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Alan E. Cober

Alan E. Cober Sketchbooks

“He enjoyed the experience of being there to do the drawing. Cober comments, «I enjoy the electric part of it, the eye to hand to paper part of it. The expressionist part of it comes from not knowing what I am doing. It is like starting all over again each time I sit down to do a drawing, not a conscious act, like trying not to copy yourself, just forgetfulness.» … Cober, along with his family, traveled to view sights that were relevant to his commissions. Every family vacation was a mix of work and vacation. … He had hundreds of sketchbooks stored across the shelves of his studio, each one filled with adventures, vacations, people, and animals from different parts of the world. … Alan Cober’s presence was as powerful as his art. Drawing, to Cober, was the key to everything. The only way to learn was to do it constantly, every day, all day.” (Cober-Gentry, 2012, pp. xi-xiii)

Cober-Gentry, L. (2012). Introduction to the Dover Edition. In A. E. Cober, The Forgotten Society, Lives Out of Sight in Nursing Homes, Prisons, and Mental Institutions. A portfolio of 92 Drawings (pp. xi-xiii). Dover Publications, Inc. Mineola, New York

“My sketchbooks, naturally, are the result of my compulsiveness. They are more than an exercise as I do get very much involved in them. Most of my work is of my family – they’re available and they’re so used to me following them around with a pad and pencil that they forget I’m there. That’s the best way to draw people – when they’re relaxed and unaware of your presence or unconcerned with what you’re trying to do. I often wish I were like a chameleon so I could blend into the background.” (Cober, 1969, p. 26)

Cober, A. (1969). The Mind’s Eye. In N. Meglin, On-the-Spot Drawing (p. 26). Watson-Guptill Publications, New York 

“Spend a lot of time going around and talking to people in magazines and even the government, trying to get them to send me to places to document things and people. An artist should be a part of his time and relate to his society. It’s historically valuable, like the work of Hogarth, Daumier and Toulouse Lautrec.” (Cober, s/d, p. 30)

Cober, A. E. (s/d). Illustrator, Reporter & Social Historian. Communication Arts, (Vol. 16, No. 6), p. 30

“He will quite literally drop out of a conversation to begin drawing something that has grabbed his attention, with the result that those around him – even other artists – may find themselves left feeling off-balance in the interplay, trapped in slow motion, lost in the wake. And when Cober does talk, he is often centered inwardly as he finds and mentions some interesting juxtaposition or color interaction: «Look at that orange», or «See how that ligament attaches?»” (Cober, 1991, p. 528)

Cober, A. E., & Johnson, R. N. (1991). Behind the Lines. The Georgia Review, 45(3), 527–536.

Alan E. Cober was a part of his time, yet ahead of his moment. He was an expressionist and satirist while other illustrators of his generation were realists and romanticists. He was a journalist while other illustrators in his circle were drawing entirely from the imagination. His practice often contradicted his affiliation. He was one with the Rockwell milieu but a pioneer of the anti-Rockwellian evolution. He made it possible for gritty graphic commentary to flourish in the rigid precincts of American illustration—and even the Society of Illustrators in the late sixties.

Before passing in 1998 at age 63, he was firmly entrenched in the netherworld—which for some is a black hole—between “fine” art and illustration. He was a maverick in the truest sense: at times quite ornery, as mavericks tend to be, other times entirely sanguine about everything around him. By example he showed that illustrators needn’t be schizophrenic in their creative or professional lives; rather, they can have multiple personalities. Cober didn’t abide roadblocks or stop signs. He enjoyed the status of hybrid, yet pushed the concept of illustrator as “author” as far as he could take it. And today, in large part owing to Cober’s tenacity, illustrators can do anything, as he might say, “they fuckin’ well please.”

(Read the full text here)

Steven Heller

Co-Chair, MFA Design department, School of Visual Arts, New York


The Forgotten Society, Dover Publications, Edition April 2012

A prominent artist ventured behind locked doors to portray three “forgotten” social classes: the elderly, people in mental institutions, and the prison population. Alan E. Cober began his career in the 1960s, when illustration took a turn toward a new expressionism. Influenced by the works of Ben Shahn, George Grosz, and Albrecht Dürer, he believed that narrative art could inform public attitudes toward political and social issues. Cober’s aim as a “visual journalist” was to effect change by graphically exposing the realities of our times.
The Forgotten Society presents ninety-two of Cober’s most compelling and emotionally charged “visual essays.” The distinctive pen-and-ink portraits reveal the hidden worlds of people removed from the public eye, including residents of retirement homes, of Staten Island’s Willowbrook State School, and of Sing Sing Correctional Facility. The artist, who frequently befriended his subjects, offers compassionate views of the isolation of lives lived on the margins of society. Cober received many awards in his lifetime and was recently inducted into the Society of Illustrators’ Hall of Fame. This edition features an insightful introduction by his daughter, Leslie Cober-Gentry, who notes, “Cober’s art was about communication. The world was his audience.”

Leslie Cober

An award-winning artist known for her uplifting, elegant art and design, Leslie Cober’s endeavors include accomplished artist, illustrator, designer, curator, and educator. Senior Faculty Professor at The Fashion Institute of Technology NYC and professor and thesis advisor to Graduate MFA Illustration students at Western Connecticut State University. Curator and Chair of The Member’s Exhibit at The Museum of American Illustration Society of Illustrators NYC annually for 9 consecutive years, guest speaking to art and design students at various universities throughout the country, serving as a member of the NYC Landmark50 Alliance and appointed to The Sanford B Low Illustration Collection Committee at the New Britain Museum of American Art, where Leslie’s cover art for Strathmore paper is included in The New Britain Museum’s permanent collection. Leslie’s lifetime of expertise in all areas of the industry are visible as she maintains her own active professional practice. Leslie serves on the Executive Board of the Society of Illustrators NYC and the Executive Board at FTC The Warehouse/Stage One Music Venue, clearly displays Leslie’s devotion to the art community. An artist who loves merging her art with her own lifestyle, love of fashion, design, and music, Leslie’s methodology reflects her personality. Illustrating assignments for the most respected publications in the world, to painting large public murals, to creating paintings that hang in private home collections, to drawing and conceptualizing as in a new children’s book that is currently work in progress on her table, Leslie’s projects are enthusiastically ambitious. 

Leslie’s most current project is curator of the NYC Parks “Art Culture Fun” project under the NYC Mayor’s office. A series of 50+ art and cultural workshops curated in the 5 boroughs of NYC, connecting diverse artists with communities throughout the city of New York.