Robert Andrew Parker is 87 today. Parker is an expressionist artist and illustrator whose art has appeared in magazines such as Fortune, Esquire, New York, New Yorker, and Sports Illustrated as well as on book covers and album covers. He uses both watercolors and acrylics, and at one point after having a surplus of acrylic paint, has watered down acrylic paint to be used as watercolor.
Parker is also a musician and a jazz lover. He plays the drums and has previously played reeds, clarinet and soprano saxophone.
Parker grew up listening to jazz which was the main music heard in his house. His mother’s classical music albums were seldom played.
Parker sees his artwork and his music as separate : “generally, one doesn’t feed the other.” However, he has often illustrated musical themes for magazine articles and album covers.
Parker studied art at the Art Institute of Chicago. While at the Institute, he bought paperback books that had covers he thought were ugly and would draw new ones as an exercise. He never expected to actually have a career that included illustrating book covers, since he never thought his style of artwork would appeal to illustration clients.
After graduating from the Art Institute in 1952, he went to New York. There he taught art for the New York School for the Deaf. He later had a show at the Roko Gallery. Not only did the Museum of Modern Art purchase several of his works, but an editor for Seventeen attended the show and asked Parker to do an illustration for the magazine. Parker then began getting illustration assignments for magazines and advertisements.
Parker prefers to draw his illustrations quickly. For some illustration requests for pharmaceutical advertisements in the late 1950s, he would draw conceptual drawings in just several minutes. Parker would then wait several weeks before submitting them, so that the client wouldn’t think that he just rushed through the assignments.
Parker has illustrated over 90 children’s books, plus many poetry books and literary classics. A biography on jazz musician Art Tatum, Piano Starts Here, is the first children’s book that Parker both wrote and illustrated.
Here is an image he painted of Tatum as a four-year old while creating the book.
This is the final image used in the book.
Modern Graphic History Library wishes Robert Andrew Parker Happy Birthday.
The Piano Starts Here book cover and page 5 image are from the children’s book that is available in Modern Graphic History Library’s reference collection.
All other images are from the Robert Andrew Parker Collection.
Information for this biographical sketch came from:
Dooley, Michael. Robert Andrew Parker On Life And Illustration. Print Magazine, April 15, 2013.
Heller, Steven, ed. Innovators of American Illustration. Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1986.
McNally, Owen. Jazz And Art Fuel Robert Andrew Parker. The Courant, July 31, 2011.