Marshall Arisman

By Tk Published on .

Acclaimed illustrator Marshall Arisman is about to add another honor to his palette: He's the 2003 recipient of the School of Visual Arts' Masters Series Award, and a retrospective exhibition of his work, titled "Marshall Arisman: Images for Everyday Use," will open at SVA's Visual Arts Museum in New York on Oct. 27. Curiously, however, Arisman's images apparently aren't everyday enough to make any headway in the ad world. Despite having conquered editorial illustration many times over, with decades of high-profile art for a host of top magazines, "the nature of my work does not lend itself to selling a product," he says. " 'It's too dark' is the general comment. The only advertising work I've been offered is an image for a drug product, usually an antidepressant. My illustration is the 'before,' not the 'after.' I have done movie posters - The Headless Horseman and a few horror films that never got produced. Advertising illustration is controlled by the client and market research, so there's less room for personal content."

There's no denying the darkness in Arisman's oeuvre. Some of his work recalls the art of the late Francis Bacon, which Arisman readily acknowledges. "It's more than fair to say that Bacon has been an influence on my work. In the late '60s, Bacon was one of the few artists doing highly emotional work, which is an area I'm very interested in." Not that he's terribly concerned about the lack of ad interest, or his inevitable fence-straddling between the fine-art world and world of commercial art. He's a dyed-in-the-wool easel painter - "I'm old school; I love the smell of turpentine, I like the feel of paint on a canvas . . ." - who's had his share of gallery shows, and if many of his oils are ultimately in the service of commercial illustration, so be it. "The sculptor David Smith said, 'Art that meets the minds and needs of other people is commercial art. Art that meets the artist's mind and needs is fine art.' I'm trying to get my own mind and needs onto a printed page through the vehicle of illustration. Mine is a selfish view; the publishers are trying to use me for my editorial content, while I'm trying to use them for exactly the same reason. I don't think about this in terms of 'fine' or 'commercial' art. The distinctions between the fine-art world and the illustration world are an issue of perception for each individual artist. I think there is good and bad art, whether it's printed on a page or hung on a gallery wall."

In other Masters Series events, Arisman, who's been on the faculty at SVA since 1964, will give a slide lecture on his career, at the SVA Amphitheater on Oct. 30, and there will be a screening on Nov. 18 of the documentary Arisman: Facing the Audience. Call 212-592-2207, or write for details.

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