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ArtSpotlight

Lifetime Achievement Spotlight

George M. Prout
Artist

Born in Illinois in 1913, George Prout has spent his 92 years living and traveling the US and abroad, but today finds his permanent residence on the west coast of Florida. Taken as a whole, George admits his life in graphic art has been fulfilling. "Not all of my work is the naturalistic manner but my more subjective work has only the slightest, if any, market and is therefore mostly unknown. Nevertheless, like any artist, I enjoy throwing a bone now and then to the inner self."

 

Attributing exceptionally good high school art teachers, his teenage fever to become an artist was heightened leading him to attend John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis. Forced to take a couple of years off in deference to the Great Depression, Mr. Prout drifted about seeking but seldom finding work of any kind. He did manage to practice enough commercial art for local industries to finance a year's study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia ('35-'36), where George Mathews Harding (1882 - 1959) was one of his teachers. There his old dream of magazine illustration came into sharper focus.

 

But bankruptcy is indifferent to dreams, he returned to John Herron Art Institute via a scholarship, knowing he could do weekend commercial art for income. While he was gone from the JH, the faculty had been replaced with graduates form the Yale Art Department who ran a tight ship with in-depth curriculum. He graduated in 1939 and seated beside him during the graduation ceremony was a star student who would later become his wife of 54 happy years. Following graduation, Prout was given a scholarship to study in the great museums of Europe. However, such study was interrupted by a Declaration of War (WWII) when he found himself bicycling from Paris to Le Havre, France to catch passage on a tramp steamer to NYC.

 

Prout remained professionally active in Indiana through a career in commercial art which included catalog pages, display art and packaging. He then transitioned to illustration for publishers and advertisers where he produced among other assignments, art for children's magazines and games, school textbooks, book covers and frontispieces. Calendar art was his great staple. He produced more than 600 calendar paintings, during which time family magazines - along with their illustrations - fell prey to the onslaught of TV. All good things must come to an end, and so did the calendar market which eventually collapsed. Prout then turned to print making, his innate love. Galleries in NYC and Baltimore handled his etchings and silk screen prints. But during the early 80s, the print collecting craze cooled.

 

Occasional easel paintings for galleries mixed with portraiture or an etching now and then comprised what might now be loosely called Prout's retirement activities. Over the years his subject matter has varied with assignment - since the freelancer is inclined to say yes to most opportunities (such proclivity being agreeable to mortgagors).

 

Prout and his wife took a three week guided tour to Africa in 1987 to see the animals. Although he does not consider himself qualified as a "wildlife artist" - by any claw and feather code, he was so fascinated with the animals that he made a few paintings of them, as well as a suite of etching editions - some prints of which were featured at a recent exhibition at Manatee Community College.

 

In his own words…

Etching, for me, is an extension and fulfillment of the love of drawing. The success of any graphic work of whatever age, style, medium, size, or subject matter rests on good drawing, and by extension, good design. Drawing is especially challenged by the etching process because of the hardness of the plate and the uncompromising acid bite that are intolerant of uncertainty. Revision, so casual in watercolor or oil painting, is laborious on the plate. The discipline of etching, therefore, like that of its intaglio cousins - drypoint and engraving, drives the artist to draw with a selectivity that reveals the essence and vitality of his subject (as, indeed, drawing in any medium should).

The strength of such graphic distillation and a sensuous, velvety printing surface combine to give the etching print its unique appeal.

 

In these times of electronic imagery we will not see another Rembrandt working magic on hundreds of plates. Nor will we see another renaissance of etching like that of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in northern Europe, including especially the British Isles. But while last week's TV show fades from your memory those prints await you somewhere. They have secrets to confide; but not all during the first viewing.

 

Printmaking was a long deferred dream because of his career. His work has been widely shown in universities via Roten and Marson Galleries, originally of Baltimore. The (former) Original Print Collectors Group, N.Y. also commissioned work and sold both graphics and paintings through various commercial galleries. Prout's work is also held in private collections in the United States, Mexico, Belgium, and Sweden.


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