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Robert McGinnis (American, b.1926)


Also known as:  Robert Edward McGinnis; McGinnis, Robert Edward

Birth Place: Cincinnati, OH

Robert McGinnis (February 3, 1926) is an American artist and illustrator best known for creating over 1,200 paperback book covers as well as several iconic movie posters including Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and Barbarella (1968).

Robert McGinnis was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but at an early age moved to the more rural Wyoming, Ohio. First an apprentice at Walt Disney Studios, he later studied fine art at Ohio State University. After a brief stint in the Merchant Marines during World War II, he began a career as an illustrator for various national ad campaigns.

A chance meeting with renowned pulp illustrator, Mitchell Hooks would change the course of McGinnis’ career forever. Hooks introduced McGinnis to an art director at Dell Publishing. The director was enthralled by McGinnis’ portfolio and immediately hired him to create the cover art for a number of spy thrillers and potboilers, including now-iconic novels by Edward Aarons, Donald Westlake, and Erie Stanley Gardner. He would only be paid $200 apiece for each cover.

McGinnis soon became the go-to artist for these pulp novels, work that McGinnis found much more fulfilling than some of his cohorts. “My illustration work went through the roof,” said McGinnis. “... A lot of illustrators wouldn’t do them -- they were considered cheap and low-grade. But I enjoyed doing them. I didn’t see anything demeaning about it.”

During this time McGinnis would also create a series of lush landscapes of the American West, a lifetime passion project that continues to this day, though it would be the covers that would influence the next generation of artists, movie makers, and production designers. The 1970s saw McGinnis make the movie to posters for film. His trademark pastiche style was able to capture the flavor and aesthetics of the films of this era more accurately than any of his cohorts.

Some of these, including Barbarella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Cotton Comes to Harlem have become as famous as the films themselves. His work for the James Bond series led producer Barbara Broccoli to say, “[McGinnis] captures the wit, excitement, and adventure of Bond in a series of brushstrokes.”

After a lifetime of work, an induction into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame, and a feature-length documentary, Robert McGinnis: Painting the Rose of Summer (2008) you’d think that the artist would show signs of slowing down. On the contrary, McGinnis still paints every day, and his work continues to inspire new generations of artists, dreamers, and creatives who can see the possibility and adventure imbued into every McGinnis line and brushstroke. There is no wasted space in a McGinnis’ painting, his canvases still teem with life, peril, and startling romance that embody all the extremes of the human experience, pure brilliance in an image. That’s what it means to have a McGinnis.

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