Matthew Weiner, executive producer and creator of “Mad Men,” called in a veteran illustrator to get the look he wanted for the show.
Iris Schneider , New York Times
'Mad Men' draws on an original
- Article by: RANDY KENNEDY
- New York Times News
- March 17, 2013 - 1:41 PM
In the five seasons that “Mad Men” has been on television, that celebrated series set in the art-directed world of 1960s advertising has never marketed itself the way a ’60s ad man most certainly would have: by calling in a hotshot illustrator to do the job.
But as the show prepared for its new season, which begins April 7, its creator, Matthew Weiner, inspired by a childhood memory of lush, painterly illustrations on TWA flight menus, decided to turn back the promotional clock. He pored over commercial illustration books from the 1960s and ’70s and sent images to the show’s marketing team, which couldn’t quite re-create the look he was after.
“Finally,” he said, “they just looked up the person who had done all these drawings that I really loved, and they said: ‘Hey, we’ve got the guy who did them. And he’s still working. His name is Brian Sanders.’ ”
Which explains how a 75-year-old illustrator living outside Cambridge, England — highly regarded in his own country but little known in the United States — came to create the image that beginning this week will be emblazoned on buses, billboards, magazine pages, websites and TV. The ad, depicting Don Draper, the show’s lead character, in a vertiginous pose on a New York City street corner that seems to be collapsing on him like the decade he is living in, looks as if it has time-traveled from the pages of an old copy of Reader’s Digest.
“What it did was take me right back, about 50 years,” said Sanders, who added that he was familiar enough with “Mad Men” to be in a bit of disbelief when the show came calling for his drawing board and brushes. The impressionistic image he created uses a scumbled acrylic technique that in its jazzy, textured effects instantly conjures 1960s illustration.
“It’s a style we refer to over here in England as bubble and streak,” he said in a telephone interview from his home in Essex. “I don’t work in that manner now, and I was surprised how quickly it came back, the ability to use it in that particular way.”
The image recalls work that Sanders did for an even more famous screen project. In 1966 he was asked by Stanley Kubrick, who had seen some of his experimental, noncommercial collages, to spend months with unfettered access to the set of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and illustrate scenes from the filming. Most of the images remained unpublished for decades. (Kubrick, famously averse to set photographers, seemed to have been ambivalent even about drawings.) But the experience was a formative one for Sanders in honing an illustration style that balanced slightly trippy abstraction with a concrete feeling of reportage.
“For that job I just drew what was in front of me, and what Stanley did was bizarre enough for me not to have to worry much about what I was doing,” he said.
He came of age in the waning days of the golden era of magazine illustration, a transformation that has hovered in the background of “Mad Men.”
“The show is telling the history of advertising, and part of that story is about photography completely eclipsing illustration,” Weiner said. After his commissions for editorial and advertising illustrations, mostly in British publications, dwindled in the 1970s, Sanders managed to sustain a busy career illustrating paperback jackets for titles by authors like Steinbeck, Solzhenitsyn, J.B. Priestly and John Fante. He did work for calendars and wine labels and on British postage stamps and specialized in military subjects.
In the era that “Mad Men” depicts, Sanders said, his illustration “gods” were mostly Americans — Bernie Fuchs, whose work defined much of the 1960s’ look of magazines like McCall’s and TV Guide and who was perhaps Sanders’ strongest influence; Lynn Buckham, known for a clean, Norman Rockwell-like style; Jack Potter, who dropped out of advertising in the ’50s and became a renowned teacher; and Joe De Mers, whose impossibly curvy pinup-type women helped set the template for a character like Joan Harris on “Mad Men.”
Illustrating for and watching the series was doubly meaningful for him, Sanders said, because “Mad Men” depicts a world he was once very much a part of.
“The first one I saw, I had such a deja vu feeling of place and time,” he said. “It wasn’t just in New York that that was happening. It was here, too.
“I almost wanted to reach for a cigarette, and I haven’t had one for 30-odd years.”
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