Saturday, April 18, 2015

Just a Painter

“I never considered myself an artist; I just liked to make pictures.”
McCauley “Mac” Conner

The American illustrator McCauley “Mac” Conner’s career in the 1950’s and 60’s was sandwiched between three influential artists, two he admired and for the third he was an influence.

As he says in a video produced by The Museum of the City of New York “Al Parker was one of my gods along with Norman Rockwell, the way he [Rockwell] painted the heart and soul, the sense of humor he put in them…the humble people.” Conner’s 1953 illustration We Won't Be Any Trouble (see above) is Rockwell to a fault.

Writer and curator Janis Hendrickson states in her 1993 book on Roy Lichtenstein “In 1961 Lichtenstein began his first pop paintings using cartoon images and techniques derived from the appearance of commercial printing. This phase would continue to 1965, and included the use of advertising imagery suggesting consumerism and homemaking.” With both Lichtenstein and Conner being in New York and Conner being widely published in commercial and homemaker publications the inference cannot be missed. Add Ben-Day dots and a thought/speech bubble and The Man Between (see below) becomes a quintessential Lichtenstein work.


Growing up in Newport New Jersey, Conner was an avid drawer, as he says “I was a bit shy, I think, I didn’t express myself too well and this was a way of doing it.” After his formal education Conner became a sign painter “I started out as a sign painter, so I got good, pretty good at doing letters and things. The Illustration part I moved into after the navy,” he recalls.


After the navy Conner met up with the salesman Bill Neeley and fellow artist Wilson Scrubs and together they opened their own studio with their first client being the Saturday Evening Post. Others like Cosmopolitan, Redbook and Ladies Home Journal followed.


As the popularity of the magazines started to fade with the advent of photography and television Conner moved over the to book cover illustration with companies like Harlequin romances. As he has

said, “When I got into paperbacks they were in oils, they were like a full painting…the lifestyle, the whole thing appealed to me. I loved to do it, it was a way of speaking or a way to get your feelings down and so it was a happy journey doing these paintings.”

The exhibition Mac Conner: A New York Life is currently on show at London’s House of Illustration until the 28th of June.

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