Alex Ross

His strong un­der­stand­ing of form and light, and a pas­sion for “drawin’ good” has el­e­vated the comic art form to new heights

ImagineFX - - Legend -

Alex Ross’ break into comics was short lived. Hav­ing teamed up with writer Kurt Busiek to il­lus­trate a story for Open Space, the se­ries died be­fore Alex’s piece got printed. Re­treat­ing back to his steady ad­ver­tis­ing job, he could at least con­sole him­self that he got paid this time.

Sit­ting on the fringes of the comic in­dus­try gave both men time to bounce ideas for a new project around and find some­thing wor­thy of their tal­ents. In 1994 they re­leased Marvels to re­sound­ing ac­claim, and Alex swiftly be­came one of the most sought-after comic artists around.

At the core of Marvels was the hu­man, very un-su­per per­spec­tive of news pho­tog­ra­pher Phil Shel­don, as he ob­served the birth of su­per­heroes, start­ing with the Hu­man Torch in 1939. “Alex’s art made su­per­heroes feel so real and be­liev­able that it seemed wrong to waste that on a straight ac­tion story,” says Kurt to­day. “It had to be some­thing about see­ing th­ese guys as

or­di­nary peo­ple would, see­ing them as if they were real.” And if you want to de­pict ‘real’, Alex is your man.

Although he would be­come known for his mon­u­men­tal, larger-than-life iconic cov­ers of su­per­heroes, Alex’s in­tro­duc­tion to art had more to do with Phil Shel­don than Su­per­man. Like the ever-ob­serv­ing pho­tog­ra­pher, Alex stud­ied the su­per­heroes of the art world in his mother’s li­brary, shun­ning the company of other kids to spend more time learn­ing the pen­cil and char­coal teach­ings of An­drew Loomis. Not that the books’ ap­peal was re­stricted to the nobel pur­suit of great artistry. “They were also one of the few places you could see at­trac­tive women drawn with­out their clothes on!” rea­sons Alex. Along the way he grew to love An­drew’s brand of anatom­i­cally ac­cu­rate draw­ing. “That was my gen­e­sis.”

Through th­ese books, Alex came to think of re­al­ism as the high­est point of artis­tic achieve­ment. This year he’s had the chance to pay trib­ute to the past master that aided him in that dis­cov­ery, writ­ing the in­tro­duc­tion to An­drew’s 1959 all but com­plete, yet un­pub­lished, man­u­script I’d Love to Draw! (see page 97 for our re­view). Work­ing from his teacher’s orig­i­nal notes to fill in un­fin­ished sec­tions, Alex is keen to make clear that teach­ing has never re­ally ap­pealed to him. “I’d rather just make sure I have no com­peti­tors.”

Alex re­calls see­ing one of his favourite paint­ings hang­ing in his trav­el­ling ex­hi­bi­tion… “I got to see this piece in per­son, which An­drew Loomis did for the Ti­tan book Cre­ative Il­lus­tra­tion. It’s called Un­der­wa­ter Fan­tasies (1946) that I think he started as a test il­lus­tra­tion for his art book. First it was a char­coal draw­ing of a nude woman sit­ting on a swing, then he did the fi­nal elab­o­ra­tion of it as this oil paint­ing. It’s one of the most startling, ethe­rial images of a woman. I got to see this piece in per­son when it was loaned by the Loomis fam­ily for my ex­hibit, He­roes and Vil­lains, that was re­cently at the Andy Warhol mu­seum in Pitts­burgh, Penn­syl­va­nia, and is now trav­el­ling the coun­try.

“I’ve also taken such in­spi­ra­tion from that im­age that I’ve stuck it into my work be­fore. When I was draw­ing the story King­dom Come, and I de­picted At­lantis, I showed a mer­maid that was at least my ex­trap­o­la­tion of An­drew’s. It’s about as close as he got to fan­tasy.” me. So I can’t as­sume that I have that golden tongue to com­mu­ni­cate to the masses.” Bet­ter leave the art talk for it­self.

Alex sees another par­al­lel be­tween his work and that of his favourite il­lus­tra­tors. “My time has ar­guably come and gone. I’m

Alex isn’t shy to take a chunk out of the hand that feeds him. “A lot of the in­tent is re­design and rein­vent for a mod­ern read­er­ship,” he says, “but there’s a beau­ti­ful elo­quence in con­nect­ing with some­thing that was de­signed 50, 60, 75 years ago and

I’d like to think that the lit­tle part that I got to do with th­ese char­ac­ters presents them with the weight of their years

of­fi­cially a has-been in my medium,” he half-jokes of his gouache paint­ings and com­puter il­lit­er­acy. “I’m one of those can­tan­ker­ous old farts who com­plains about how ev­ery­thing is dif­fer­ent to the way that it ought to be. The mar­ket­place is say­ing: ‘Every­body has to be young and pretty.’ Re­ally?! Every­body?!” that re­mains undi­luted. They don’t need to be over-al­tered for the sake of up­com­ing gen­er­a­tions. If you have to al­ways make char­ac­ters younger be­cause ‘young peo­ple won’t con­nect with older pro­tag­o­nists,’ that’s such horse shit! It’s a company credo that’s the lazi­est part of the way they do business. But we’re go­ing to keep see­ing that hap­pen with the way they tell artists how to draw. I’d like to think that the lit­tle part that I got to do with th­ese char­ac­ters presents them with the weight of their years.”

The kiss of life

He’s done more than that. With suc­cess­ful exhibitions in the Nor­man Rock­well and Andy Warhol mu­se­ums, and his orig­i­nal comic art can­vases reg­u­larly sell­ing for thou­sands of dol­lars, he’s fol­lowed a long tra­di­tion of blur­ring the lines be­tween com­mer­cial and fine art. Not that you’d ex­actly com­pare him to a pop artist. “There was a tongue-in-cheek as­pect to adapt­ing comic images and al­ly­ing them to fine art,” says Alex of the work of Warhol and his con­tem­po­rary Licht­en­stein, “while, what I do, there’s no tongue in cheek. There’s no cyn­i­cism to it. I’ve tried tak­ing the

Jan­uary 2015

This can­vas paint­ing, which stretches 19x38 inches, could be yours for a mere $45,000, straight from Alex’s web­site.


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.