Coloring the world: An illustrator’s view

By Pamela Brown

The brilliance of illustration comes alive at a new exhibition that celebrates the diverse, creative and interpretive world of this graphic art form. “Thinking Visually: The Art of Connecticut Illustrators” features 56 framed art pieces from fifteen nationally and internationally acclaimed illustrators.

Jack Tom, associate professor of illustration at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU), was instrumental in coordinating the show and contacting and collecting art from the group of illustrators who all reside in Connecticut, after the idea for the show was suggested by Melissa Ralston-Jones, gallery curator. The show was designed and hung by the MFA students from Darby Cardonsky’s graduate class. The show will run through Dec. 3 in the School of Visual and Performing Arts at WCSU.

Amazon Aquatics by Robert Giusti

The exhibition encompasses an expansive variety of illustration, from children’s books, magazine covers, movie posters and album covers, to advertising, cartoons and cardboard constructions.

“Illustration is a very popular art form as visual communication in both print and digital media. Like graphic design, illustration is everywhere. Just go down any supermarket or bookstore aisle and you can see hundreds of usages of illustration on packaging and book or magazine covers. Our history and culture has been recorded visually through illustration and design,” said Tom.

Tom invited the following fifteen artists: Guy Billout, Leslie Cober-Gentry, Robert Crawford, Bruce Degen, Randy Enos, Robert Giusti, James Grashow, Gerard Huerta, Roger Huyssen, Christine Kornacki, Ross MacDonald, Wendell Minor, Jon Sideriadis, Bill Thomson and David Wenzel. The exhibit celebrates Connecticut illustrators and their unique styles, techniques and personalities.

Demon of the Fall by Jon Sideriadis

“We have fantasy illustrators, children’s book illustrators, illustrators who worked in the entertainment industries and major publications and advertising agencies,” said Tom.

Artist Bruce Degen, illustrator and author of over 40 children’s books, said he was honored to be part of the exhibit.

“All of the illustrators in the show are masterful and all are different,” said Degen, a resident of Fairfield County, who displays his illustrations for The Magic School Bus, the popular childrens books on science, and Jamberry, the classic best-selling book he wrote and illustrated.

An illustration by Ross MacDonald

“I like that illustrating children’s books sends my work out to the world and that families, teachers, students share it. They’re not just an image on one wall in one room,” said Degen who’s inspired by great illustration, past and present, great books, people, children, and his own childhood memories. “I’m very happy to have met some of the students at WestConn. Glad to see a vibrant art program there.”

James Grashow, of Redding, displays original woodblock prints from the Jethro Tull and Yardbird album covers plus a print from the first New York City Marathon poster.

Bruce Degen’s Dragon endpaper

“Over my career I’ve done album covers and op-ed pieces for the New York Times. I’ve done work for every major periodical and special commissions,” said Grashow, who is inspired by everything around him.  He enjoys his work. “It’s great to do a piece in your studio and then have it seen when it’s published all over the world. I want [patrons] to say wow.”

Ross MacDonald has four pieces in the exhibit that highlight his artistic range. “There’s an illustration from a parody book that I co-wrote, two comics – one for a magazine, and one that was used for a poster and a children’s book illustration,” said MacDonald, of Newtown whose work includes magazine illustration, book illustration, children’s books, comics, letterpress, design, and movie prop design.

Winter by Christine Kornacki

“I’ve been told my work has a retro feel, which I guess is true. Some of my influences are children’s books from the 30’s and 40’s. Since I work mostly for magazines, my work tends to be editorial. I also use humor a lot,” he said.

MacDonald is inspired by everything. “When I’m stuck and trying to come up with ideas, I look through random books in my reference library – old school books, books of illustration, old ephemera, posters, pulp magazine covers, wood engravings, etc. Usually some completely random thing will set off a chain reaction and lead to an idea for a piece that will often be unrelated to the image that inspired it,” he said, noting he’s always enjoyed the art of illustration. “It’s fun, always interesting, it’s challenging, and offers something new every day.”

Album cover for Jethro Tull by James Grashow

Tom hopes the show makes people smile and get a “wow” factor. “Especially for the students of illustration, I hope they’ll be inspired and allow them to want to do this for the rest of their lives.”

On Nov. 15 at 6:30 p.m. there will be an Illustration Panel Discussion moderated by Tom in the Center with six of the illustrators. The panel format encourages discussion amongst artists and audience about their professional pursuits and accomplishments. Light refreshments will be provided. The event is free and open to the public; a $5 donation is welcome.

For more information and gallery hours, visit wcsu.edu.

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