Mort Kunstler is best known for his incomparable paintings of Civil War events. However, he earned his stripes as an illustrator for pulp fiction magazines with his illustrations for men’s pulp adventure magazines published in the 50s, 60s and 70s. For the first time, more than 80 of Mort Künstler’s remarkable original artworks, some shown in magazines and books but many of them never published before, are exhibited together in The Hecksher Museum of Art, 2 Prime Ave., Huntington, NY. The exhibition titled “Mort Künstler: The Godfather of Pulp Fiction Illustrators” are now on view until Nov. 17, 2019.
A press release from his office says:
Long before blockbuster superhero movies, those looking for an adrenaline rush turned to adventure magazines featuring exciting stories and thrilling illustrations. As the go-to-artist and illustrator, Mort Künstler’s work graced hundreds of magazine covers, stories, and books, firmly establishing his prominence in the pulp fiction genre.
Originally featured in magazines such as Stag, Male, and For Men Only in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, the illustrations brought to life headlines that screamed adventure. The images of men in combat, women in distress, and nature threatening man immediately caught the reader’s attention. “You try to pick a moment that will entice the reader and catch their attention and make them want to read the whole text,” explains Künstler. “The whole goal is to make them stop and go, ‘what’s going on here?'”
Jet-Sled Raid on Russia’s Ice Cap Pleasure Stockade
Kunstler was so good, that there were instances when his carefully detailed illustrations actually inspired a story, rather than the other way around. During his long career, Kunstler illustrated stories for many authors, including Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather, who wrote in the same magazines under the pen name of Mario Cleri. Kunstler illustrated Puzo’s The Godfather long before the movie franchise. His vision came amazingly close to how the characters eventually appeared in the movies.
The word Künstler means artist in German. His father kept the original spelling, with the umlaut over the u. His father was an amateur artist himself and at the age of 2 ½, his parents knew Mort was an artist. By age 12, he was painting murals at his grade school PS 215 in Brooklyn. After high school, his main focus was not art. He was a good athlete and sport dominated his life at Brooklyn College. He played basketball, football, a diver on the swimming team and hurdler on the track team. After three years at Brooklyn college, he transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles on basketball scholarship. But came back home after one semester because his father got sick. Mort went on to attend Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He graduated from Pratt after seven years of college with a Certificate in Illustration but never earned a college degree. Between commissioned painting, movie posters, magazine and book covers, Mort has never been out of work. Now at the age of 92 he is still painting.
Mort works in oils, but his favorite medium for illustrating is Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache. Back in the 60s and 70s, Mort was averaging 3 magazine covers a month, along with other illustrations that went inside each magazine. Mort also illustrated for Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, Readers Digest, National Geographic, and Mad magazine. Mort also did movie posters for The Poseidon Adventure and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. His career spans over 70 years with about 5,000 paintings to his credit.
The Heckscher Museum is producing a catalogue to accompany Mort Künstler: “The Godfather” of Pulp Fiction Illustrators, and publication of a companion book on Mort’s men’s adventure art will be released during the exhibit. A traveling exhibition is being organized as well. Artist appearances and signings to be announced.
Since I’m out of town and cannot possibly go see the exhibition, I purchased the companion book which arrived the other day. What a wonderful book with pages of bright photos in vibrant colors!
For more information, visit The Hecksher Museum of Art website or Contact Kunstler Enterprises, Ltd., 800-850-1776, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their website: www.mkunstler.com.