Monday, March 21, 2011
Just over a year ago, when American golfing sensation Tiger Woods was in the thick of the tabloid feeding frenzy around revelations that he was having, well, some marital difficulties, I posted an item in The Rap Sheet about a suggestively illustrated novel called The Tiger’s Wife, by Wade Miller. The cover of that 1951 book--which featured a man swimming in hot pursuit of an apparently topless woman--was created by Clark Hulings, a Florida-born realist painter who, early in his career, produced a wide variety of paperback fronts for mainstream, historical, and crime-fiction works.
More recently, a blog called Lines and Colors brought the unfortunate news that Hulings died on February 2 of this year. He was 88 years old, according to an obituary in the Santa Fe New Mexican. The newspaper added that Hulings had taken his first breath on November 20, 1922; that his painting proficiency was initially recognized after the family resettled in New Jersey, when Hulings was 6; that “[a]t age 12, he began to study art”; that he later also studied physics [at Pennsylvania’s Haverford College] in order to satisfy his father, who feared that his son couldn’t make a proper living as an artist; and that “[a]fter graduation in 1944, he was appointed to work on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos [New Mexico], but his recurring health problems [Hulings had by then contracted tuberculosis] prevented him from working there or from joining the wartime military.” Hulings spent some time in the state capital of Santa Fe, where he painted pastel portraits of children and “had a one-man show of his landscapes at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Art.” He was subsequently employed by a rubber company in Denver, but put in his off-hours painting landscapes around that Colorado burg, and went on to live in Louisiana, before attending the Art Students League of New York. Hulings’ initial interests were in illustration and design, and he worked in advertising before heading off to Europe in the mid-1950s to study figure painting and abstract design.
Many of the most recognizable paperback covers attributed to Hulings date back to the ’50s. He developed fronts for Avon, Cardinal Editions, Dell, Fawcett, Pocket, and assorted other publishers. His work can be spotted on the fronts of novels by Ellery Queen, Thomas B. Dewey, Day Keene, Evan Hunter (Ed McBain), and Georges Simenon. Some of his covers were powerful, others passionate; still more were sexy or haunting. A few of my personal favorites can be seen below (click on the images for blowups).
Hulings didn’t stick with paperback illustration, though. “By the early 1960s,” reports Artists Daily, he “devoted himself to easel paintings. In 1965 he debuted in New York City, at The Grand Central Art Galleries.” Huling met a woman in Manhattan named Mary Belfi, and in 1966 they were married and then relocated to Santa Fe. “In 1976 he was the subject of a solo exhibition at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Center, in Oklahoma City, which was documented in the book Hulings--A Collection of Oil Paintings (Lowell Press), followed in 1978 by a retrospective at the Museum of the Southwest, in Midland, Texas, and a 1981 exhibition at the C.M. Russell Museum, in Great Falls, Montana. Most recently, Mr. Hulings’ work was the subject of a 2007 one-man exhibition at J.N. Bartfield Galleries, New York, and Morris & Whiteside Galleries, in Hilton Head, South Carolina. His scheduled exhibition of paintings at the Forbes Galleries, New York, takes place March 23 through June 18, 2011.”
I understand that Clark Hulings continued to paint up until two years ago, when his health failed him. Examples of his still-life and landscape paintings are available at his Web site. That work is very impressive, and can bring top prices nowadays. Still, it’s hard not to regret what might have been, what Hulings could have accomplished had he pursued his book-cover art for at least a bit longer.
READ MORE: “Paperbacks 284-287: The Work of Clark Hulings,” by Rex Parker (Pop Sensation).