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in issue 2 of
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Boris Artzybasheff - Undertaker's Garland Boris Artzybasheff - Verotchka's Tales How does one describe or categorize Boris Artzybasheff? From his very earliest work (the fleeing rabbit from Verotchka's Tales at left and The Undertaker's Garland centaur at right) in 1922 as a 23 year old immigrant from Russia to his 200+ Time Magazine covers over a 24-year span, there is a common thread of strong design and a light heart. Equally at home with a portrait of Stalin and a Venusian do-it-yourselfer, he was a master of composition and a superb draughtsman.

He illustrated some 50 books, several of which he wrote. While his Time covers showcased his work to millions, he probably made the biggest impression on the American public with his insightful, satirical and powerful images done for Life Magazine in the early forties on the various faces of war. These humanize the aspects and weapons and villains of WWII in a comic but sobering way.

Boris Artzybasheff - steel mill Boris Artzybasheff - Circus of Dr. Lao Many of these appear in his great book, As I See. Also shown in great abundance therein are his Mechinalia - his anthropomorphic tools ranging from a monkey wrench to The Blooming Mill at right. We can't recommend this book enough. Just the hilarious Neurotica would be a sufficient content, but with images as diverse as the one at left from The Circus of Dr. Lao and others reminiscent of Wally Wood, Hirschfeld, Dali, Disney and Wolverton, the full range of his work becomes apparent.
"Range" is the proper word for Artzybasheff. See the sampling of Time covers below. Realistic portraits and almost surreal backgrounds, carefully crafted to suit each individual assignment. Always unique and fresh, yet unmistakably Artzybasheff.

Boris Artzybasheff - Time A Boris Artzybasheff - Time B Boris Artzybasheff - Time C Boris Artzybasheff - Time D Boris Artzybasheff - Time E Boris Artzybasheff - Time F
Jan 28, 1946
Mar 16, 1953
Nov 2, 1953
Nov 8, 1954
Mar 28, 1955
Jan 19, 1959

Boris Artzybasheff - Three and the Moon Boris Artzybasheff - Creatures Some other stellar examples of his art and his styles can be found in Padraic Colum's Creatures from 1927 - see the powerfully designed b&w "pyrolin" cut at left. The sword-wielding, purple-caped horseman is from Three and The Moon (1929), a collection of legends from Normandy, Provence, and Brittany. Other titles in this highly graphic b&w "woodcut" style include Orpheus Myths of the World (another Colum title from 1930) and Behind Moroccan Walls (1931). After 1940, he devoted himself to commercial art. He was also an expert advisor to the U.S. Department of State, Psychological Warfare Branch during WWII. After seeing the Neurotica drawings in As I See, this becomes less of a puzzlement.

Boris Artzybasheff - As I See Boris Artzybasheff - Pan American ad As mentioned above, As I See is the book to find. Fortunately, Ken Steacy shepherded a reprint by Titan Books in 2008. The playful dust jacket image (at left) is repeated as the frontispiece. Other fine examples of his color work and his strong design sense can be found in his advertising work, like the Bermuda Clipper ad at right. (This image courtesy of a photograph shared with us by Arthur B. Metcalfe, an inveterate Artzybasheff collector.) Other advertising work was less graphic/design-oriented and more tongue-in-cheek like the very colorful spiel for the Casco Electri-craft Power Tool Kit below. The caption reads "Make Money! Sell Power Tool Kits by Mail on Venus!" This from 1946.

Boris Artzybasheff - ad Artzybasheff died in 1965. A book he illustrated, Dhan Mukerji's Gay Neck, was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1928. Most of his book illustrations favored the crisp line and careful composition that are so distinctively his. Other books to look for include: Feats on the Fiord (1924) (with a surprising color frontispiece), The Wonder Smith and His Son (1927), Mizra, Son of the Sword (1934), the dust jacket engraving for All Things Are Possible (1935) and some atypical, but stunning pencil (?) drawings for Nansen (1940), probably the last book he illustrated.


To find out more about Boris Artzybasheff, see:

Forty Illustrators and How They Work Ernest W. Watson, 1946 Watson Guptill
The Illustrator in America 1880 to 1980 Walt and Roger Reed, 1984 Madison Square Press
200 Years of American Illustration Henry Pitz, 1977 Random House
The Vadeboncoeur Collection of ImageS B&W 2 Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. 2004 JVJ Publishing

Illustrations copyright by their respective owners.
This page written, designed & © 1999 by Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. Updated 2011.

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