Alexander Eliot – Alan Harrington

My lanky, sallow, saturnine friend Alan Harrington had the distantly bemused air of a desert dweller. Alan’s mother was an anthropologist, working among  America’s Southwest Indian tribes, so I wondered whether he might be half Indian. If so, he never mentioned it. Continue reading “Alexander Eliot – Alan Harrington”

Alexander Eliot – Free at Last

300 Years of American PaintingDuring my early years at Time I had nothing but black and white “cuts” of artworks to illustrate my section. Finally, Dana Tasker succeeded in establishing a regular “art-color page”, with me choosing the material and writing the copy.

Soon afterward, Tack left Time to join Look magazine.

At fifty-two issues a year, it wasn’t long before Time accumulated a color reproduction “electroplate” equity worth millions of dollars.

Then one day in January, 1956, over lunch at the Century Club, I fell into fateful conversation with a visiting French critic.

I happened to mention my enthusiasm for American art.
Exuding Continental courtesy, the critic carved the air with his hands: “Mais, oui.  Pre-Columbian sculpture.”

“No,” I said, “I mean painting.”

“Vous avez raison. Jackson Pollock!”

“Aren’t you aware of any other art on our side of the water?

“Alors. Nothing to pause over.”

I gaped at the man, thanked him kindly for getting my all-American goat, rose from my chair, and scurried back to Time. There I scrolled a sheet of paper into my typewriter and banged out an urgent memo to my bosses.

Time Inc, I wrote, ought to publish an art book authored by myself and designed to re-cycle over two hundred American  paintings in our color-reproduction bank. We could, for the first time, firmly establish American painting on the world map.

(Excerpt from Alex’s forthcoming memoir, to be published by WriteSpa Press)

Alexander Eliot cover story on painter Augustus John, Time Magazine, May 1948

From the article.

“For the first time in a decade, Britain’s most durable top-rank painter was having a one-man show. On opening day, the doors of London’s little Leicester Galleries had parted promptly at 10 o’clock and the corduroy-jacketed clique of fellow artists hurried in for a long, appraising look. If anyone came with doubts, there was colorful evidence on every side that Augustus Edwin John’s considerable gifts are still as full-blown and as fresh as they were when he gave his first exhibition, 49 years ago.”

Art Editor at Time Magazine

alexander-eliot-greece-2For the fifteen years that he was Art Editor at Time Magazine, Alex’s articles were published every week. Salvador Dali became a special friend – not only because of their shared passion for art but also because Eliot’s wife, Jane Winslow, had lived for several years in Catalonia and spoke Dali’s native Catalan fluently. His stories of encounters and interviews with Mondrian, Picasso, de Kooning, Pollack, and many, many others have enthralled friends and family all his life.

Three Hundred Years of American Painting

In 1962 John F. Kennedy selected Eliot’s extraordinary and complete history of American painting as one of his favorite books of the year. Eliot’s compelling anecdotes about the artists proved what he set out to prove by writing the book, namely, that “American art matters.”

In 1960 he wrote a memo to his colleagues: “We now have the opportunity of producing the first really handsome historical survey of American art ever published. The raw material for such a book is already ours.” By raw material, Eliot meant an impressive collection of 1,069 color plates printed in the Art section since 1951, when he began regular use of full-color pages to illustrate the section.

“On the Time-honored principle that human beings are interested primarily in other humans,” he wrote, “chief emphasis of the text would be on the artists themselves-their lives, philosophies and working methods. The next emphasis would be on their work, describing the qualities that made each picture alive and unique. Finally the time, place and spirit surrounding the artists and inspiring their art should be evoked.”

From the Time Inc. Press Release:

Three Hundred years of American Painting (328 pp.; 250 full-color plates) rolled off the Chicago presses of R. R. Donnelley & Sons in 1962. Author Eliot, 38, is an art editor with deep roots and long training in his field. A child dauber, he was ten when he first became aware of others’ paintings. Borrowing his father’s bicycle one day to visit a cubist exhibition at Smith College, where his father is a professor, he promised to be back in two hours, so father could ride to his English class. When Professor Eliot stormed into the gallery five hours later, his son was staring at an early Picasso “with the gaze small boys usually reserve for double banana splits. A fatherly swat brought Alex to, but it also woke him, he recalls, to the sudden awareness that for him a painting might be more important than a bicycle.”

“Yes, I met Matisse in the south of France in his later years,” Alex says. “He wasn’t well and Matisse was making those vibrant paper collages while confined to his bed. Well, I was given an audience with Matisse and as I was leaving something got into my head. There was a question I needed to ask. I had made it to the top of the mountain as it were and I was not going to leave without finding out the answer. I had gone to Black Mountain to learn to be an artist and then on to the Boston School of Fine Arts but I needed to know from the master. So I turned back to Matisse and asked, “What should I do next?” In response Matisse propped himself up on his bed and like a mantra repeated one word -“Draw, draw, draw …”