Joe Cleary & Boy’s Life Magazine

I found it fascinating when I was a kid that Boy’s Life Magazine embraced science fiction.  Strong illustrations, like this one by Joe Cleary, made time travel stories my favorite.

With such a lose application of line and tone, Joe still captured a feeling of the realness of the machinery. Indications of hardware with nuts, bolts, joints, dials, and wheels are placed just so, just enough to fill the scene with possibility. Even the faces depict a moment of caution, excitement, urgency. Joe had that mastery of composition that never allowed anything to seem like it wasn’t meant to be there.

I took a class from Joe when I went to the California College of Arts and Crafts for a year, so I know something of the technique used here. It is as radical now as it was in the 60’s.

Joe laid down a loose wash of colorful and rich dyes, then poured on a layer of Elmer’s glue. The glue made a strange and soft blur of the first washes, running them together. He would wait for it to dry into a glassy layer, then painted the shapes and lines in acrylic strokes on top of it. More dye washes, Elmer’s, and acrylics repeated until sometimes the illustration board was a quarter inch thick of glue and paint. It was luminous and seemed otherworldly on it’s own.

My imagination was not, and still is not, stimulated by detail. It’s excited by accuracy. Give me the elements to spark my memory of things, and I’m there. Loose and vibrant, even abstract and bold, Joe could get you to believe it.

This post originally appeared on the Muddy Colors website.

Greg Manchess is an artist and writer working in New York and Portland.


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