As a kid trying to learn to draw simple drawings fascinated me, which was why I love comic books. Another source that I copied over and over were the caricatures done of the cast of “My Fair Lady” by Hirschfied comics. Years later as my tastes matured, I found myself drawn to another artist who did the movie poster of the same play, using equally simple, clean drawings but put together with an amazing complexity: Bob Peak.
Born in Colorado in l928, Peak was raised in Wichita. In college he studied Geology with an art minor, because of his doubts about making a living as an artist. But these doubts didn’t keep him from working part time in an art department and spending his own time doing illustrations for himself.
After serving in the Navy in the Korean War he was accepted at Art Center in LA where he studied for the next two and half years. Then, with a family now, the Peaks headed east to NYC and the competitive world of commercial art.
Advised to constrain his exuberant style Bob tried the controlled photographic approach to the work, but he was miserable. Deciding either to do things the way HE thought they should be done or to move back to LA, he and his wife burned everything he had drawn since moving to NYC. He started over, in his own style.
Six weeks later he landed a major account for Old Hickory Whiskey and his work was on the back cover of Life, Look, and all the major magazines. His career was on the way. And what a career! There are over 100 movie posters (Camelot, Apocalypse Now, Star Trek, Pennies From Heaven); his portraits were regularly on the cover of Time and TV Guide; beside years of advertising and story illustrations he created a series of mural decorations for TWA; he created the Marlboro man; in l984 he was chosen to design a series of stamps for the Olympics - and a series of paintings to accompany them compiled in a book published by the US Postal Service.
Mainstays of his work were always the deceptive simplicity of his drawing done with an astounding spontaneity in an incredibly complex design of shape and color. To create this effect in earlier works, he worked out very complete pencil comps and had large Photostats blown up, on which he painted directly, letting the pencil line show through. For his movie posters, he would often do preliminary drawings much tighter than the finish so that when he was working on the final product he could loosen up.
His methods and techniques were astounding. He used oils, watercolor, acrylic, gauche, pencil, pastels - whatever it took to achieve the effect. His sense of design revolutionized the approach to the movie poster in the 70’s and 80’s. Looking over my tear sheet file to choose examples of Bob Peak’s work his incredible versatility kept jumping out at me. Even if you had no interest in art, whether you knew his name or not, you couldn’t avoid Bob Peak. He shaped the visual look of a generation.
For those of you who are fans of Bob peak, his son Tom has produced one of the finest illustration books I've ever seen. This is a must for any of Bob's fans, and for any serious students of illustration.
Check it out: http://www.bobpeak.com/bob-peak-book/
And speaking of another fine Arizona illustrator, my old friend Steve Rude is teaching a painting workshop. Steve's work speaks for itself, and I can't think of a better artist to have the chance to learn from.