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Hailing one of the original "Mad Men".

FROM the 1940s to 1960s, the captivating advertising and editorial illustrations of McCauley ("Mac") Conner, one of New York's original "Mad Men," graced the pages of major magazines, helping shape the popular image of postwar America.

"Mac Conner: A New York Life"--the first exhibition of more than 70 original artworks by the illustrator--explores one man's prolific career in New York, the world's media capital and the country's publishing center in the pivotal years after World War II.

"Today, Mac Conner is one of the few remaining voices of an influential group of New York illustrators who created the look of a generation," notes Susan Henshaw Jones, director of the Museum of the City of New York. "We are thrilled to showcase his incredible work and introduce visitors to yet another remarkable New Yorker."

Adds Terrence C. Brown, a City Museum guest curator and former director of the Society of Illustrators: 'This golden era of Mac's illustration career echoes the golden era of when New York was the hub of advertising and publishing in America. The man had the skills and the imagination to service both with exciting images. The public will thoroughly enjoy a look at these times."

Conner, still witty at 101, considers himself an illustrator rather than an artist, and his striking graphic approach seems as modern today as it was at the height of his career. On view for the first time are reference photographs, pastel sketches, and final printed pieces that illuminate Conner's illustration process and the nature of his collaboration with colleagues and clients, which helped to shape the final work.

Exhibition highlights include:

* Three issues of The Saturday Evening Post dated from 1937, 1939, and 1941 with front page illustrations by Conner, who was one of the youngest artists ever to earn a place on the cover of one of the most prestigious media outlets of the era.

* A six-minute video interview with Conner, who reflects on his start in the advertising business, and the inspiration and technique behind his illustrations.

* Two illustrations for a December 1957 Cosmopolitan story by Archie Oldham entitled "Between the Halves," which are paired with a display of correlating steps involved in the illustration process, such as pastel comps, reference photos, paintings, and final tearsheets.

* A selection of fiction stories--accompanied with illustrations by Conner and his contemporaries such as Tom Lovell, Bernie Fuchs, and Dorothy Monet--in vintage magazines, including Woman's Day, Woman's Home Companion, and McCall's, all beautifully reproduced for visitors to be able to thumb through.

* Advertising tearsheets for major American corporations such as Ford, Plymouth, United Airlines, AT&T, and Armco Steel, featuring Conner's illustrations along with letters from art buyers offering direction for how the ads should be depicted.

* Correspondence letters with editors and art directors providing a glimpse inside the dynamic world of publishing at a time when the advertising industry was at its height and centered almost entirely on New York's Madison Avenue.

* A wall-size map--16 feet wide and almost 14 feet high--indicating the locations of several advertising agencies that were prominent in New York in the 1950s, including J. Walter Thompson, McCann Erickson, Young & Rubicam, BBDO, and Ayer, as well as influential publishers and other businesses critical to the illustration industry at the time.

* The earliest extant painting by Conner--an elegant woman and man strolling along the beach.

Conner's extraordinary career emerged from humble beginnings: he began to study illustration by correspondence course during the Depression before attending the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art. Conner eventually studied under Harvey Dunn at New York's Grand Central School of Art, moving to the city to illustrate wartime Navy training aids and then staying on to establish his vocation.

By 1950, Conner was well established in the field and joined with William Neeley to create Neeley Associates, a studio with up to 10 artists servicing publishing and advertising clients. For the next 15 years, Conner was a mainstay illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post and for top women's and general interest magazines, including Ladies' Home Journal, Redbook, McCall's, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, Woman's Home Companion, and Collier's. His advertising accounts included United Airlines, U.S. Army Recruiting, General Motors, and Greyhound Lines.

With dramatic perspective, bold color blocks, and eye-catching patterns, Conner's illustrations exude an impeccable sense of style and capture ideals of female beauty, comportment, and romance that feminist Betty Friedan later famously--and critically--labeled "The Feminine Mystique" (and wrote a book by the same name). The themes presented in his work mirror the perspectives of the publications of the day and of their readership, with an emphasis on glamour, family values, and youth. The sophisticated, beautiful women in the illustrations often are depicted as the principal players, with men taking supporting roles.

Anxieties about postwar culture can be found in the work as well, reflecting the national scare over the "juvenile delinquent problem," or the Cold War-era fascination with noir topics such as crime, intrigue, and mystery--subjects that Conner interpreted with dramatic compositions reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock thrillers. Racial diversity generally is conspicuous by its absence, as the magazines usually required that all of the subjects be white, though isolated assignments expand diversity ever so slightly, as when Conner illustrated a story by Pearl Buck, or depicted a black man attending a Jewish funeral in a story for Collier's.

By the 1960s, Conner altered his style in accordance with changing artistic preferences cultivated by a younger cadre of illustrators who began to fill the pages of popular magazines. Women's publications shifted their focus away from fiction, and advertising agencies began to explore the possibilities of television over print. The exhibition shows that, like many of his contemporaries, Conner reinvented himself as a paperback cover artist, creating lush paintings that depict exotic locales and historical themes for romance novels and women's fiction published by Warner and Harlequin Books. Later in his career, Conner investigated portraiture and illustration for children's books.

"Mac Conner: A New York Life" is on view through Jan. 19, 2015, at the Museum of the City of New York.
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Title Annotation:USA Yesterday; exhibition 'Mac Conner: A New York Life'
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Nov 1, 2014
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