In a time when some fashion retailers are bypassing flesh and blood models and opting for computerized virtual ones, a local artist is bringing the art of fashion illustration back into the spotlight.
“Fashion as Art,” a fashion retrospective featuring the illustrations of artist Rosemary Burke from her decade-long career as an artist for Balliets, will be on exhibit starting Friday at JRB Art at the Elms.
“There's something about fashion illustration that's kind of ethereal,” Burke said. Unlike photography, which can be stark and austere, Burke said fashion illustrations have a softer quality with more movement.
“Really, fashion is wearable art,” said Joy Reed Belt, owner of JRB Gallery. The gallery will feature wearable art all month. “If you look at the jewelry we wear, it's exquisitely designed and executed just like a painting.”
Fashion illustrations also tended to print better in newspapers.
“The reproduction seemed to work better. Photos didn't seem to reproduce as well as illustration,” said Todd Pendleton, art director at The Oklahoma Publishing Company, which publishes The Oklahoman. As recently as the early '90s, many upscale fashion and home decor advertisers preferred the look of illustrations in newsprint, Pendleton said.
She started working in pencils but they became too time-consuming, Burke said.
“When pencils took too long to get the shading deep enough for good contrast in newspaper and magazine reproduction, I created a ‘dry-brush' technique with Japanese nib & chisel point markers to help with the deadline crunch. Then markers just took over completely.”
From 1985 to 1995, Burke's line art illustrations of Balliets fashions graced the pages of The Oklahoman and other publications in advertisements for Balliets, bringing the latest styles to the eyes of the Oklahoma City women who would wear them.
“Line art was very much en vogue at the time,” said Bob Benham, owner of Balliets. “She was a remarkably talented illustrator and captured the mood of the store and the attitude of the clothes perfectly.”
Thumbing through the hundreds of illustrations she created for Balliets, Burke said she remembers each outfit clearly: the designer, the color, the texture.
Though she doesn't consider herself a fashionista, Burke said she's been drawing girls and clothes since she was a young girl. When drawing she said she always started with the eyes. She'd choose trendy hairstyles from fashion magazines.
Burke was a devotee of Stavrinos, an Illustrator for Bergdorf Goodman in the late '70s.
Many of the fashions Burke drew look surprisingly current, though they're from the '80s and '90s.
“Style is timeless if it's well executed,” Benham said. “I think good taste is eternal.”
Burke said she intentionally drew her models as friendly, approachable looking people, to offset the fact that the clothing they were selling was, for some, out of budget.
“They sort of became my people,” Burke said. She wanted women to identify with the women in her drawings, rather than compare themselves as they often do with live models.