Constantin Alajalov (1900-1987)ARTIST GALLERY
"As a satirist Alajalov paints, quite kindly, what in words would be too cruel to say. As an artist in his genre, what he really draws are conclusions." Janet Flanner
Constantin Alajalov (pronounced Allah-jah'lov), was born in Rostov, Russia in 1900 to Ivan and Izabella Alaljalov. His parents were comparatively comfortable socially and economically; therefore Constantin enjoyed early educational opportunities that helped promote a well-rounded and worldly perspective. He was a student at the University of Petrograd when the Red Revolution spilled across his personal landscape at the tender age of sixteen. Constantin managed to survive this period by joining a government-organized group of artists that traveled through the countryside painting large propaganda murals and posters. He next moved to Persia where he painted for a revolutionary Khan who was eventually hanged by his successor. Constantinople, an international refugee haven, was Alajalov's final stop before earning one hundred dollars to buy passage to the United States at the age of twenty-three.
Upon landing in New York in 1923, he utilized his limited contacts and began to land jobs on a commission basis. His first break came when he painted wall murals for a restaurant that Anna Zarenkau, a Russian countess, was opening. Within three years Alajalov sold his first cover to The New Yorker. His brilliant, satirical covers reveal that even when dealing with humorous subject matter, detail is an important ingredient to the success of the audience's response. Paging through preliminary sketches, one is exposed to Alajalov's artistic process of exposing comic and contemporary America. A facial feature is changed and refined until just the right combination of characters and emotions are intertwined. Next, the accuracy and color palate is perfected. And finally, the details of the setting are carefully researched and a very detailed interpretation is rendered.
Alajalov's first cover for the Saturday Evening Post appeared on October 6, 1945. This was a landmark accomplishment as The Saturday Evening Post and The New Yorker both required exclusivity of their cover artist. Although Constantin was a realist in style, his renderings were very sophisticated in execution. He relied on a style of line drawing that was reminiscent of a cartoon or caricature but added to it the refinement of detail, color and story telling. He took the subject matter beyond mere objective interpretation by lending a humorous viewpoint to this moment of intense frustration.
A wonderful example of Alajalovís approach is portrayed in the November 29, 1947 cover of The Saturday Evening Post. In the background we see three people around a dining room table, animated and enjoying the reverie that accompanies the traditional celebration of Thanksgiving Day. In the foreground, Alajalov depicts every hostís worse nightmare, a smoking burned turkey. Whether this experience is a reality or simply a thought, every hostess has likely wrestled with this possibility at one time or another. Alajalov's illustrations wink at the folly of man without raising the ire of the beholder.
At the age of sixty-two, Alajalov submitted his final Saturday Evening Post cover for the December 1, 1962 issue that portrayed an accomplished bridge player awakened from a dream still analyzing her bridge hand. What remains unclear to the viewer is if this is a recollection of a past event or a projected possibility in the future. Whatever the context, the humor can be recognized in the reaction. As Roger Reed noted, "When I met Alajalov in 1984, the artist was a refined and patrician figure, with reason to be proud of a rich body of work in fine illustrative art." Constantin Alajalov maintained his pace as one of America's premier illustrators well into his golden years. He died of natural causes at the age of eighty-seven having enjoyed a life filled with accomplishment and adventure.