The House of Illustration , 2 Granary Square WC1, London, currently has an exhibition on about the life and works of one of the great illustrators of the 1950s (the Golden Age of advertising) in America; McCauley ‘Mac’ Conner.
In the 1940s – 1960s, Conner’s captivating advertising and editorial illustrations graced the pages of major magazines and helped shape the image of postwar America. One of the influential group of commercial artists at the heart of Manhattan’s thriving advertising and publishing scene, Conner’s hand-painted illustrations capture the style and spirit of a pivotal era in American history.
The 1950s presented a particular picture of family life, men, women and material goods. I was struck by how homogenous society is presented, generally, across advertising in this decade. All the beautiful red-lipped women, their hard working husbands and their prefect homes and cars – as if this was how everyone lived. Not to mention that they are all white, Protestant and live in suburbia. But this was the democraphic the magazine catered for and thus the advertising targetted them.
Yet, Conner somehow makes this life, otherwise perhaps seemingly quite bland, dramatic and full of colour with an interesting choice of perspective and dynamic viewpoints.
My personal favourites were his portrayal of women, who were the protagonists in most of his works. They live in a gender-defined world and yet hold a certain amount of ‘feminine mystique’ in their expressions. His women drip confidence and stylish supremacy with their red lips, manicured nails and statement accesories. They demonstrate an informal elegance plausibly within the reader’s reach.
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