Saturday, 19 September 2015

James R Bingham, Illustrator of Fiction

The illustrations of James Bingham (1917-71) in Saturday Evening Post are not among the most highly regarded. It’s easy to see why – there’s no flashy brushwork, no painterly flourishes and no crowd-pleasing caricatures. The flat and undifferentiated surfaces are not especially inviting and the use of colour can appear garish at times. But Bingham was a consummate professional and his understanding of composition and ability to organise and combine form on the printed page never failed him. There was a strong cinematic element in his images, often suggesting the asymmetric dynamics of Hollywood film noir where dramatic slanting beams of light contrasted with deep pools of shadow to enhance the sense of unease. At his best in images like the erotic encounter between doctor and nurse or the femme fatale stealing from a suitcase outside a motel he captures a deep sense of foreboding that events are going out of control and all will end badly. Plunging perspectives and a preference for a low eye-level all played a part. His talent for visualising criminal behaviour made him the first choice to illustrate Earl Stanley Gardner’s “Perry Mason” stories whenever they appeared in Saturday Evening Post. Only once, for the issue dated 22 December 1945 did Bingham paint a cover for Saturday Evening Post but he produced an enormous volume of illustration for advertising which will feature in a future post.

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