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'Iconic Illustrator': 'Vice' Q&A with SVA's Marshall Arisman

From Vice: “Marshall Arisman is a towering figure in the world of commercial illustration. He rose to prominence in the 70s, a time when color photographs were making photo-realistic illustrations feel redundant. He was one of the first illustrators of his generation to sell work based on his own emotive, abstract sensibility. His style is both dark and otherworldly, indebted to figurative painters like Francis Bacon and realists like Edward Hopper. He's the man responsible for the infamous cover of TIME magazine's 1981's 'The Curse of Violent Crime' issue. The nightmare-inducing image features a ghastly man with red eyes totting a snub-nosed revolver. Like that cryptic cover, much of his art grapples with good and evil, violence and predation, and angels and demons.

Arisman had a pretty unconventional upbringing. Born in 1937, he was raised in Jamestown, New York, a place where he became intimately familiar with wildlife and firearms, two things that are featured in a lot of his work. His grandmother was a famous medium, who helped spark his fascination with the spiritual realm. He went to Pratt for graphic design and got his first job at General Motors in 1960. But it wasn't until after he spent some years abroad and served in the military that he really developed his own signature style. As an educator, Arisman encouraged a new generation of illustrators to make art that only they could make, instead of just providing an interchangeable service.

Arisman is having a retrospective right now at the School of Visual Arts' Chelsea Gallery in New York City until September 30. The show, titled Marshall Arisman: An Artist's Journey from Dark to Light, 1972—2017, shows 45 years of the fine art illustrator's career under one roof. In honor of the retrospective, I spent an hour with him in his studio in Chelsea chatting about his life and career. Here's what Arisman had to say.

VICE: Have you had a retrospective before?

Marshall Arisman: No. It's an interesting process. I've always believed when looking at an artist's work, you have to look at all of it as opposed to fragments. So this retrospective has pushed me into that, kind of looking at it and putting it all together, trying to figure out how it all happened.

Your whole career becomes a big narrative.

Exactly. I think the odd thing that happens is that you look at old work, and then you look at where it went, and it begins to look linear. But the experience of making the art is never linear, at least not for me..." (For the full interview and more images, click here)

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