Truthfully, Murray Tinkelman is accomplished in so many areas of art that I’m at a loss to know how best to begin. He’s also a dear friend, which makes objectivity something of a concern, but there have certainly been enough awards, medals, and effusive third party declarations of praise to support the rationale for his induction into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame, and to corroborate my claims of his genius. He is an inspiration to all who know him and who marvel at the fervent wonder of his work over the varied phases of his long and productive creative life. To understand Murray Tinkelman the artist, the illustrator, the educator, the historian, and raconteur, one needs to know a little something of his personal story.
Always impatient, always the individualist, Murray entered the Art School at Cooper Union following his discharge from the Army in 1954. He left after two years to accept the Max Beckman scholarship to study painting with Reuben Tam at the Brooklyn Museum Art School. Although he didn’t stay there for long, his relationship with Tam continued, and Tam’s influence has had an enduring impact on Murray’s artistic endeavors and on his eventual outlook on the teaching of art.
In 1956 Murray joined the celebrated Charles E. Cooper Studio and remained there until it disbanded, some eight years later. In an earlier and better time for the field, Cooper had been the most prestigious of New York City’s illustration studios, with a broad client base of advertising agencies and magazine publishers. During the Cooper years, Murray worked alongside such luminaries of illustration as Coby Whitmore, Joe Bowler, Joe DeMers, James Bama, and Herb Tauss, all of whom are fellow members of the Hall of Fame. From the mid-1960s on, he became fully freelance, continued to rack up awards and honors, and to conduct successful simultaneous careers in illustration and in gallery painting (as an abstract expressionist, no less). Although activities in the fine arts have taken something of a back seat over the past several years, Murray still produces art—drawing in his sketchbooks, photographing rodeo events and the grandeur of the American West, creating intricate assemblages, and exploring the decorative and mystical powers of his collection of homespun Native American walking sticks.
At some point in the late 1960s, after nearly a decade of lecturing and teaching in a limited capacity, Murray joined the faculty at the Parsons School of Design and, as its Associate Chairperson, helped to build the school’s stellar illustration program. It would become one of the best programs of its kind in the country, and many students who attended his classes would go on to have significant careers, including Peter de Sève, Joe Ciardello, Richard Egelski, Victor Juhasz, Chris Spollen, William Low—and the list goes on. Murray would repeat his extraordinary success at Syracuse University, in its undergraduate and graduate programs. Those of us who participated in the S.U. Independent Study Masters Program know that Murray was the mind, soul, and driving force of that endeavor. He gave it his all and set an extraordinarily high benchmark in the quality of graduate art education. He is currently the director of the University of Hartford’s Low Residency Master of Fine Arts in Illustration Program at the Hartford Art School, a program he founded (in large measure with the help of his wife Carol).
As for his illustration career, in 1970 Murray was named Artist of the Year by the Artists Guild of New York, and just when one might expect that he would find comfort in repeating the styles and approaches that had brought him such success and fame so early in his career, he decided, quite without external pressure or desperation, to reinvent himself with a new drawing technique. His meticulously rendered drawings, sometimes in color but most often in black and white, have, over the past four-and-a-half decades, evolved into an unmistakable signature style of finely scribed and masterfully controlled lines and values. In The Illustrations of Murray Tinkelman, Art Direction’s 1980 hardbound compendium of drawings, editor Daniel Kagan described his technique:
Tinkelman is the acknowledged master of crosshatch illustration. . . . Employing precise combinations of one of the simplest vehicles of visual expression, a straight line, Murray transforms the unbending line into highly detailed art, which is at once an intense personal statement and a powerful product of his imagination. In perfecting this technique, he withdrew . . . from the main thrust of contour drawing to elude the finality it imposes upon the subject. His drawings grow from the inside out. His primary concerns are volume, light and texture.
I would add a few other qualities beyond this description that are abundantly clear in any Tinkelman drawing: the artist’s infatuation with his subject and his relentless curiosity and joy with the experience of living, learning, and knowing. His stream of awards and honors would seem to be endless and, to my mind, richly deserved. In the spring of 2013, he received an honorary doctorate from Ferris University’s Kendall College of Art in Grand Rapids, MI, as well as the Society’s Hall of Fame. Not a bad couple of weeks in a long, full, and fruitful life.
As for Murray Tinkelman the educator and historian, he understands better than almost anyone that good teaching is in equal parts: genuine passion for one’s subject, great theater in one’s presentation, and an earnest, heartfelt desire to make the lives of those who hear the words better for having heard them. He inspires, he motivates, he challenges, and he has that rare gift of seeing talent in others. As the crowning acknowledgement of his teaching prowess, Murray was awarded the Society’s Distinguished Educator in the Arts Award in 1999, the second living artist/educator to be so honored.
The true measure of who we are, if I might quote that grand old MGM movie classic, The Wizard of Oz, “is not how much we love, but how much we are loved by others.” Murray, by virtue of his magnificent art, by means of his encyclopedic knowledge of illustration’s past, and by his inspired and innovative work in the classroom, has become one of the principal architects of modern illustration.
I was Murray’s colleague before becoming his friend, and I was (at a stage in life advanced enough to truly appreciate it) his student. He suggested that I consider teaching, pointed the way to how I might do it and still maintain an active career in illustration. Teaching has, in return, enhanced and transformed my life. I have never known such bliss than to live in the best of both worlds, the classroom and the studio, and I have Murray, above all, to thank for it.
Vincent Di Fate
Former President, Society of Illustrators