The incomparable appeal of R. O. Blechman
This site, illoinfo.com, was inspired by a moment in my graphic design studio in the mid-2000s when I thought to myself “I wonder what R. O. Blechman is up to”? I realized it had been a while since I had seen his work. So I googled him and found his website roblechman.com—the same website that is up today as I write this. I was tantalized and delighted by what I saw—this was still the early days of artists' websites. I was inspired to create a venue to display his work where young artists could discover him. I made a lot of notes, procrastinated a lot, made a lot of false attempts, and, now, here we are! illoinfo is born.
It is difficult to pinpoint when I first became aware of R. O. Blechman’s work. Perhaps it was a New Yorker cover? An OpEd illustration in the New York Times? The infamous Perrier and Alka-Seltzer ads? His books? The beautiful 1966 animated CBS Christmas Message? I remember being profoundly moved by the CBS Christmas Message during the turbulent 1960s when I was in High School in Woodbridge, Connecticut. It had a soothing effect.
At the age of 17, I left home for New York City. I remained a died-in-the-wool New Yorker, either living and/or working there, from 1970 until 2012. Back in the day, living in New York was an endless process of discovery, of the arts, of culture, of people. Living in New York was an eye opener to the world, for back then it seemed the center of the world. People were sustaining themselves in the arts. Arts were not taboo. Immigrants were not taboo. Multi-cultures were not taboo. Instead, these were all embraced open-heartedly and synchronously on the tiny, remarkable island called Manhattan. One could live very cheaply on the island of Manhattan back in the 70s, which was a critical component to the large creative community.
R. O. Blechman was born in New York in 1930, and lived there for most of his life. It is important to understand New York back then in order to understand R. O.'s work. His work stood out as something fresh and new in a landscape of commercial advertising. His original style is what caught my eye back in Connecticut in the 60's. R. O. always drew with his traditional squiggly line.
“Words, images, and animation are his stock in trade” —from R. O.’s website
R. O. graduated from Oberlin College, where he was the Editorial Cartoonist for the school newspaper. In 1952, he published his first book, The Juggler of Our Lady, which launched his professional career. Here is a timeline of a remarkable career, still going strong:
• 1960 - opened a design studio
• 1968 - worked as a sales promotion Art Director for an advertising agency
• 1977 - opened his animation studio which existed through 2004
• 1999 - Art Directors’ Hall of Fame
• 2003 - MoMA retrospective of his animated films
• 2011 - National Cartoonists Society Lifetime Achievement Award
• 2012 - Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame
• 2013 - first major retrospective, at School of Visual Arts, entitled The Masters Series: R. O. Blechman
“When Blechman's art was on the ascent during the late '50s and '60s, he rejected the typical gag cartoon. His abstract linear economy was innovative, and so were his themes. The 1953 adaptation of The Juggler of Our Lady, which prefigured today's graphic novels, was not the usual cartoon or comic fare. His 1977 No Room at the Inn, a retelling of the nativity myth, was surprisingly warm and curiously spiritual.” —quoted from "The Gutsy Scribbling of R. O. Blechman", by Steven Heller, June 28, 2012, The Atlantic
“Now 82, R. O. no longer keeps a large studio, preferring to work from his farmhouse in upstate New York. He hasn’t retired—he says he’s racing the clock. After a slew of commercials and short films, he recently started on a storyboard for his first feature film (which will be both animated and live-action)...With editorial illustration venues drying up, he sees an opportunity for illustrators to produce their own work, as authors and entrepreneurs. Beyond that, he says, “I’d also like to build a boat.” —quoted from “My Son, the Art Director. My Dad, the Illustrator”, by Steven Heller, January 31, 2013, Print Magazine
Thank you R. O. Blechman, for being an ongoing inspiration to generations of creatives.
April 4, 2017