Julian Allen, 55, illustrator, educator at Maryland Institute, College of Art

October 01, 1998|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF Sun staff librarian Paul McCardell provided research assistance for this article.

Julian Allen, an internationally renowned illustrator whose work appeared regularly in major publications, died Monday of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at Stella Maris Hospice.

Mr. Allen, who was 55 and lived in Bolton Hill, had been chairman of the illustration department at Maryland Institute, College of Art since 1996. Earlier, he had taught editorial illustration for more than 20 years at Parson's School of Design in New York.

Mr. Allen brought to a high art his graphic reconstruction of such events as the Watergate burglars at work and the Israeli commando attack on the Entebbe Airport in Uganda, through the medium of oils, watercolors and ink.

His work appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, the New Yorker, Time, Newsweek and Esquire.

"He drew like an angel, and his work was witty and penetratingly perceptive," said Ray Allen, no relation, who is vice president for academic affairs at Maryland Institute. "He was recognized internationally for his remarkable draftsmanship, keen intelligence, and sympathetic wit."

Born into a working-class family in Cambridge, England, he began drawing as a child.

"He went to his room, where he fled from the realities of poverty, and lost himself in painting. He rose from the ashes and was fond of saying he was, his 'own best dysfunctional parent,' " said his wife of seven years, the former Victoria Lowe, also an artist.

Mr. Allen studied at the Cambridge College of Art and completed post-graduate studies at Central College of Art in London. He began free-lancing there as an illustrator-reporter for the Sunday Times Magazine during the 1960s.

In 1973, his work caught the attention of Clay Felker and Milton Glaser, then editor and art director, respectively, of New York magazine, who hired him to illustrate the Watergate break-in.

"He came to New York from England in 1973 as a result of Clay Felker's and my attempts to find an illustrator whose journalistic interest and talent would permit us to do unusual visual reportage," said Mr. Glaser.

"There was no one like him -- he had a sense of storytelling that intuitively chose the right dramatic moment of a story, combined with superb technical skills that made those scenes completely believable. His work had a profound effect on the field of illustration."

One of Mr. Allen's more compelling series of illustrations accompanied H. R. Haldeman's Watergate memoirs published in Newsweek in 1978. One showed a dejected President Richard M. Nixon drinking coffee in a Washington coffee shop.

His work demonstrated a high degree of realism, reflecting the painstaking detail and research he brought to them.

He also collaborated with writer Bruce Wagner on the noir comic strip "Wild Palms," which was published in Details magazine and became a network television mini-series produced by Oliver Stone in 1994.

Also that year, the U.S. Postal Service commissioned him to create a series of stamps featuring blues singers Muddy Waters, Ma Rainey, Howlin' Wolf and Robert Johnson. He ran head-on into the artistic censorship of post office authorities.

His portrait of Johnson, who died in 1938, was based on only two known existing photographs, which showed the great blues guitarist smoking a cigarette.

He was later asked by post office officials to redraw the photograph -- without the cigarette.

"I asked why," Mr. Allen said in a 1994 Newsday interview, "and they said, 'Because the U.S. government doesn't want to seem to promote smoking.' "

Last December, he created the illustrations of "The 100 Best People in the World" for Esquire.

He was able to combine a busy life as a professional illustrator with that of an educator. In his second year at the Maryland Institute, the number of illustration majors increased from 87 to .. 123, largely due to his effect on the students there and his reputation.

He taught traditional painting and drawing, and also was an exponent of the latest developments in computer-enhanced illustration.

BTC "He wasn't a hidebound traditionalist despite being rooted in the classical ideas of drawing," said Ray Allen. "He was so in tune with the times and the cultural vagaries and drew a great deal of energy from it."

When he first settled in Bolton Hill, he had difficulty working, having been used to the rush and roar of New York as a backdrop.

He said, " 'It's too quiet here. It's driving me nuts,' " Ray Allen said, laughing.

Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Allen is survived by a son, Rubin Allen of London; a daughter, Holly Allen of Claverack, N.Y.; his mother, Joan Scutt; and a brother, Geoff Allen, both of England.

Pub Date: 10/01/98

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