Roger Reed: The illustrated man
I remember, as a kid, thumbing through a 1984 edition of ILLUSTRATOR IN AMERICA at my local library. It was a massive, oversized coffee table book that I ate up, written by the late Walter Reed.
Reed was a champion of illustration -- as well as an artist, historian, collector, and art dealer -- and I feel his was an important voice in helping the art form gain some long overdue legitimacy and respect. I was saddened to learn of his passing in 2015.
His son, Roger, has carried the torch in many ways. Like his father, he is one of the leading academics and collectors of illustration in the United States, and operates Illustration House in NYC. I first met him at the opening reception of the Amsel Retrospective in Philadelphia back in the spring of 2009. When I decided to move forward with the documentary, he was one of the first people I reached out to for an interview. After nearly two years, it was nice to finally make it happen.
Reed's collection apparently has everything: A Leyendecker painting of a chubby "Queen of the May" housemaid, sternly staring out from an easel. A glowing, radiant Armstrong portrait of a beautiful blonde smiles from a nearby wall. Hidden behind a stack of boxes is a colossal Hildebrandt mural from the world of Tolkien; I was particularly excited by it, as my interview with Greg was scheduled the following week.
(I took a lot more pictures, but I didn't want to give everything away. This stuff is just the tip of the iceberg.)
And, of course, there is an Amsel: one of the artist's pencil comps for the film NIJINKSY, which differs from the final poster.
Reed and I discussed a lot of topics about Amsel's life and work, but the big revelations were his details of the 1987 Christie's auction, and what happened in its aftermath. Amsel's friend, the late Gary Bralow (whom I'll be discussing in greater detail within the film), approached Reed with some of the unsold pieces, asking his assistance in selling them. This included Amsel's work for RAIDERS.
The interview also discussed other artists (again, it's impossible for artists to discuss Amsel without dropping the names Peak and Struzan in context), as well as the cyclic nature of the collecting market. Once out of fashion, illustration became highly revered, and Amsel's work was able to command a hefty five figures even in the mid 1980s. Yet following the dot com bust, and subsequent economic recession, illustration art can't command the same demand (or prices) that it had 20 years ago. The current tread of digital art, and the sheer number of digital artists out there -- many of them able to work cheaply, quickly, and anonymously -- have also made traditional illustration seem more a thing of the past.
And that's a shame.
The personal icing on the cake for me was when, while saying our goodbyes, I handed Reed one of my business cards, which features some of my own artwork. Reed actually recognized the NIMH and HARRY POTTER illustrations, and said kind things about them.