‘The Art Of Bob Peak’ Honors The Legendary Movie Poster Illustrator [Review]
This is something of a golden age for pop culture-themed art books. It seems like every week, a new volume comes on the market that illuminates some aspect of the history of popular art. In fact, there's so many great titles out there right now that it can be tough to figure out which are worth your time -- so we figured it would be a good idea to shine the ComicsAlliance spotlight on a few of the best things we've recently read.
The Art Of Bob Peak celebrates the works of one of the world's most legendary movie poster artists, edited and annotated by his son Thomas Peak.
I've been aware of Bob Peak's work for pretty much as long as I can remember, and it's a safe bet that the same holds true for almost anybody who has taken an interest in twentieth century pop culture. His art was practically inescapable, his movie posters, ad campaigns, magazine illustrations, and book jackets, reached every corner of America.
And yet, he tends to fall victim to that unique curse of the commercial artist: being simultaneously ubiquitous and unknown. Despite creating visual identities for uncountable films, books, and products, his name is often overlooked when counting down the great illustrators of 20th Century America.
But this hefty volume goes a long way toward correcting that oversight – it gives a comprehensive overview of the man's long career, not only reprinting many of his finest pieces, but also providing an up-close look at his process through a selection of sketches, roughs, and alternate versions.
In fact, it's a little odd to flip through this book and realize just how familiar much of his work is, and how much he set the standard for all that have followed. Unlike many in his field, he was able to balance concerns of commerce and creativity, constantly shifting styles and pushing the envelope, dealing in both consummate craftsmanship and perpetual innovation.
Peak casts a huge shadow across the worlds of popular illustration and graphic design, and his influence is also felt in comics. His style and innovations echo through the work of Jim Steranko, Howard Chaykin, and Bill Sienkiewicz – three of the most groundbreaking artists ever to produce sequential art.
Peak himself actually got his start as a cartoonist, providing strips for his college newspaper before becoming one of America's most in-demand illustrators, and this book covers his career from those early gag panels through to his last painted masterpieces.
Even in the earliest monochromatic pieces, the skills that would make him famous are apparent. Peak had an innate knack for contrasting thick areas of darkness with detailed fine-lined forms, and making shapes grow out of seemingly disparate pen strokes.
That being said, as we go from page to page, it's impressive to realize how his work evolved throughout his career. His understanding of design was unparalleled from the first, but over time, he developed new tools and techniques that set him apart from his peers.
Bob Peak's use of hue and shape to call attention to specific figures, and his knack for dropping out color and detail to sharpen focus are just a couple of his compositional hallmarks. His figures race forward and almost vibrate apart, separating into component tones and lines – the motion pulls the viewer's eye across the page, and the kinetic combination of textures gives these images a depth and character that goes beyond any that could emerge from more realistic styles of depiction.
And nearly all of Peak's iconic works are represented in this collection. From his Coke promotions to his posters for My Fair Lady, Camelot, Modesty Blaise, Superman, and countless other films, to the abstract motion of his sports illustrations and the stark graphic nature of his airline commissions, it's all here, and all stunning.
Tom Peak has crafted a fitting tribute to his father's creative prowess, but he's also provided an invaluable service for scholars, pop culture historians, designers, and art aficionados. This is rewarding reading for anybody with an interest in American visual culture, or for anyone who simply likes to look at beautiful pictures.