"He found mechanical and industrial process as interesting to draw as more obviously picturesque subjects. Working environments were invested with an energy which matched or exceeded that which those engaged in the work had themselves. He also demonstrated the ambiguities of their environments. While aware of the economic importance of work in the lives of ordinary people, he was very conscious of the dangers encountered by those same people -- unprotected by fair labour laws and ethical working conditions." from Line 1 Reportage
Seeing Is Not Believing: The Art of Robert Weaver 2 [was] on exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge from November 8, 1997 through January 25, 1998. The undisputed pioneer of contemporary illustration, Robert Weaver came of age during the post-war forties when the paintings of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning were in vogue and the field of illustration seemed a reactionary art form. He changed the methodology and perception of illustration and, as a result of his innovations, has been called the "godfather of the new illustration." By the late 1960s, his influence was clearly reflected in the magazines, books and advertisements of the period.
When Weaver was launched into the field of illustration in 1952, romantic, idealized imagery dominated the field, quite unlike Weaver's open-ended expressionistic form of realism. His images are the result of a search "for a more accurate way of seeing life." Weaver was among the first to wed fine art to applied illustration. His approach was contemporary, often inspired by the cinema of Orson Welles and the post-war Italian films directed by Rossellini and de Sica, who showed the drama inherent in life's ordinary moments. He felt illustration was both a means of conveying information and experiencing it.
During the 50s, 60s and 70s Weaver produced powerful illustrations for such noteworthy clients as Esquire, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, Life, Look, The New York Times and Columbia Records. Inspired to find a new approach to visual storytelling, he was the first to break the picture plane into separate areas of activity, packing several actions into one page. "Life is not a single snapshot, it is a series of events that are chain linked and proceed frame by frame." Although his collage-like approach to painting was never before seen in illustration, it was quickly imitated. When he felt that the day of the magazine as an outlet for his creativity had passed, he turned to books, which offered him a much broader surface on which to work and express the interconnectedness of images and ideas.
As a professor at Syracuse University and the School of Visual Arts, where he taught for thirty years, Weaver tried to instill in his students a sense of obligation to see clearly and record faithfully. Telling his students "to stop being conceptual and get back to looking at things, at the details...to observe light and color and pattern." He told them "to take risks, to get their feet into the water and to overcome fear." Weaver sent them out to record life on 42nd street in New York City and the action in Grand Central Station and was rewarded with real art drawn from real life. His philosophy of teaching had tremendous impact on younger artists and on the illustration of recent decades. His development of the unconventional multiple-image serial illustration continues to have an effect on the way illustration is practiced today.
Though he struggled with fading vision in his later years, Weaver continued to work every day. He adapted to his physical constraints by wearing industrial strength magnifying goggles and continued his ongoing search for creative and meaningful ways to communicate in visual form. Robert Weaver died in 1994.
Seeing is Not Believing: The Art of Robert Weaver includes original paintings, collages, three-dimensional boxes, drawing books and tearsheets representing the broad range of Weaver's commercial work. It explores the significance of his contribution, and examines the iconography that made its way into both his commercial assignments and personal work. The exhibit is co-curated by Marshall Arisman, illustrator and chair of the Master of Fine Arts Illustration Program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and Stephanie Plunkett, manager of adult services at the Norman Rockwell Museum. It [travelled to] the Visual Arts Museum at the School of Visual Arts, the nation's leading private art college, in March, 1998.
There are over 100 pieces in the exhibit, many of which focus on aspects of life in New York, the artist's interest in optics through sequential and stereoscopic images, and significant personal symbols. One example is New York Unbound, a major work from his personal collection which sequences fourteen visual narratives based on urban life including: the New York City subway system, Central Park, the Thanksgiving Day parade, street musicians, the New York Aquarium, city construction sites, outdoor sculptures, baseball and New York signage. The sequences examine the variety of life's events which happen simultaneously in New York. Another series of paintings features the umbrella as a strong graphic symbol and almost universal visual icon.
"Robert Weaver brought a clarity of vision and a depth of emotion to all that he created, whether it be a personal or commissioned work. His commitment to the turning page and his refusal to distinguish between applied and fine art has inspired many, making new forms of illustration possible. We are thrilled to introduce the work of this extraordinary artist to a wider public. This exhibit is the culmination of an important collaboration between the School of Visual Arts, where the artist taught for thirty years, and the Norman Rockwell Museum," said co-curator Stephanie Plunkett. Marshall Arisman has called Weaver, "The only pictorial genius I have ever met."credits
image: Robert Weaver, 1983. acrylic on paper illustration about Vietnam, for a special issue of Mother Jones on remembering the war. Art director: Louise Kollenbaum, as reproduced in Innovators of American Illustration, edited by Steven Heller. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1985.
(1) from Robert Weaver 1924-1994: an appreciation of his work, Wendy Coates-Smith in Line No. 1 Reportage edited by Wendy Coates-Smith, Department of Art and Design, APU, Cambridge, CB1 1PT, 2000.
(2) exhibition essay, Seeing Is Not Believing: Norman Rockwell Museum