ready, and this is called the bank. Some of these are kept active for some time, but mostly where a prominent personality is concerned, they will have one done that is up to date, because people’s faces change. The covers in the bank are there because of things that may be coming up in the news, such as an economic conference at a specific date, or an election where the candidates are known well in advance. It gives the magazine some versatility as to what covers are readily available. For example, when John Kennedy was elected President, I did a cover of Lyndon Johnson the Vice-President as President. When Kennedy was assassinated, Time was able to put the new President on the cover immediately, to everyone’s great surprise.

At the cover conference, know as the College of Cardinals, each senior editor makes a presentation for future covers for his section. He may give a talk on a personality, say in the field of medicine who he feels will become prominent shortly. This is complete with background analysis, and is followed by a general discussion, and a decision on whether to commission a cover, or wait. Once a decision is taken, the cover researcher will search out all background material in the files. Queries will be sent to the appropriate correspondents for descriptive material on the person; a photographer will be assigned to photograph the subject in color and black and white, for the cover. After this has been assembled and many blow ups in black and white made from the photos, the artist who has been chosen in the cover conference or by the Assistant Managing Editor is called in.

In my case, the Assistant Managing Editor would call. Sometimes he’d tell me who it was, and other times he didn’t. I’d go to his office, and the photos would be laid out, both slides and black and white enlargements. The cover researcher would then bring in the background material which in most cases was dozens of pictures. Then we would have a talk about when the cover would appear, what the occasion was, and the general situation that the person was in at the time. We would then go over the “mug shots” of the person, and in the light of the talk pick one as the key photo. Sometimes there would be a subtler or better expression in one of the color slides than in the black and white, and that would then be made into a black and white enlargement. I generally wanted a series. I got a 4 x5, and 8×10 and an 11×14. This was so that in painting the portrait I could look from one to the other; and I found it easier to see the form that way. Where there was an obscure shadow that hid some detail, the lab would make me a light print, so I could see it… All this was ordinarily done while I was in the office. If not, the prints were delivered to me by messenger as soon as possible.

Unpublished cover portrait by Bernard Safran of the Aga Khan, 1952

Unpublished cover portrait by Bernard Safran of His Highness Aga Khan IV, 1957

When we had settled that, we’d discuss the background. The editor sometimes had suggestions, but most often I had to think up an idea on the spot. My background as an illustrator was invaluable for this since I was accustomed to being met by all manner of unexpected situations. We’d go through the background material, and sometimes it would suggest something. For instance, the editor said of DeGaulle, “The So and So thinks he’s a living monument.” I then said, “Well, how about doing him that way.” I suggested that he be done as a statue of a Roman emperor, and the researcher went off and got lots of pictures of Roman busts. Sometimes after a long discussion, and the elimination of one thing after another, for one reason or another, we’d end up with something that I wasn’t happy with. I’d go home and try to come up with another idea, and if it was a good one, they were very quick to change it. It was a very good working relationship. As they came to trust my judgement, the sketches were eliminated. After we talked about it, I’d simply tell him what I would do, and on one or more occasions the material was just sent out to me, and left to me.

Whenever it was possible, I tried to see the person, because the photographs never give you the right impression. President Eisenhower for example looked very pale in his photographs and on TV. I went to the White House to meet him and was very surprised to find that he had a very ruddy face, and exuded a great deal of what I can only describe as magnetism. I went to have breakfast with Richard Nixon when he ran for President in 1960. The pictures of him, and his TV appearances showed him to be pasty faced with a heavy black beard, shaven though he was. In person, he was entirely different, looking very healthy with a normal shaven look. All of the color pictures of Henry Cabot Lodge showed his hair to be brownish with some gray in it. When I saw him in his office, I said “Why, Mr. Lodge, your hair is entirely gray” and he said, “Well — there’s some gray in it.” These are just some examples. I met many of the people after I had painted them, and wished in most cases that I had seen them before the event.

Painting by Bernard Safran. Buddha, 1964. Oil on Masonite, 61cm x 44.5cm (24" x 17 1/2"). Gift of Time magazine

Time Cover painting by Bernard Safran. Buddha, 1964. Oil on Masonite, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC

I painted the covers on an average of ten days to two weeks. It was very hard work for me. It had to be good, and I was always very tired when finished, and needed a few days rest as do baseball pitchers – or operatic tenors.

I decided very early to make myself entirely available to Time, and I turned down all other work. This enabled me to continue to study painting, and there were a lot of things that I had to learn.

In 1962, I, my wife and our two girls went to Europe for two months, and we went to go to museums in France, Italy, and Germany, so that I could look at paintings. I thought that this trip was very valuable to me, and my future.

By 1965 I had been working for Time for almost nine years. They were having discussions about a major change in cover policy, which had been in effect since the magazine had been founded. They did in fact change the policy a couple of years later. I thought then that it was a good time for me to leave, and try to be a painter full time. I was 41 years old and felt it was rather late to start, and that if I didn’t do it, I never would. So my family and I went to Europe again for two months to look at paintings. By the time that we had returned, I had definitely made up my mind to leave Time, and I did. It is a decision I have not regretted, and I have been working on my painting ever since.

self portrait Dec 1960

Bernie Safran self portrait December 1960

More Bear Encounters

I wrote previously about grizzly bears in Alberta, Canada. In this post I have a couple more stories about bears – this time in New Brunswick,Canada and also in Siberia, Russian Federation…

The black bear can be found in almost every province and territory in Canada. And as evidenced by my discovery of a bear trap in the woods when I was a young teenager, we knew there were bears lurking around our farmhouse in New Brunswick.

Ivan Shishkin Morning in a Pine Forest 1878

Morning in a Pine Forest by Ivan Shishkin 1878, oil on canvas. This is one of a few rare images of bears from the 19th century that is beautiful. Its so depressing to look online for pictures of bears and mainly find images of bear hunting, zoos, circuses and bear baiting… what a despicable history we’ve made for ourselves.

In fact one of my friends in Junior High had a locally famous mother who once shot a bear.

black bear wikipedia

Black bear, image Wikipedia.com

So considering that we lived in a remote place surrounded by lake and forest, its surprising that we personally never saw any bears. On occasion we would come across a large, odd looking scat and surmise it was a bear’s – but we never found any other direct evidence.

A neighbor of ours did, however. She and her husband had a cattle farm in Jolicure, and they worked a number of fields in the area.

One summer they planted corn in a field situated along the road to our house, about a mile in from the crossroads. As far as I remember, it was the only time they planted that crop there. By the end of the summer in the early fall, the corn was very high and thick.

One day the wife went out to find her husband in the field – she had his lunch to deliver. So she parked her truck on the road bordering the field and went out into the corn rows.

Cornfield_pennYan wikimedia commons

Commercial corn grows densely in a field, and can be anywhere from 5 feet to 12 feet tall, so you can see how hard it is to see anything inside a cornfield. (photograph by Jlantzy from Wikipedia Commons). Ever see the movie Signs by M Night Shyamalan with Mel Gibson and Joachim Phoenix? If you have, you know why I ask… if not, you should go watch it…

Ahead of her she heard rustling and saw stalks moving. Thinking it was her husband she pushed through the stalks, calling to him, when all of a sudden she came face to face with a black bear. She screamed, and turned, and ran back to her truck.

black_bear head shot

Black bear (Ursus americanus)

The bear, just as startled and terrified, fled in the opposite direction. Her husband, meanwhile, was fine – he heard the whole commotion but never saw either of them.

Soon after that epic moment, they harvested the corn, and all the stalks were cut down and the bear was never seen again.

Back then (in the 1970s), I spent many hours walking through game trails in the woods alone with my dog, and though I saw scats and prints I never encountered any large or dangerous animals. But because I knew that the farmer’s wife had come face to face with a bear just a mile from my house, I was always noisy in the woods and on the road (singing out loud and whistling) just to let “everyone” know where I was at all times.

My paternal grandfather Harry Safran wasn’t so lucky.

In 1907 he was exiled to Siberia (a long and exciting tale for a future post) where he lived in a cabin in the woods with several other political prisoners.

siberia map

One day he was out in the forest foraging for nuts or firewood, and found himself face to face with a big bear – the bear reared up on its hind legs in front of him and roared… and my grandfather spit in its eye…

Grizzly-Bear

Siberian Brown Bear also known as a Grizzly Bear

… at least that’s what he tried to do, because he’d been told to do that just in case he ran into a bear. The idea was that the air in Siberia was so cold that your spit would freeze as soon as it left your mouth, forming a sharp sherd of ice that would blind the bear on impact.

Well, my grandfather never found out if spitting at a bear would save his life. When he came to, he found himself lying on the ground and the bear was gone… and he was alive. Whether spitting in the bear’s eye saved him, or fainting and looking dead did, my grandfather lived to tell the tale.

Casey Anderson and Brutus

This photo should be called “Living in Harmony”: Casey Anderson with his 800 lb buddy Brutus at the Anderson family Thanksgiving dinner… I’m not recommending wild animals as house pets, but this picture was too good to pass up. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1174259/Meet-Brutus-800lb-grizzly-bear-likes-eat-meals-dinner-table.html

Its a wonder that the bear literature in Canada doesn’t include that piece of advice. Perhaps I should tell Parks Canada and suggest they tell tourists and hikers to practice spitting shards of ice before heading out into the woods.

I just hope I never have to find out for myself.

Many thanks to my Aunt Rhoda for details about my grandfather’s Siberian bear encounter and spitting ice.

(Also, a couple of posts back I mentioned I was going to write about a Memento Mori painted by Bernard Safran in the 1960s – I intend to soon – I’m still trying to get a good photograph of the painting before I publish it. Until then I have some other posts to share.)

Can you see the difference? how my father’s work changed: illustration vs fine art

PART 1 – My Dad’s Illustrations from the 1950s

In this post I want to point out how my father’s illustrations are so different from his later works because sometimes I think people don’t recognize that he went from being a commercial illustrator to being a fine artist… both forms are representational you may say, so what’s the difference?  – well I’d like you to look more closely at the work and I’ll try to show you if I may…

In this post I’m going to concentrate on the commercial work that he did after graduating from Pratt Institute during the years 1947 to 1957. During this time he did a broad range of works from illustrating a children’s bible to making a giant billboard for beer.

Bernard Safran accounts ledger for illustration work

This shows some of the entries in my Dad’s accounts ledger for illustration work from 1953 – note how many jobs he had and how little he made for each (this just shows 2 publishing companies, there are many many more for the year).

I’ve already written about his disillusionment with the industry and his desire to do more fulfilling work – leading him to take 6 months off in 1956 to study the Old Masters and refine his eye and technique.

One of the things he found so difficult to accept was the fact that he had to work within a very limited range of artistic interpretation – meeting the publishers demands for content, colors and often the layouts. So the desired final work had to satisfy the publisher not the artist.

1950s bra ad borrowed from - http://www.vavoomvintageblog.com/2013/04/for-love-of-bullet-bras.html

Ah – the 1950s when men were men and women had really tiny waists and pointy boobs.
This is NOT by my Dad – I’ve included it because I want you to think about the 1950s and how there is a very definite look to the time period. And if you look at this art you’ll notice some very clear stylistic points (no pun intended) that resonate in my father’s work from the 1950s – have a look specifically at the sylization, the limited color palette, and the weirdly fake loving couple and notice its not at all “painterly“.
1950s bra ad

The illustrations had to be current and meet the style of the day – 1950s all the way. Even the brushstrokes had to fit into the current trends with a certain coarseness – the whole piece had to be marketable to the 1950s audience… representing a certain idealized plastic quality to life.

Further limitations were placed on him, especially when he was doing Pulp Fiction covers (see my earlier post) – he had to be careful of the moral codes restricting certain sexy depictions but at the same time make the paintings as trashy as possible – so tree branches had to be covering just the right areas of a naked woman; shirts could only be open on certain parts of the torso; no nipples could be showing, and so on. The Pulp publishers pushed him to work to the limit of the prohibitions and in many cases made him re do layouts and compositions repeatedly to meet their demands.

Far Flies the Eagle, detail of book jacket by Bernard Safran

Let’s be honest here: this is a pretty awful illustration. Because I’m familiar with my Dad’s work I can tell that he was working to somebody’s specifications here regarding the composition and the look of the two main figures. He obviously had to make the chick look like some sexy 1950s B actress (not at all like an historical representation of a real Russian countess), and the guy also looks like some 1950s ideal white guy (and a stuffed dummy too). Notice that even though she is pretty much showing off her goods full on, the guy is stoically looking into the distance – there is no eye contact – it wouldn’t do to make it too overtly sexy… The landscape in the back is very nice however, and he added what looks like Napoleon on his horse in the background (my Dad was fascinated by Napoleon and read all about him frequently). It also looks like he cut his losses and put a lot of effort into the crest – he had to have something in this that he could be proud of!
Far Flies the Eagle, detail of book jacket by Bernard Safran, Ben Feder Inc 1954 

With many of the publishing jobs, he was given limited color palettes with which to work – depending on the budget for printing – sometimes only using black and white, or a minimal three colors for example.

And there were obvious creative restrictions on layouts too – he had to work around the type, titles, and with novels – the spine of books when creating art for covers.

The business was all about the sale: illustrations  had to be compelling to the consumer so they’d buy the publication – he had to make it eye catching, and make it communicate the story or product in a quick glance.

There was little or no consideration of the artist’s vision or his personal point of view. With many jobs the artist was treated primarily as a technician who could create the publisher’s vision.

This isn’t the illustration of NC Wyeth or Arthur Rackham – this is the stuff that 1950s publishers were looking for and the only work my father could get during that time. Photography was already dominating and replacing the illustration business in most fields.

Its very difficult to make a living with art as your primary source of income – and my father was at least able to say that he did support his wife and his first child with that income solely. Each job was a little bit of money – he had to do multiple jobs at the same time, and quickly, in order to get enough to live on.

Sample illustration from portfolio by Bernard Safran, guache on illustration board, 1949

This is a sample my Dad made up to show to publishers. Its very skillfully done and meets all the same criteria as the illustrations above: limited color range (black and white is the cheapest to reproduce); models that look like 1950s starlets and stars; its simplified and stylized; and its easy to “read” from a distance – it broadcasts what the story is about – you see a guillotine; beautiful aristocrats in love; France in the 18th century – adventure, drama, intrigue, death, sex….
Sample illustration from portfolio by Bernard Safran, guache on illustration board, 1949

There are many other examples of artists who did commercial work before they went on in their careers to be recognized as fine artists – Winslow Homer is perhaps the most well known.

I’m not meaning to be apologetic about my Dad’s illustration work – I only want people to see how its different from his later work… which I’ll be writing about next for your comparison…

Time and the Wind, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Macmillan Publishing 1951

This is an example of my Dad’s illustration work from 1951: Please take note of how stylized it is, and note the limited palette (3 colors) that was used to reduce printing costs. In this case the editor probably insisted on what characters had to be shown and might have even demanded he adhere to the company’s layout suggestions. The woman has that definite 1950s style face and hair (Audrey Hepburn? Ava Gardner?).
You can see there is very little in the way of artistic interpretation happening here; my Dad is doing the minimum to please the publisher and still make it professional – the drive behind this is to sell the book. (and the monk is my Dad by the way)
Time and the Wind, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Macmillan Publishing 1951

Jeb Stuart the Last Cavalier, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Ben Feder Inc 1957

This is one of the few illustrations that my Dad did that he really liked. It was one of the last commercial jobs he took in 1957 just before he got work with Time Magazine. He was a huge reader of Civil War history and so this assignment was a special treat to him. He also enjoyed and excelled at painting horses – many people just don’t get the muscular anatomy right when doing horses – but he was great at it.
Jeb Stuart the Last Cavalier, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Ben Feder Inc 1957

1950s: Other Illustrations by my Dad, Bernard Safran

Bernie, my Dad, worked as a commercial illustrator for 10 years – from 1947 to 1957. Ultimately he found the work unrewarding and was disappointed to find that the business was dying and there was little if no demand for work like the great illustrations of his childhood. The work was strictly commercial and had to fit into the slick 50s looks that were fashionable at the time regardless of his preferences. And he had to work within the limitations of the printing industry – the moral codes, the color restrictions (for cost), the layout with type, its readability and saleability from a bookshelf, and so on.

Passion In The Pines, Pulp Fiction cover by Bernard Safran, Beacon Books 1956

Pulp cover by Bernard Safran

I didn’t want to give the impression in my last post that my father mostly did Pulp Fiction covers in the 1950s – its just that those covers are hot auction items at the moment with a lot of collectors of Pulp Fiction art out there… so you can Google my Dad’s name along with Pulp Fiction and see quite an assortment of his covers if you’re interested.

Its harder to find his other illustration work online, but he did illustrations for a wide range of publishers including Popular Science, Random House, Macmillan Publishing, Doubleday and Co., Woman’s Day, Henry Holt and Company, Signet Books, Magazine Digest, and many more.

By 1957 my Dad was burned out and feeling down about the work he’d produced in his ten years since art school. He was proud of some of the illustrations – but the majority of his work was done quickly and to the specifications of other people – not driven by his own vision.

So I thought I’d share a few examples of his other illustration work for those of you who might be interested… some of the books were by very famous authors at the time believe it or not (like Philip Wylie who wrote When Worlds Collide).

Lion by Bernard Safran, pen and ink , published in Outdoor Life 1951

Lion by Bernard Safran, pen and ink , published in Outdoor Life 1951

Gray Fox, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Ben Feder Inc. 1955

My Dad was a big Civil War enthusiast and read everything he could about it – we even did a tour of battlefields when I was about 10. He especially enjoyed illustrating books on this subject.
Gray Fox, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Ben Feder Inc. 1955

The Dice of God, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Ben Feder Inc 1956

The Dice of God, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Ben Feder Inc 1956

Pleasure Cruise, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Rinehart & Company 1956

Pleasure Cruise, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Rinehart & Company 1956

Time and the Wind, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Macmillan Publishing 1951

Time and the Wind, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Macmillan Publishing 1951

The Fabulous Train, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Ben Feder Inc. 1955

The Fabulous Train, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Ben Feder Inc. 1955

A Land to Tame, book jacket by Bernard Safran 1956

A Land to Tame, book jacket by Bernard Safran 1956

Sample illustration from portfolio by Bernard Safran, oil on illustration board 1951

Sample illustration from portfolio by Bernard Safran, oil on illustration board 1951

1950s Pulp Fiction Covers

Paul Revere by NC Wyeth 1922

Paul Revere by NC Wyeth 1922

My Dad had high hopes when he was in school. He was inspired to be an illustrator by the works of NC Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, Arthur Rackham and other artists who were at the time considered great illustrators and great artists in their own rights.

When he graduated from Pratt after serving in WWII (see earlier posts pre 1960) he was excited to join the ranks of the great illustrators. He was determined to only take work that was painting or drawing.

After pounding the pavement for months trying to find work in New York City, he realized that he didn’t know anything practical about the illustration business. So to learn how to survive in NYC as an illustrator, he joined the Gail Phillips Illustration Studio in November 1947 (he’d apprenticed at another studio earlier that year but quit after three months when he’d learned all he could there).

At Gail Phillips he rented space and worked for commission on jobs that came through the owning business. It was tough to make any money there, but he put in the hours and learned everything he needed.

He went on to work at two more studios – the last one run by an agent where he could work independently but still use the facilities, including the photo studio where he hired models and did his own reference photographs. He had several models that he worked with over the years – women with the contemporary look that was in demand at the time.

Outdoor Life Magazine cover 1951 by Bernard Safran

This is my handsome Uncle Charlie posing for my Dad for the cover of Outdoor Life.

He eventually gave up the commercial studio space to work from home in order to save money.

He also needed a full time agent devoted to getting him paying work. So my mother managed to get fired from her illustration job at a publishing company, and became his agent, (figuring they’d make more money selling his art).

She went out 5 days a week to all the publishers in NYC with my Dad’s portfolio and smiled and chatted her way into getting him work.

Because she was friendly and didn’t take offense at rude behavior it was an easier job for her than it would be for my father – and since it wasn’t her work she was less inclined to take editor’s changes and criticisms personally; she could bring these comments back to my father and smooth the waters. She got him all sorts of illustration jobs including an entire children’s bible, full page work for magazines like Boy’s Life, and covers and interiors for literary books.

Bernie Safran in reference photo of cowboy

Bernie Safran in reference photo of cowboy. Here he’s using his childhood cap gun that was a beautiful replica of Tom Mix’s ivory handled silver gun.

But what he is perhaps best known for today by collectors are his pulp fiction covers.

For financial reasons, my mother became his model for many of the source photos he needed. He had already been using himself for most of the male figures he painted – occasionally calling on his handsome brother in law for a modelling job now and then.

My mother was also the set dresser and photographer’s assistant during these sessions. Props were bought when necessary like my Dad’s cowboy hat, but usually my parents used scarves of my mother’s and brooms or whatever they had at hand to represent the size and weight of whatever object had to be painted.

Bernie Safran with professional model in reference photo for Pulp Fiction cover

Bernie Safran with professional model in reference photo for Pulp Fiction cover

My Dad also kept a large image file on hand – clippings on all sorts of topics that he could use as reference material. I loved going through all those files when I was a kid – especially the one on horses that he kept for doing Westerns. (The files had to be trashed in the 80s due to mildew damage.)

He painted more than 40 pulp fiction covers during this time. It was relatively easy money – and he was good at it.

Croyden Publishing gave him the most jobs. He was able to capture just the right amount of sleeze but still keep it in the parameters of the current laws. For example, when he had to paint a woman with her shirt being ripped off, there were absolute limits to what could show and how it could be shown.

Indiscretions of A French Model by Bernard Safran, Croyden Publishing Co. oil on canvas board, 1953

My Dad was only paid $100.00 for this cover. You can see him in the foreground – the other guys were probably also himself, painted with different faces.
Indiscretions of A French Model by Bernard Safran, Croyden Publishing Co. oil on canvas board, 1953.

The publishing companies tried their best to work around these prohibitions and made my father revise some of the covers multiple times. They regularly demanded other changes too – in gestures (again circumventing the codes), in colors (fuschia is the most eye catching color on book stands) and in content.

Dealing with these myriad problems and changes gave my father an invaluable base of knowledge and self confidence to go forward – though the endless revisions drove him mad at the time.

He only made between $100 to $250 a cover. He knew the covers were trashy and not his best work, but he needed the money.

There are some covers where you can see he put a lot of effort in, and others that he obviously didn’t give a damn.

Backroad Motel, cover by Bernard Safran

My father is very clearly the guy in the green jacket (clearly to me) and probably the guy in the back too with some imaginative adjustments. The woman very likely was my mother foxed up.

But interestingly enough, his pulp covers of the 1950s are currently his hottest sellers at auction today…

…which I do find kind of sad given that his later works are so magnificent…

However, I say its all good. The more people who know the name Bernard Safran the better.