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10/02/2005 Archived Entry: "Burne Hogarth at Art Center"

Nancy Lilly -- with a little help from artists and models who also knew him -- remembers Burne Hogarth. This recollection was requested by J LHLS for the Hogarth section of Comics Journal Library, vol. 5, published by Fantagraphics.

Burne Hogarth at Art Center in Pasadena, California
By Nancy Lilly

Yes, he was egocentric, but -- damn, he was good!

Burne Hogarth comes through loud and clear and with predictable bombast in Gary Groth's incisive interview with him in "Classic Comics Illustrators", Volume V in the Comics Journal Library.

He also came through loud and clear, etc. when teaching students at Art Center College of Design during the 1980's and 90's, which is where and when I knew Hogarth and can therefore vouch for the validity of Mr. Groth's interview. But what I truly appreciated, in reading the interview, was the opportunity to hear Hogarth explain, discuss, elucidate, clarify, (pontificate about?) so much of his background and so many more of his points of view than I had heard at Art Center.

And the prints chosen for the book give an excellent overview of work -- and the incredible intricacy of the pieces demonstrate the complexity of the artists' mind and illustrate the wide ranging thought processes that Groth's interview brings forth. The historic pieces from "Tarzan" are great, as expected -- but it was the prints from the King Arthur Portfolio that really knocked me out. I'm reminded of the illustrations in one of my favorite fairy tale books from my childhood -- Hogarth takes you to a wonderful and dream-like fantasy world in those drawings, and they show a side of him that I never realized.

His philosophical comments about maturity and morality in relation to comics are really quite fascinating -- and are probably offensive to you devotees of the genre in many of its contemporary manifestations! And the literate discussion of Tarzan's genitalia has its place and makes its point -- if you don't see the hair in his armpits and on his chest, or see and smell the probable dirt and sweat on his body, why should you see the genitalia? Makes sense to me.

Mr. Groth's interview gave such a thorough picture of Hogarth's view of himself (and he certainly was a force to be reckoned with), that I thought I might contrast (or enhance) it with a few views from others who were affected by Hogarth at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena during his years of teaching there.

Now, having put on my clothes and sat down behind a desk in 1979, I was too late to pose for Hogarth's figure drawing classes at Art Center. And from what I heard from some of the models, I don't know if I would have wanted to. He would insist that the model get in a difficult pose, and then would demand that the model hold the pose based on "Hogarth time" which had nothing to do with the accepted protocol of 20 or 25 minutes per pose. Try to stand, with all your weight on one foot and leg, and DON"T MOVE for twenty minutes and you'll get an idea of the problem. Some of the models were totally intimidated, others chose to work for him as seldom as possible.

The model Joe Miller was wandering down the hall on a break one day, when Hogarth's voice roared out "Where is the model? WHERE IS THE MODEL?" Poor Joe went flying in a panic down the hall, eyes bulging, the sparks from his cigarette flying, skidded into the studio, to find that Hogarth was not yelling for HIM -- he was actually berating a student for drawing a figure on much too small a scale. The fact that poor Joe avoided a heart attack was miraculous.

Some of the models managed to take him in stride. As model Peggy Moore commented, "He was such a control freak - you were always allowed to disagree with him, but you were never allowed to win. It's the students I felt sorry for -- he could be really hard on them -- it rolled off some, but others were completely cowed."

And Peggy reminded me also of how Burne, in his reserved 1980's professorial tie and "Mr. Rogers" sweater- vest oufits, would positively reek of patchouli oil -- if you closed your eyes, you would think you were back in '60's hippie-dom. What an anomaly; I wonder if he was wearing it during the interview, it was so all-pervasive, I would think Gary Groth would have mentioned it.

Anne Anderson Saitzyk, who had been a student of his and who went on to become a faculty member at Art Center, was trading stories with Peggy, and had stories both pro and con, serious and humorous, to tell. In her preface, she said, "I was happy that I was an older student when I had him (around 29) so I didn't take him personally. He was very charming but he really didn't feel that his authority should be questioned. Even if he was wrong.

"One day, he taught us how to draw an imaginary environment around the model, basing the perspective of the environment on the model's body. This was such an enlightening experience for me. I don't do this kind of work, but it was a totally brilliant lesson. Maybe this is something obvious to a great many people, but to me it was so eye-opening and inventive, it remains one of my strongest memories of his teaching. To me this is an example of how an artist's invention is as valid or more so, than a more technical, linear approach to problem solving."

Bob Kato, also a Hogarth student who became an Art Center teacher, had enough stories to fill a book -- here is just one: "I had Burne Hogarth's drawing class on Thursdays while many of my friends had his class on Tuesdays. Burne had a format - lectures and demonstrations before lunch and then drawing from the model after lunch. His lectures were intended to teach us about anatomy, but they were really about Burne's opinions about his superior intellect and insight. One Wednesday I asked a friend in the Tuesday class what Burne was going to talk about in his morning lecture.

"He's going to ask if you think a garbage can is fine art," my friend said. I asked, "What's the answer?" and he told me, "The answer is 'yes'.

"I went to class that Thursday and Hogarth started his lecture about the muscles of the leg and before long led the lecture toward the question, "What is art?" My ears perked up as I saw an opportunity to look smart as Hogarth went into his rant about the meaning of art. Predictably, Burne asked us if we would recognize real art if we saw it. We all reluctantly nodded yes. He then forcefully grabbed a garbage can, thrust it upon a drawing bench, and asked the class if we thought it was fine art. With immediate confidence I raised my hand and answered "YES!" Without hesitation, Hogarth bellowed, "NOOOOOOOO!!!" Confused and humiliated, I asked why not and Hogarth yelled, "Because I didn't INTEND it to be!!!". The overall message of this and all his lectures was the same. Burne is always right. The rest of us are all wrong, less talented and not nearly as smart.

"But I loved his class immensely for its entertainment value; and a few years later, when I first started teaching, Burne enlightened me with some of the most insightful advice anyone has ever given me in my teaching career. He said that, whatever I do, I should stand for something. Go ahead and let the students either love you or hate you. But by holding your ground you help students figure out who they are and what their point of view as an artist is. I can honestly say that Burne helped me do that."

Well, the man is gone. He died in Paris in 1996 while in France attending a comic art convention. But the tales about him remain. The reputation remains. And thank goodness, the art and creativity and lessons of his work remain. This is important in the face of the frequent debasement of the genre -- and although I must say there were ways in which I disagreed with him, he carried his drawings to a high peak of popular and philosophical art. Gary Groth's masterful interview with him well showed the individual and cantankerous structure upon which it was built, and verified the philosophy -- that you should stand for something, and you should hold your ground... and Hogarth truly did.

Someday there will be a Burne Hogarth Website at www.BurneHogarth.com. Just fyi.

Note: Powells Books has the wrong cover on their webpage, but the correct ISBN for Comics Journal Library, vol. 5 so it really is this book. Or you can get it from Fantagraphics. ED

Replies: 1 Comment

I only modeled for Hogarth once and he completely ignored me and the other model, except to bark a few orders at us. He didn't have us pose in the morning, but we had to be in the class anyway. Hograth was very feisty before lunch, but ran out of steam shortly after lunch. However, that morning he drew a very detailed head of an old man from memory. This was the first time I'd ever seen an Art Center (or any) teacher draw from memory like that. I was impressed. (Before there are riots, let me clarify: I know Art Center teachers can draw, and I've seen them draw from the model, I just never saw any of them draw from memory like that [or draw anything like Hogarth did that day].)

I heard some gossip that a model once blew up at Hogarth in the cafeteria, but that was before my time, and I never knew what the blow up was about.

I remember one student said about Hogarth, later in another class (Vern Wilson's pastel class, as a matter of fact), when I said I'd modeled for Hogarth, she said: "Oh, Hogarth, he scares good work into you." Must be so.

Posted by Ginger Mayerson @ 10/02/2005 08:54 PM PST

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