Philadelphia illustrator’s images tell a tale of old Hollywood
By Joann Loviglio Of The Associated Press
April 19, 2009
Richard Amsel Exhibit
April 19, 2009
What: Illustrations for movies and television by the 1969 graduate of the University of the Arts
When: Through May 14
Where: Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, University of the Arts, 333 S. Broad St., Philadelphia
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday (until 8 p.m. Wednesday), noon-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
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.
The University of the Arts in Philadelphia is celebrating its acquisition of more than 500 sketches and illustrations by Amsel, a 1969 graduate who died in 1985. The retrospective includes some of his memorable imagery from the ” Indiana Jones” movies, Bette Midler albums, Barbara Streisand films and TV Guide portraits.
”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, 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 and Robert Redford and Paul Newman in the poster for ”The Sting.”
His Time magazine cover of Lily Tomlin is in the Smithsonian’s permanent collection.
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 Indiana Jones toys, Tocchet said.
Hannaway, an executive at CBS in Los Angeles 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.
Amsel’s career started when he was 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 and album covers and concert posters.
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.” His final work was a TV Guide cover of news anchors Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather.