I hate to be the bearer of sad news, but it can’t be helped: Ernest Chiriaka, an American artist who--using the moniker “Darcy”--became famous during the mid-20th century for his often sexually suggestive but consistently captivating paperback book cover illustrations, passed away this last Tuesday, April 27, at his longtime home in Great Neck, New York. The son of Greek immigrants, he’d been born Anastassios Kyriakakos in May 1913, so was fast approaching 97 years old at the time of his death.
In a moving obituary of Chiriaka, published at the Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists site, David Saunders (the son of another well-known illustrator, Norman Saunders) recalls:
There was a colorful spirit of vitality in everything Ernest “Darcy” Chiriacka painted. That same energy was also in everything he doodled, and everything he said, and even in his posture and his laugh. The man was full of life and an inspiration to all of us in the pulp art community. He brought to life sensational characters from pulp fiction, and he personified the ideal of a thrilling pulp artist for anyone who was lucky enough to have known him. Many people agree that the greatest value of art is its power to inspire us with a love of life, and when Chiriacka painted pulp magazine covers, or pin-ups, or slick magazine illustrations, or paperback covers, or his Western fine art paintings, all of his artworks overflowed with his colorful inspiration. He has indeed fulfilled that highest measure of art’s value by creating touchstones of his inspiration that convey his love of life to all of us. He had an incredible life that has been an example for me to aspire to. He understood the miraculous beauty of life. His art conveys his genuine joy of life, “joie de vivre.”It was just over a year ago that I posted a piece on this page about Chiriaka’s striking front for the 1960 Dell paperback edition of Cain’s Woman, a detective novel by O.G. Benson. I had not expected to return to this artist’s work and career quite so soon. But deaths don’t seem to occur according to my editorial schedule.
Because nothing can ever speak so well of an artist’s talent as examples of his or her creative output, I am posting here some additional book jackets from Chiriaka’s extensive oeuvre. The one featured atop this article comes from a 1958 collection of short stories originally published in Manhunt, then known as “the world’s best-selling crime-fiction magazine.” The illustrations below include specimens drawn from the racks of general fiction, mystery fiction, and “spicy fiction” (i.e., books with a more explicitly male-oriented bent). No matter whether he was creating the cover for a work of literary distinction or of lurid sensationalism, Chiriaka never seemed to give it anything less than his best effort. And with somebody as expert as he was at this game, that meant a hell of a lot.
Click on any of the images below to open an enlargement.
Chiriaka also did considerable work for periodicals, and was justly admired among readers of Esquire for the fetching pin-up illustrations he contributed to that magazine. More luscious examples of his “girlie art” can be appreciated here.
READ MORE: “Noir Art: Victor Kalin,” by Chad de Lisle (Noir Whale).