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Talking with Dan’s Papers Cover Artist Ron Lesser

You would never imagine that the artist for this week’s cover, Ron Lesser, has been a popular illustrator, creating covers for equally popular detective novels and movie ads. Not to mention his historical paintings of the Civil War and the western frontier.
You would also never imagine that these works have something in common: images of power and intensity, often sensual in nature.
While his image of a polo horse and rider graces our current cover, Lesser’s penchant for horses can be seen as far back as his Civil War scenes where “The Battle of Gettysburg” reveals a potent worm’s-eye-view of dead horses on the ground. Even so, another Civil War image, “Parker’s Cross-Roads” shows horses galloping down the road. Both paintings exhibit the vitality and potency of these animals.
Regarding powerful images, Lesser’s movie ads prove the same point, especially his portraits of Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman in Papillon and the lawman and criminal in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Lesser has a fine sense of composition and camera angle that contributes to these articulate and arresting images. Such an observation also applies to his cover illustrations for such exotic books as The Vengeful Virgin and The Deadly Desire.
Q: I am a movie fan, so it’s fascinating to me that you did ads for films that I love.
A: In the late 1970s and during the 1980s, I did a lot of artwork for movie ads for United Artists, Paramount, NBC. I must have done 1,000 movie ads, including Clint Eastwood’s Hang ’Em High and High Plains Drifter. If it was a major movie, the studios would have a competition and ask five artists to come up with an idea. We would get paid even if our work wasn’t used…
Q: Did you always have to use an image that was in the film?
A: Yes, but in book covers you could create something that wasn’t in the book.
Q: Why did you make the transition from movie ads and books to other subjects?
A: At one point, commercial work dried up, and Photoshop took over in 1994-95. I then went into gallery art, doing western scenes.
Q: But it wasn’t only western scenes. It was historical subjects in general.
A: Yes, I met Jerry Ross who became my representative, and he wanted me to do Civil War scenes…
Q: You then went on to do something different.
A: For the last six months I have been painting polo horses.
Q: You paint from photographs in all your works. Is it difficult?
A: Nothing is difficult. I studied classical painting at the Art Students League with Frank Reilly as my teacher. There was no one like him. I was there for four years…
Q: What advice would you give young artists getting out of school?
A: I wouldn’t recommend going into commercial work, because Photoshop has taken over with its gimmickry and tricks.
Q: You’re a “purist,” which is special. Who are your favorite artists?
A: Norman Rockwell, John Singer Sargent, Velazquez.
Q: Did you always want to be an artist?
A: Yes, even as a child. I remember when I was 16 or 17 getting into the Met’s basement to see some art that was not shown in the galleries. The public is entitled to see everything.
Q: What was your parents’ reaction to your wanting to go into art?
A: They couldn’t understand why I wanted to go to the Arts Students League. They’d say, “What, there are no grades? No tests? What kind of school is that?”
View Ron Lesser’s polo art is at Or contact his representative, Jeanne Chisholm, 845-505-1147.

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