Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Action Art of Mort Kunstler

On Thursday we visited the exhibition "Mort Kunstler: The Art of Adventure" at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  
Mort Kunstler, "Buried Alive for Four Months," Stag Magazine, 1965.

The exhibit spans his entire career, celebrating his well-known Civil War paintings, but I'd like to focus here on his earlier work for the men's action magazines, which doesn't get exhibited as often. 

When Mort Kunstler started doing illustrations in the early 1950s, he said that the field of mainstream magazine story illustration was already beginning to die away. "Color photography and television was coming in," he says, and advertising money was going to television. Dramas were broadcast on TV instead of being published in magazines.

But there were over 130 separate titles of men's adventure magazines still going strong, catering to veterans of World War II. The magazines had names like Adventure, Real, True, Saga, Stag, Swank and For Men Only

The illustrations were often printed in limited color palettes, such as red and black, and they required tight deadlines. Kunstler produced a vast output of complex images, usually staged with maximum drama and sex appeal. Most of these early paintings were executed in gouache on board.

Still at the easel in his 80s, Mort has remained busy for all these decades, with one assignment or painting idea following another. He has done it all: movie posters, plastic model box covers, commercial advertisements, and limited edition art prints.

He painted this spoof on Jaws for Mad magazine. He wasn't sure if it would alienate his fans, so he signed it "Mutz," just one of his pseudonyms.

In the 1970s, after the era of men's magazines was over, he painted paperback covers, such as "The Kansan," above. He switched to oil paint, and found his main calling painting scenes from American history, particularly documenting epic moments from the Civil War. 

All these aspects of his career are well represented in the three large rooms of the exhibition, along with examples of his preliminary sketches, comprehensive drawings, and tearsheets that show his process.

The exhibition "Mort Kunstler: The Art of Adventure" will be on view at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts through March 8. 



T Wolf said...

Wow, his work is astounding and so ambitious. He brought everything to bear at full tilt in so much of his work; composition, lighting, figure arrangement, expressions, storytelling, props, fashion, and camera angles. What a master!

I wish the West Coast had something similar to the Rockwell Museum which featured more illustrative work. I was bummed when I heard that George Lucas had decided to locate his new museum in Chicago too. Although the design looks pretty stunning:

There really is nothing on this side of the country that focuses on this kind of work in any kind of regular way. I guess we got the nice weather though. Thanks for the post!

arturoquimico said...

Wow, thanks for letting us know about this guy... there is also a 1hr YouTube interview which I watched last night...

Bruce K said...

I have always worked in Gouache, although I don't feel I have ever mastered it. I love the bold colors and clean edges.

My favorite Gouache Master has to be Syd Mead

Thanks for posting these artists