Goodbye, Nick Dewar


Nick Dewar—a Scottish-born artist with the power to elegantly provoke thought—has died at 37. He was an illustrator whose subtleties appealed equally to the eye and to the brain: gracefully making analogies and arguments with striking, deceptively simple images. No surprise that these talents made him a favorite of editors everywhere. Surfacing in places like The Atlantic Monthly and The New York Times, he made great newspapers and magazines look better and look smarter.

His draftsmanship was marked by restraint and precision—if the piece didn’t need x, then x didn’t go in, often leaving his subjects in flat seas of solid color. “Personally I am a big believer in voluntary simplicity and try to discard everything that is unnecessary in my daily life,” he wrote on his site. “I think this has a lot to do with how my work looks.” Whether he was working analog—he preferred a sable brush, acrylic paints from Lefranc et Bourgeois’s Flashe range and Cartoon Colour’s Cel-Vinyl series, Strathmore plate-surface bristol board—or digitally, a sense of self-control kept his work free of frills, even of texture.

This allowed us to focus on the ideas. And Dewar had a lot of them, literally piles of them scattered throughout sketchbooks. As effortless as he makes it look, it was clear that he devoted intense mental effort to his projects, filtering everything through his sophisticated humor, visual and verbal wit, and Magritte-like zest for the surreal.


Dewar’s fluid strokes and retro figures brought to mind both Charles Burns (expressive faces, lustrous hair) and Christoph Niemann (gray suits, intellect, high comedy). Perhaps a more minimalist Daniel Clowes. You suspect that he could craft a brilliant graphic novel. Beyond these traits, a recurring set of images also connected his diverse body of work:

  1. Objects vaporously forming, genie-like, out of other objects
  2. Mirror images and detached faces
  3. Translucent figures and outlines
  4. Handlebar mustaches
  5. Human-shaped nonhumans
  6. Pinstripes coming to life
  7. Thick, transforming beams of light
  8. Colors that radiate warmth even when textbooks call them cool (his favorites: “certain dusky brown, greens, blues and deep yellow and oranges”)
  9. Muscular and blocky prewar lettering a la Chris Ware

We encourage you to visit Design Sponge, to see arguably their all-time best Sneak Peek into his living and working space. The line between life and art is thin, it turns out: Dewar writes beautifully and funnily about a place that is, inspiringly, at once spartan and steeped in art. On the wall, you can spot a giant silk-screened Chris Ware panel.


A Book By Its Cover allows us to briefly invade his privacy, too: through his sketchbooks!


Notice the ratio of words and ideas to images. And notice all the circling and scratching out, all the testing and sorting through. This is ample evidence of a restless mind, which makes for a better illustrator. To enrich your art, he suggests on his site, you have to enrich your life and brain: read lots, look at other people’s work, cultivate interests, travel. Clearly he practices what he preaches. On the same page, he delves deeply into this process, with his customary warmth and deadpan asides.

We took notes. We’ll miss him dearly.

Buy his prints at Thumbtack Press. Trawl Google Images for his commissions. Pore over his work in his portfolio or at Veer. Marvel at his contribution to Readymade’s WPA-inspired Poster Children project. Flip through his Flickr stream.

an attitude of childlike discovery


The story of Dennis Stock (1928-2010) is intertwined with the story of cool. Such is the fate of a virtuoso photographer who, present at the right time and the right place, potently documented America’s passage from strait-laced postwar gloom into the fiery emotions of the misfit mid-century. His portraits hinted at the blooming counterculture: a dissenting, introspective crowd equally given to brooding loneliness and ecstatic reverie.  It is no exaggeration to say that, for one, his 1955 shots for Life magazine helped craft the myth of James Dean. While shooting a visual essay on the actor not long before his fatal car accident, Stock snapped the legendary, and legend-forging, image of Dean in Times Square, strolling what Life called the the Street of Broken Dreams. As Adam Gopnik saw it: “bearing the weight of a generation on his shoulders.” With his hunched posture, enveloped in his overcoat, and that squint, that cantilevered cigarette, he looked  uncannily like Albert Camus. Shielding himself from the rain, seemingly the last citizen of New York, Dean was the picture of the existential loner.


Invited on to the set of Billy Wilder’s film Sabrina, Stock displayed his talent for capturing moments of vulnerability, when artists conscious of publicity and image fleetingly let their guards down. Here we see Audrey Hepburn resting on a car window, lost in thought, perhaps, casting her famously gamine gaze downward. “She was very un-Hollywood, which was the key to the whole thing,” Stock remembered. “She wasn’t glamorous. She didn’t try to be glamorous.”


The spirit of the age was available in his portraits: you could sense the national mood shifting. In 1968, freezing a moment of abandon on Venice Beach, he expressed the libertine freedom of that time. A woman stood, back to the camera, against a sea of youth rapt by music, simultaneously an individual and part of something larger. It’s no surprise that his philosophy of photography was refreshing and vital–“To be able to continue an attitude of childlike discovery into adult existence can only be perceived as a gift toward the individual’s spiritual survival”–and it spoke to both the joy of artmaking, and its place in a full life.

Stock worked for the prestigious Magnum agency for six decades. They gather more of his work here.

Street savage surrounded by sophisticates

Irving Penn has passed away. He had a knack for turning Chanel’s adage — elegance is refusal — into a style that might be called, paradoxically, lushly minimal. With the fewest possible elements, he could coax out the drama of interior life.

His early work was marked by a curious backdrop. He stuffed his subjects, many of them art-world royalty, into a tight corner. The claustrophobic setting enabled Penn to assert a kind of cruel power that, by showing how people responded to their surroundings, told us about their demeanors. In his words: “This confinement, surprisingly, seemed to comfort people, soothing them. The walls were a surface to lean on or push against.” As an exception, you have Georgia O’Keefe, slanting subtly, who felt so reduced by the converging walls that she demanded her photo be destroyed. As confirmation, you have Marcel Duchamp, a dapper picture of composure and self-possession, whose puffing pipe signaled that he relished the enclosure.


Marcel Duchamp, New York, 1948

Gradually he shifted from his corners to a cloudily anonymous backdrop, a sooty swath of medium gray that threw his subjects forward toward the viewer. This was his signature style in the 1950s. Moving his camera much closer, he exalted the face and eyes as matrices of expression. Often casting a sideways light on his sitters, he hinted at the complexity that lay behind the face, orchestrating a clash of light and shadow that reflected some inner twoness. They also read as a truce between revelation and mystery. John Szarkowski compared two famous images:

Penn’s famous portrait of Picasso, with the great cyclopean eye, the bullfighter’s cape, the ethnic hat, the dramatic lighting, etc., seems to this viewer a marvelous triumph of skill, an admirable act of legerdemain, but something less than a true portrait, if one takes as a standard the picture of S. J. Perelman, for example. This is the record of a collaborative disclosure, or discovery, of a self.


Pablo Picasso, Cannes, France, 1957


S.J. Perelman, New York,1962

In the end, many of my favorite Penn photographs weren’t portraits at all. His images of cigarettes stood out to me as alchemical: lead into gold. Szarkowski had a theory about them: “The lipstick on the dead cigarette butt, the beetles, flies, stains, mice, raveled carpets and moldering walls that recur with such frequency in Penn’s work might be explained as a quiet dissent from the general model of perfect elegance that prevailed at Vogue during Penn’s early years there.” His still lives attempted something else. They gave form to his painterly ambitions by not relying on the camera alone, but on principles of art. They sought to arrest time’s movement, to preserve life’s color from decay simply by lending living things, through surprising placements and pairings, the soft touch of eternity.


Still Life with Watermelon, New York, c. 1947

Deacon Bruno’s 26th


Deacon Bruno (1983-2009) ate in great bites, drank in great gulps, breathed in great breaths. As though he knew that time were a luxury and life demanded grand gestures and swift movements. It made him a bon vivant and a man of action. Relentlessly alive. A centrifugal force. His spirit was electric and colossal and charmed multitudes. He saw a larger wilder brighter version of you that, in the mirror, you may never have seen. And he could bring it out. He felt the pressure to create and that pressure was contagious, made you want to be a part of the same borderless world of color and sound and feeling that he commanded without effort. Gentleman of the gutter, demonic under the mirror ball and saintly everywhere else. Today, what would have been his 26th birthday, we honor that ecstatic will to create and to be: his unwillingness to separate the two. We honor his volcanic inner life.

Love, Chau and B.J.