In June of 2012, we assembled an Artist Spotlight with the joyful, silly, and sexy work of Robert de Michiel. That included the usual Facebook friendship and back and forth as we put together the portfolio. In that process we got to know Robert better and always looked forward to his posts about his life in New York and on Fire Island. Robert was fun and generous to us, always making great suggestions of artists we should follow, and encouraging us to promote both younger artists and drawing workshops as well as paying hommage to the older artists that a few may have forgotten. We pay homage here to Robert, who right up until the end was posting happy, engaged messages to the world. Robert is survived by his husband, Jeff Wilson.
The message below was posted on his Facebook page yesterday:
Today we’ve lost a beautiful light in the universe. Robert de Michiell passed away in peace this afternoon. His Fire Island art will be on display [Oct.13] from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at ClampArt Gallery, 531 W. 25th Street, Ground Floor, with a celebratory reception from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Celebrate in style in whatever way you can. He would enjoy that.
Robert de Michiell's illustrations of pop culture are seen regularly in Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker as well as The Wall Street Journal, Reader's Digest, and Time. His many Broadway posters include those for the revival of La Cage aux Folles and Roundabout Theatre's A Little Night Music. He has also produced fund-raising art for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS shows for more than five seasons.
Absolut Vodka, VH1 Fashion Awards, the New York Lottery, and Pepsi have used his advertising art. Both the Hanna-Barbera and Walt Disney companies have commissioned limited edition lithographs of his interpretations of their classic animations.
He has had exhibitions of his work at the Alden Gallery in Provincetown, Mass., and the Leslie-Lohman Museum in New York, as well as in Los Angeles and Seattle.
A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, he resides in New York City with his partner, Jeffrey Wilson, whom he recently married (see the New York Times story here.)
The Advocate: When and how did you first realize you were an artist?
Robert de Michiell: I first realized I was an artist when I spent more time copying the album cover art of Mary Poppins than doing my math homework. I was always "that clever kid who could draw" and made bulletin boards, spent afternoons painting in my bedroom, and went to Saturday children's art classes at the local Connecticut museum, where I was usually put in with older, advanced students. Both parents were educators who encouraged my interests. As a teenager I exhibited art in the circuit of the local outdoor summer art shows and saved money for art school by selling my work, which varied from New England landscapes to portraits of Streisand and Dietrich. I would also do a "you name it, I'll draw it" for $1 — good training for having to create artwork on a deadline!
How did you develop your skills as a caricaturist?
My biggest caricature influence as a kid or a teen was legendary theater artist Al Hirschfeld. I would look at his pieces in The New York Times and try to copy his loose line, great shapes, and amusing abstraction of a face. When I eventually moved to New York after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design, I would come across him at some of the same Broadway shows I sketched for The New Yorker, and it amazed me to think that I was now doing the same profession as one of my idols — and he was two rows away! He did some book signings and I introduced myself. He signed several of his books to me and was warm and gracious. This year I was married to my husband, Jeff, in the lobby of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, the perfect convergence of art, theater, and gay rights.
Which artists first inspired you when you were young, and who are your favorite other caricaturists?
In terms of other artistic influences, they range from cartoons by Disney, Hanna-Barbera, and Warner Bros. (all of whom I eventually worked for, creating limited edition prints with my interpretations of their characters) as well as 1930s artists like Vanity Fair's Miguel Covarubbias. Also inspirational was the gorgeous work of '70s and '80s illustrator Richard Amsel, who did the early covers for Bette Midler's albums, TV Guide, and movies like Murder on the Orient Express.
Any shows you wish you could have done the poster for?
In the beginning of my career I used to do presentation art for Broadway ad agencies, and have actually created comp art and logos for many shows that eventually used something else: Into the Woods, Big River, Noises Off, Grand Hotel … dozens and dozens. Agencies don't really work this way anymore, but it was great way to have several artists make original art with their interpretations of theatrical material — really a dream for me. My favorite type of Broadway job call now is when they have a specific idea they want me to do and I do extra things which they find they like better, such as the image for my La Cage aux Folles. Or in the case of my poster for Lypsinka's off-Broadway show, I already had done several portraits of her, and I called the agency to tell them I had something they might like.
Favorite celebrity you have drawn?
My favorite celebrity to draw is someone with an extreme personal style: Johnny Depp is always a blast because of his wild costumes and makeup. I like sharp features, extravagant styling, and a transcendent spark. Too many of today's young stars are unremarkably generic. Even their faces look retouched (which they are, of course). Give me Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn — all had fascinating faces throughout their career. Personality is always more fun to caricature than beauty, unless I am exaggerating that beauty (which is tough, because it is a fine line between delicate and gaudy). When I draw people, I am always trying to make a statement about what I feel about that person. Usually I am pretty kind to the subject, even when I am satirizing the most extreme things. I like to approach my art like my life — with a sense of fun and enthusiasm.
For more of Robert de Michiell's work, visit illoz.com.