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Exhibit shows Hollywood illustrations

Exhibit shows Hollywood illustrations

Posted: Wednesday, April 15, 2009 8:01 pm

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — In a career spanning just 15 years, Richard Amsel created illustrations for movies and television that became part of the cultural language of the 1970s and ’80s.

For the next month, the University of the Arts in Philadelphia is celebrating the acquisition of more than 500 sketches and illustrations by Amsel, a 1969 graduate who died in 1985. The retrospective exhibit includes some of his memorable imagery from the “Indiana Jones” movies, Bette Midler albums, Barbara Streisand films, TV Guide portraits and many others.

“Richard was an amazing person capable of this genius work, who was also this silly and wonderful and shy man,” said Dorian Hannaway, a friend of Amsel’s who donated the collection. “He wasn’t ostentatious about his talent, but he was confident.”

The portraits pay homage to the nostalgia of old Hollywood, often through the groovy lens of the Age of Aquarius, while still managing to look contemporary by today’s standards.

“He was drawing on influences from the past that were timeless. He was influenced by Art Nouveau, Klimt, Mucha and Walt Disney,” said professor Mark Tocchet, the head of the school’s illustration department. “He found a way to assimilate it all into his art.”

Many of Amsel’s illustrations are instantly recognizable: Bette Midler’s rosy cheeks and copper-toned curls on “The Divine Miss M” album cover; Robert Redford and Paul Newman in the poster for “The Sting,” an homage to “Saturday Evening Post” illustrator J.C. Leyendecker; playfully kitschy “Flash Gordon”; and the Jim Henson fantasy “The Dark Crystal.”

His Time magazine cover of Lily Tomlin is in the Smithsonian’s permanent collection, and he won numerous accolades and awards for his work.

But perhaps he’s best known for his rendering of a grinning, bullwhip-cracking Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Elements of Amsel’s poster designs are still used on packaging for the current generation of Indiana Jones toys, Tocchet said.

Hannaway, an executive at CBS in Los Angeles for 15 years who met Amsel in 1974, said she had the collection of sketches stored under her bed for decades and knew that it would be a valuable teaching tool for art students.

“I never felt it was mine. I always thought it should be preserved,” she said. “Now it’s been set free, and it’s a wonderful feeling.”

The exhibit opens today and runs through May 14.

Amsel’s career started when he was still a student at what was then called Philadelphia College of Art. At 21, his illustration for the Barbara Streisand film “Hello, Dolly!” won a nationwide talent search. The 1969 movie’s posters bore his colorful circular design of Barbara Streisand and Walter Matthau.

He went on to design more than 30 promotional posters for major motion pictures, nearly 40 covers of TV Guide — prestigious and lucrative work for illustrators at the time — and album covers, concert posters and stage sets.

Amsel was working until just weeks before his death at age 37 of AIDS-related complications. His last film poster was for the post-apocalyptic “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” starring Mel Gibson and Tina Turner, and his final finished work was a TV Guide cover of news anchors Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather.

The collection will provide valuable research material for students to see the design process at work, Tocchet said.

“Through these rough sketches they can see how an idea develops,” he said. “You can see how he’s exploring through each drawing.”

Published in The Messenger 4.15.09