The Masters Series: R.O. Blechman
School of Visual Arts will honor illustrator R.O. Blechman with the 25th annual Masters Series Award and exhibition. “The Masters Series: R.O Blechman” is the first major retrospective representing all three genres of the artist’s work: illustrations and editorial cartoons, animations and graphic novels. The exhibition is on view October 2-November 2 at the SVA Chelsea Gallery (formerly the Visual Arts Gallery), 601 West 26thStreet, New York City. Admission is free and open to the public.
Blechman’s trademark squiggly line has given nervous energy, charm and understated humor to his art for the past six decades. He is well known for classic advertising campaigns, such as the television commercial for Alka-Seltzer featuring a talking stomach, and for books including The Juggler of Our Lady (Henry Holt, 1953). He directed the Emmy-winning animated PBS special The Soldier’s Tale (1984) and produced 14 magazine covers for The New Yorker. Blechman’s witty spot illustrations and editorial cartoons have been widely seen in The New York Times, The Nation, Harpers Bazaar, Esquire, Punch and The Huffington Post.
Blechman is a member of three different Halls of Fame (Art Directors Club, Society of Illustrators and National Cartoonists Society [Lifetime Achievement Award]) and was honored as Adweek’s Illustrator of the Year. His work on the animated series Nicholas Nickleby earned him a 1983 Emmy nomination. The following year he received the Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement for his direction of The Soldier’s Tale. Blechman’s animated work was the subject of a 2003 retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Kurt Andersen, writer and host of NPR’s Studio 360, is a self-described “lifelong devotee” of the artist. “To me, Bob Blechman’s illustrations are a perfect distillation of civilized charm as of the second half of the 20th century.” The 1967 commercial for Alka-Seltzer was “an ah-ha moment,” he recalls. “Sixty seconds of urbane wit and humanity expressed in this singular, seemingly effortless, totally fetching (and faintly European) economy of form, right there on TV. I was smitten.”
Oscar Robert Blechman, who taught at SVA during the 1960s and 1970s, was born in Brooklyn in 1930. He attended Oberlin College, where he drew illustrations for The Oberlin Review. At age 22 he published his first book, The Juggler of Our Lady, considered a precursor of the modern graphic novel. The book caught the attention of animator John Hubley, who invited him to join Storyboard Studios. Blechman went on to open his own design studio in 1960. During the 1970s he penned Vietnam War editorial cartoons for The Village Voice and produced Simple Gifts, a Christmas special for PBS featuring his own animations and segments by fellow illustrators Maurice Sendak, James McMullan, Seymour Chwast, and Charles B. Slackman. He worked as an ad agency art director in the 1980s and operated his ground-breaking animation studio, The Ink Tank, from 1977 through 2003.
In conjunction with The Masters Series exhibition, SVA will present “R.O. Blechman in Conversation with Victor Navasky” on Thursday, October 17, 7:00 – 9:00pm. Writer and editor Victor Navasky—author of The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power (Random House, 2013)—talks with the artist and illustrator about his life and influence through the decades. The program will take place at the SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd Street. It is free and open to the public.
In 1988, SVA founder Silas H. Rhodes instituted the College’s Masters Series, an award and exhibition honoring great visual communicators of our time. Although the achievements of many groundbreaking designers, illustrators, art directors and photographers are known to and lauded by their colleagues, their names often go unrecognized by the general public. The Masters Series brings greater exposure to those whose influence has been felt strongly and by many, yet without widespread recognition.
Masters Series laureates are James McMullan, Marshall Arisman, Saul Bass, Ivan Chermayeff, Seymour Chwast, Paul Davis, Lou Dorfsman, Heinz Edelmann, Jules Feiffer, Shigeo Fukuda, Milton Glaser, April Greiman, Steven Heller, George Lois, Mary Ellen Mark, Ed McCabe, Duane Michals, Tony Palladino, Paula Scher, Edward Sorel, Deborah Sussman, George Tscherny, Paul Rand and Massimo Vignelli.