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Re-Examining Mary Blair

Mary Blair

Folks in and around the Bay Area should make a point to check out the “The Art and Flair of Mary Blair” exhibition which continues at the Cartoon Art Museum in downtown San Francisco through March 18, 2008. DreamWorks story artist Jenny Lerew recently visited the show and offered some perceptive observations about Blair’s work on her blog, including the notion that we shouldn’t allow today’s plethora of second- and third-rate Blair imitators affect our judgement about the quality of her original work. Jenny writes:

“There’s always a lot of talk about the obvious influence of Mary Blair on artists today–so much so, in fact, that it’s led in some circles to a bit of a backlash towards her or towards the stylings of artists who’ve been inspired by her. But when you see these up close and without the filters of photography(either the still camera’s or the animation stand’s)or the limitations of the published page, even now they leap out at the viewer and are as new and fresh as they must have been half a century ago. To see her technique up close is to appreciate how incredibly skilled she was. Intuitive, surely; imaginative and whimsical, yes–but also plain, keen, brilliant, diamond-hard thinking going on. It’s still a big wow.

  • For a split second I thought it read “The Art and HAIR of Mary Blair!”

  • John Tebbel

    Shame on me for not hearing of this show till it’s halfway over, and curse the darkness that, according to the website, the show’s not going to tour. Many rivers to cross. All props to Ms. Blair.

    There once was an artist named Blair
    Who was briefly well-known for her hair
    “I don’t understand
    This new Internet-land”
    She said, baldly–in hell–to the air

  • Chuck R.

    I like Jenny’s comments about the backlash —I try not to let the glut of “me-too’s” turn me off. Another downside to Mary’s popularity is that it totally eclipsed the work of her husband Lee, which deserves serious consideration independent of his infamous personality. The John Culhane book on Fantasia, for example, has some amazing examples of Lee’s work.

    Someone commented on Jenny’s website that the Canemaker book was surprisingly thin. I kind of agree, although I’m very grateful to John for making the book at all. Does anyone know if any additional print material will be published to coincide with the exhibit?

  • Chuck R.: The Museum had one print available for sale when I was there-it’s the “pitcher girl”, a really cool piece which is featured in the Canemaker book and is also in the show(there’s a *lot* more in the show than what I posted). I think they may have had one or two others that had sold out, but it’d be worth it to inquire.

    In my blog I added to the quote above, saying that not only does any work resulting from Blair’s influence diminish her, but neither do I have a problem with those working now in her ‘mode’. Individual talent and vision will assert itself in good stuff no matter how strong the original inspiration. Mary Blair’s influence has been 99.9% positive in that regard, I think.