Five Decades of Evolution: Bernard D'Andrea
Author: Paul deVere
One way to describe Bernard D’Andrea’s art is that it is always a verb, pushing and pulling, filled with passion, whether the subject is Vietnam in the 1960s or a Lowcountry sunset over Port Royal Sound where the paint—a generous amount of paint—is still drying. It is moving, active. Many pieces can also be described as BIG (60” x 50”), especially if they represent big ideas, whether the subject is the disaster of war or a family portrait.
“I want my show to be an epic show, to be an instructive show, one that will reach the mind, one that will touch the heart, and one which will give you an awareness of a history that has gone by, that will never be again,” D’Andrea said. The show he is referring to is “Bernard D’Andrea: Five Decades of Evolution (2),” which opened at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on November 16 and will run through January 26, 2008.
Time Machine illustration created for a short story by Isaac Asimov in Boy’s Life magazine.
D’Andrea may not be a household word, but his work has been in millions of households since the late 1940s to 1993, the year he “retired” as a professional illustrator. During that time, his work was seen in magazines such as Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, Seventeen, National Geographic and Boys’ Life. One of his favorite illustrations was for an Isaac Asimov story for Boys’ Life. “The story was about two boys going back in time looking for Santa Claus. I had to invent the time machine,” D’Andrea said laughing. He illustrated several Asimov works and the very famous writer and illustrator became friends.
D’Andrea also made friends with several young artists when he joined Cooper Studios in New York in 1947. One was famed portrait artist and Hilton Head Islander, Joe Bowler, who also was represented by Cooper Studios. “We still argue about art,” D’Andrea said with a smile.
The scope of D’Andrea’s life and work is almost overwhelming. At age 12, his hero was Vincent Van Gough. “My family was always art oriented. They encouraged me. They called me Bernardo ‘Leonardo’ D’Andrea.” He built his own drawing table in the bedroom he shared with his grandfather. He remembered the table faced Lake Erie. He entered Buffalo Technical High School and majored in advertising art. Entering a national competition sponsored by Scholastic magazine, he won a three year scholarship to the renowned Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. During Word War II, he spent three years in the army as a technical artist. There he met Art Cooper, brother of Charles Cooper, who ran Cooper Studios. D’Andrea had entered the Golden Age of Illustration.
From left, Bernard D ‘Andrea and wife Jean Stark, with good friends Joe and Marilyn Bowler at Bowler’s studio on Hilton Head in 1980, during D’Andrea’s first show on the island.
At Cooper, D’Andrea said, “We were one big, happy family.” That family included Bowler, Coby Whitmore, Jon Whitcomb and Joe DeMers—some of the most prominent illustrators of that time. “They were leading the whole charge of American illustration. They called us the ‘boy-meets-girl illustrators,’” D’Andrea laughed, “But that’s what the magazines, that’s what the country was calling for. Romance was high on the list for magazines. We were there to entertain.” This was the time of Doris Day and Tippi Hedren, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra. In fact, Kelly and Hedren were models for the illustrators at Cooper.
“Then all hell broke loose,” D’Andrea said. The 1960s roared in, and while it complicated D’Andrea’s work, it also opened up a new world to him as an abstract expressionist. Studying under well-known artist and poet, Ruben Tam, D’Andrea began to express himself as never before. However, through all the social and cultural revolution that occurred in the 60s and 70s, D’Andrea said he was more of a voyeur. He watched what was happening. “My painting was a response. I think this show tells the story of the illustrator going through the back door to the painter, with Ruben Tam as my introduction to painting.”
During this period, D’Andrea’s work was filled with symbolism and stories. “My paintings start with a desperate situation and lead you somewhere into the composition, and then to hope,” he said. While other artists of that period, like de Kooning and Pollock seemed to be rebelling, D’Andrea felt he was evolving. But the evolution wasn’t anywhere near complete.
What D’Andrea calls the “painting plane” evolved again, combining expressionism, his representational talent and a return to “plein aire” painting (the art of painting quickly, directly from nature), something he enjoyed as a teenager back in Buffalo, began D’Andrea’s episode of what he calls “new painting,” which he continues to grow today. In 1980, friend Joe Bowler convinced D’Andrea to have a show on Hilton Head. It was a sellout. D’Andrea came back more often and, in 1993, when he did his last illustrations for the Hearst Corporation, he moved to Hilton Head and his “painting plane” turned into beaches, marsh, and grand, magical sunsets.
More shows followed. More acclaim. The most recent major show was in 2004, in Savannah, at the Telfair Museum of Art. Twenty-one of D’Andrea’s pieces became part of Telfair’s permanent collection.
At the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, D’Andrea’s work speaks for itself. The pulling, the pushing, the passion. As for D’Andrea? “I let the paint carry me,” he said.