Sunday, September 16, 2012

Drawing on the Past #8 - BORIS ARTZYBASHEFF

Work: The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney
Publisher: Ben Abramson, 1945 (a reissue of the 1935 1st)
Artist: Boris Artzybasheff (1899 - 1965)

I first came to know of the work of Boris Artzybasheff through his dust jacket illustrations for Doubleday Doran's Crime Club mystery novel imprint. He did nearly every book of Clyde Clason's as well DJs for books by Stuart Palmer, Todd Downing and Aaron Marc Stein.  Those are the few who I can think of off the top of my head.  I'm sure there are more.

I always thought his trademark was fantastic surrealism. But he is a talented artist of many moods and styles. He illustrated several children's books and even wrote a few of his own. Writing must be in the family genes -- his father was noted novelist Mikhail Artzybasheff.

In my exhausting internet research on Boris (there is a wealth of info out there) I discovered a huge portion of his work was done for Time magazine.  Between 1941 and 1965 he did 215 covers, a mix of bizarre mechanical nightmares, humorous surreal illustrations, and surprisingly realistic portraits.  Among the more famous are his portraits are Josef Stalin, jazz musician/composer Dave Brubeck, and mystery writer Craig Rice.

For this post I have chosen some of his vividly imagined, other worldly drawings. To me it's very reminiscent of the artwork of Hannes Bok of Weird Tales fame. The illustrations below are taken directly from an illustrated edition I own of The Circus of Dr. Lao, the allegorical fantasy by Charles G Finney.  It became a very different story in the 1964 movie retitled The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao with Tony Randall in the title role(s).  Click on images for full appreciation.

You can find all sorts of information about this artist all over the internet. But I recommend starting here for the best variety of his artwork.

The endpapers


  1. I remember his work from Dr. Lso. Gave me a whole different perspective than the movie version.

  2. Amazing stuff. Thanks for the introduction to his work.

  3. Beautiful renderings - thanks John, lovely to see those (especially as I have not read the book in any edition - saw the George Pal movie but I don't think that really counts).