Graphis No. 153 Volume 27 1971/72

John Alcorn, today one of the most successful of American designers and illustrators, was born in 1935 and studied at Cooper Union. He was a member of the Pushpin Studios for two years (1956-1958) before becoming an Art Director for CBS. In 1961 he set up as a freelance and has worked chiefly for magazines, book publishers and television. His design and illustrations have won many awards and have been on view in one-man shows in both 1970 and 1071. Editor

In the ever-changing sphere of the graphic arts attention is all too often directed toward he latest spectacular foray whose merit is at best short-lived. This sort of meteorite watching is natural and logical enough, But it is the sort of one-sided focus that obscures the full anatomy of the art. Graphic design is an expanding language, in nature and morphology similar to the spoken or written language. The total tongue is made of of myriad inventive contributions that constantly energize the mode of expression. Every contribution is not equally coruscating, but from major developers comes the proliferation of styles, dialects, idioms and metaphors. These are the currents of the graphic mainstream that keep flowing in endless fascination so that, to paraphrase Heraclitus, 'We don't put our toe in the same stream twice.' John Alcorn is one of those spirit-enhancing currents - an artist whose steady incandescence adds to the brightness of American graphics.

First and foremost Alcorn is a stylist. The connecting thread that courses through the various stages of his work is a rich sense of design and visual wit. Early work relied on shape and pattern. Yet there was an inherent draughtsmanship in those forms. In his later exquisitely hachured illustrations the formerly concealed drawing is liberated and we find an enlarged playfulness augmented by broader use of graphic devices. The visual pattern becomes richer with an interplay of textures and stylized chiaroscuro, Figures and objects faintly suggest the tautly engraved iconography of 15th-century Italy, a beguiling play between verisimilitude and style. Figures alternately real and highly decorative create a theatrical mood much like actors on stage, in a tightly stylized commedia dell'arte spectacle. Alcorn is one of a newer breed of artists who by background and training have fused design and illustration is a common discipline. Probably the two most shaping influences from his background come from his working as a illustrator designer with the now famous Push Pin Studios and at CBS with its eminent director Lou Dorfsman. Doubtless this experience is reflected in his sensitive orchestration of elements within both drawing and its context. A firm grasp of typography and his invented letter forms are elements that add to the charm of many of his books, promotion pieces and advertising pages. Pari passu with the rather arrested rhythms of the engraving-like drawings, Alcorn has from time to time turned to an almost oppositional form as a sort of challenge to his current drawing modality. He shifts to a freer, ostensibly liberated drawing where the line becomes more arabesque in spirit, and reminiscent of the art nouveau revival. Color, too, partakes of the freedom, less confined by naturalist constraints, taking on the emotional and decorative overtones of the expressionist manner.

This short graphic odyssey may very well point the way to new avenues of search for Alcorn, who enamored of the humanism of Giotto and Masaccio and the architectonic grandeur of Della Francesca, is moving toward a richer statement that can capture another diimension of contemporary reality. His developing interest and accomplishments in photography help to keep style and reality in both focus and balance. The lively language of American graphics embodies all sorts of exchanges and interactions, and John Alcorn stands as one of its eminently viable influences in the shaping of a wondrous idiom.

-Jerome Snyder

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