Odds and Ends: Artist Spotlight - Alphonse Mucha
The purpose of the Odds and Ends section of my blog will be to highlight, in shorter form (…as much as I’m able), the influences, tools, and resources that impact my work and creativity. One recurring feature will be to spotlight important artists that have made a significant contribution to my growth as an illustrator. These are not scholarly posts, so facts and timelines will be minimal or completely absent. The point is to share what the artist meant to me, share some of their work, and (hopefully) inspire other artists to seek them out. So here we go!
I will always be grateful to my college professors for their influence in my art career. Not only did they help me develop the craft of art making, they taught me to appreciate the great art makers that came before me. While my traditional art history classes introduced me to the masters like Rembrandt, Bernini, Dega, and Millet, it was art heroes taught in my illustration classes that had the greatest impact on process and style…and my own identity as an artist. Those art heroes included people like Howard Pyle, Dean Cornwell, NC Wyeth, and JC Leyendecker. But of all the greats, the most influential to me, at school and to this day, is Alphonse Mucha.
Alphonse Mucha was a Czech artist and illustrator who was very influential during the Art Nouveau period and was highly regarded throughout Europe and America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His career might be broadly divided into two different sections: his early work creating posters and illustrations in the art nouveau style and his later work as a historical artist.
I was first introduced to Mucha when I was attending San Jose State University in 2003-ish. I was taking figure drawing classes regularly and I remember clearly the moment during class when a fellow student leaned over and told me my figure studies reminded me of Mucha’s work. I was unaware of Mucha at the time but I quickly became acquainted with his early, and more famous, art nouveau posters. My friend’s comment was kind, but completely ridiculous…since my work was crap and Alphonse’s work was, in fact, glorious. But there was something about his style that really latched to me. Drawing the human form became less mysterious as I saw how Mucha did it. I didn’t copy his style completely, but when I needed to draw a face or a foot or a hand, I looked at how Mucha did it. For the rest of my time as a student, his work was my greatest reference material.
Before my senior year of college, in 2005, I interned as an illustrator at Hallmark Cards. When I arrived, the company headquarters had an exhibit up (in the 9th floor “artist” level lobby) of Alphonse Mucha’s work and two of my closest mentors there had just returned from a fully funded company trip to Prague to visit the Mucha Museum. I was in awe and insanely jealous. Being so loved and respected by these great artists at Hallmark, Mucha’s legendary status was solidified once and for all.
However, after graduating and taking a job in the video game industry, my personal academic studies took a back seat as I focused on learning more modern art tools. And sadly, contemporary concept artists took attention away past illustration masters as I tried to stay proficient and current in my career.
It took leaving my studio job and going freelance in 2013 to wake me up to the artists that meant so much to me before. But it wasn’t until 2019 that Mucha came rushing back into my life in a more powerful way. By mid 2019, my mother had been serving a mission for our church in Prague for about 18 months and my wife and I had the chance to go visit her as she finished. We visited the small, but incredible, Mucha Museum and we were surrounded by examples of Alphonse’s work on souvenir keychains, magnets, and bookmarks. We searched for the location of his greatest work, the original patriotic mural series, called The Slav Epic, a love letter to his people and history, but nobody knew if the enormous paintings were on tour in Japan or hidden away somewhere in Prague. While that was a disappointment, the trip as a whole was spectacular and my love for Mucha was refreshed.
Alphonse Mucha, to me, was not only the best artist to ever live, but he also showed what an impact illustration can have on culture (his early career). And how much an illustrator can give back to the world, or at least the community or country they love (his later career). Sadly, lllustration doesn’t have the same influence in our world as it did during Mucha’s time. But I like to imagine that it can again. In my ambitions of ambitions, I hope to follow Alphonse Mucha’s pattern of contributing and giving back to the world through illustration.