While Al Parker’s work (alongside other artists such as John Whitcomb and Coby Whitmore) could be criticised for its idealised, even kitsch view of post-war America, it’s difficult not to be seduced by his glamorous visions of high-fashion and happy families. Indeed, his illustrations could be reduced to pure retro escapism placed in today’s context, but overriding all of this is a masterful execution that places Al Parker’s work into the realms of pure art. Through the use of bold shapes, contrasting lines, frames within frames and vibrating patterns, Parker created images that were immediate and jumped off the page. His sense of composition and graphic design, coupled with traditional painting skills and an uncanny ability to place just the right amount of detail (leaving abstracts to play with our imaginations) make them appealing beyond any photo and addictive viewing for illustration fans.
Al Parker: Illustrator, Innovator by Manuel Auad collects hundreds of examples along with archive photographs and essays from David Apatoff, Leif Pengand Stephanie Haboush Plunkett in a tremendous tribute. From magazine covers to advertising work and Parker’s only children’s book (a collaboration with Arthur Miller called Jane’s Blanket), its pages are a testament to his ever evolving style and experimentation in different mediums. The included pages from a 1954 issue of Cosmopolitan provide an interesting example, in which Parker illustrated five stories, each in a different style and pen name.
It’s just one example of his dedication to a craft that was sadly in decline by the end of his career (with photography becoming the new norm), but like his contemporaries in the 1960s and 70s such as Bob Peak and Bernie Fuchs, innovation was the way forward, and his later work displays a new enthusiasm and energy as can be seen in his series for the 22nd Monaco Grand Prix.
The reproductions in this book are a mixture of photographed originals and scans from vintage magazines, all handled with care, and the text, while not exactly offering an in-depth biography, is informative and does a good job of describing Al Parker’s working methods. For fans of mid-century American illustration I can’t recommend this beautiful book highly enough. Even if you have a passing interest in quality illustration, this deserves to be on your bookshelf.