Monday 25 January 2016

The Art Of Robert E McGinnis

Cover Girls

The Art Of Robert E McGinnis
by Robert E. McGinnis and Art Scott
Titan Books 
ISBN: 978-1781162170

A very good friend bought me this book for Christmas and, I have to say, it’s a pretty amazing find. I first heard of Robert E. McGinnis, or thought I had, from a constant stream of retweets of his work from various people on Twitter over the last six months or so. But, as it turns out, the art of Robert E. McGinnis is something which has never been very far away from me throughout my life... and I suspect the same can be said for a lot of people, even though many of them may never have heard of him.

This book takes a very broad look at the artist’s work, a man who has painted literally 1000s of book covers, movie posters and magazine illustrations (amongst other things) over the years. The book jackets are absolutely fantastic and it was his work with drawing sexy females, something known by afficionados of his work as the ‘McGinnis Women’, that drew my eye initially, most recently. There’s something about some of those pulpy covers featuring a girl and a gun, often eyeing up the potential reader with a look and in a pose which sparks an unspoken dialogue or query, which grabs the audience straight away. Apparently, sales of one particular series of books which were going to be cancelled, sky rocketed when they started utilising McGinnis’ paintings and it’s not hard to see why.

The McGinnis women have a slightly different feel to them too, from series to series. For instance, on the Perry Mason series of covers, which was perceived as being a far more upmarket franchise than some of the other ones the artist worked on, the women are less about obvious sex appeal but still hold the attention, nonetheless and, as this book progresses, you see different sides of the painter expressed in different kinds of projects. It’s also fun to spot influences on his work in terms of likenesses used from time to time too. For instance a series of books about a character called Milo March often included the likeness of Hollywood actor James Coburn on the cover and the painter makes mention to the writer of this handsome tome that he was always anxiously awaiting from a call from Coburn to find out just what was going on with that. I guess those were the days before likeness rights were an issue.

McGinnis was, of course, no stranger to working with the likeness of James Coburn from some of the movie posters he created, such as the iconic one of him riding the motorbike with his arms holding his jacket open and revealing dynamite for Sergio Leone’s A Fistful Of Dynamite (aka Duck, You Sucker aka Giu La Testa) and I believe, although it’s not mentioned in this book, that he might have done the first of the two theatrically released Flint movies too. There was a slightly more cartoon style to another strand of his work... like I said, different aspects of the man come out as you read through the book... and there’s a lot of iconic imagery that he’s been responsible for, in terms of colonising the collective subconscious of various generations. Such as the classic painting of Audrey Hepburn with a cat sitting on her shoulder, synonymous with the Breakfast At Tiffany’s advertising. Or many of the classic James Bond posters such as Thunderball, Diamonds Are Forever and Live And Let Die (among others). Or how about Barbarella?

There are a few sides of McGinnis on display in this book which readers might not be as familiar with, of course. The man is coming up for his 90th birthday at some point in the next few weeks and he’s still painting all the time. The way he explains it, it’s almost like an addiction and he does a lot of work now for himself... spanning gorgeous paintings which capture his love of the Old West, including the portrayal of it in his favourite movie ‘oaters’ over the years, and a series of studies of various ladies showing a lot more than he could get away with on most of his covers. He’s even still doing commissions, believe it or not, and I found it ironic that someone who was once the cover artist for Brett Halliday’s Mike Shayne novels was asked to paint some fake pulp cover props for the Robert Downey Jr movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang... a film which was itself loosely based on one of Halliday’s old novels.

The writing accompanying the pictures in the various sections which make up this mini journey through the artist's vision is pretty straight forward and simple. Nothing complicated and it’s quite well written... giving you the straight facts and enough details to whet your appetite, as do the paintings of course, that there might hopefully be another Robert E. McGinnis book in the works sometime soon. One can only hope so because, frankly, this is a heck of a great looking book... well, how could it not be when it’s filled with McGinnis paintings, many of which eschew the typography of the original novels and show the paintings in their full glory. Some pages even show the original sketches and preliminary versions, including rejected versions of the artwork, and it’s quite fascinating to get a look at this stuff because it gives you an insight into just how much work, asides from the sheer hard slog and talent which always go into painting a picture (bad or good), the artist has to go through in terms of negotiation and compromise. Being a graphic designer myself, I know all about compromise... which is a polite word for it, when it comes to certain kinds of customers.

All in all, The Art Of Robert E. McGinnis is more than just a sound read... it’s a solid and inspirational look at one of the less sung heroes of 20th and early 21st Century commercial art and it really should be on anyone’s list of priority reads if they are into beautiful, visual work. Easily one of my new favourite art books and an absolute pleasure to sit back and breeze through the pages. A must own and I look forward, in my mind, to the possibility of another volume sometime in the, hopefully near, future.

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