Franklin Booth: American Illustrator

Franklin Booth coverFranklin Booth Inside 1Franklin Booth Inside 2Franklin Booth Inside 3

Editor: Manuel Auad

Publisher: Auad Publishing

Date Published: 2005

Pages: 128

Franklin Booth is one of the most important and influential artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centures. He is a true master of the pen and brush and his remarkable talent continues to amaze. In this richly illustrated volume featuring rarely seen artwork, Eisner Award winning editor Manuel Auad offers a glimpse into the breath taking vision of this incredible American Illustrator.

Despite the colour cover, Franklin Booth is renowned for his black and white illustrations (which makes the cover image, whilst beautiful, a poor choice to represent the gist of his works). Upon coming across his skilled and enormously beautiful works I decided to purchase a collection of his art.

Richly detailed is a gargantuan understatement, yet Booth has the super human ability to flood a work with a radical amount of black and end up with a balanced and controlled piece. These are works that could be studied for sheer technical ability for hours, even if one didn’t really like the content of the images. He touches all manner of subjects, from pyramids in the shadow of sky-scrapers, the simple splendour of farmland and people in day to day activities. Everything is represented with a dignified grace, almost the personification of ‘the good old days’. In particular, the American landscape is held in reverence.

Nostalgia and romanticism are a key part of Booth’s art and it’s importance to the American people. Classical Greek civilization, and the assumptions of intelligence and sophistication awarded them, are largely represented in his art as being hand in hand with the United States. Whilst at times this may be a little syrupy, one of the elements of Booth’s work that brings me so much joy is the feeling of hope that exudes from his images. The future is presented as bright, the horizon is glorious and, above all, humanity will prosper in culture and technology. He seems to encapsulate the ‘American dream’ before it became suburbanised –  the idea that The New World will be different.

Many of Booth’s works were used for advertising purposes and for columns in magazines, which creates images of odd shapes and sizes.  This makes the layout very challenging, which for the most part Manuel manages quite well by fitting similarly shaped pictures together like puzzle pieces. Occasionally a piece will seem out of place or ‘pasted in’, but they have also responded by grouping quotes in the gaps. The layout is quite basic and at times the constant changing of fonts can be irritating.

The foreward by Auad Manuel and biography by Howard C Caldwell are well written and their adoration of Booth is captured skillfully. The pages are littered with quotes from many prominent American figures such as Gordan Grant, Frank Reilly and Norman Rockwell who elegantly explain their adoration of Booth’s art.

Sometimes the open exalting becomes a little too much; this is a book very much aimed at the American public, who have already been won over, and a little more discretion could have been practiced. As an foreigner, it is obvious that some of these accolades have been heaped on in order to create a classic American artist, something which a young country is desperate to accomplish. (I’m Australian, so I’m aware of how having a short history can make the cultural communities feel a bit over enthusiastic in praising their few talented compatriots). I think that some of the open ‘isn’t Franklin awesome?’ moments could have been avoided and the editor should have let the artwork speak for itself.

Although Booth’s work is not engaging in its nature – it does not seek to challenge notions or its audience as modern art intends to – its superb craftsmanship and inspiring beauty make it worthy of notice. ‘Franklin Booth: American Illustrator’ is well composed dedication to a much loved artist.

♥♥♥½ – 3½/5

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