FEBRUARY 15 - MAY 25
During the 1940s and 1950s, book illustrators created dynamic and engaging paperback covers for western tales of cowboys, villains, duels, and danger. They belonged to a tradition that included Charles M. Russell, Frederic Remington, Philip Goodwin, and other prominent artists. Despite their training and contributions, however, this new generation rarely received recognition or respect for their work. Some critics, including artists, even said its commercial and unrefined nature disqualified it as “true” art. But art is in the eye of the beholder, and the works of A. Leslie Ross, Robert Stanley, George Gross, Tom Ryan, Frank McCarthy, and Stanley Borack deserve a long and thoughtful look.
Each forged a career through study and hard work before landing jobs with some of the largest publishers of the time. Producing books at a relentless pace, these companies needed artists who could work well under pressure and meet strict deadlines. Artists often had little more than a tagline or two to direct their assignments. Armed with limited information, they still delivered dramatic results. Energetic, exciting, and sometimes ominous—their covers did not ask for the public’s attention. They demanded it.
Behind their bold and bright designs, however, was a standard artistic approach. The illustrators used the same supplies and techniques as any painter, and composed every scene with perspective, aesthetic, color, form, and figure in mind. Unfortunately, few of these original paintings survived.
Although all six men achieved success in the illustration world, only Tom Ryan and Frank McCarthy are widely known today. They established careers as western painters and became members of the Cowboy Artists of America. Their colleagues, however, remain largely unknown so today we remember Ross, Stanley, Gross, and Borack. Their covers might not have been sold in galleries or taken months to complete, but they are humble testaments to talent and skill. Study their works, judge their covers, and decide: is it art or something else? Does it belong on a bookshelf, on exhibit, or both?