My great uncle Joe. What a true character! He’s been gone for almost 15 years now, but I still think about him and his insightful wisdom quite often. His art covers the walls of my hovel. One of the few things I didn’t sell when I embarked on the journey of self discovery that I am on. I wanted to pay tribute to him by writing about him so other people would learn about him……. He was often called ” The Master of Twentieth Century Fashion Illustration” and a book was written about him with the same title by a woman named Cathy Horyn. He was known for his flowing, loose sketches and his gift for improvising. His illustrations were distinguished by “a light, brisk hand and an unstudied sense of female movement.”
This is the full page obituary The New York Times did on him when he died. Vogue also did an obit. They said that he was a figure that ” at first glance seems rather more marginal than his friends and contemporaries, Halston and Warhol, but who turns out to be one of the great catalysts of his era.” He was much more than that in my eyes growing up. He was a f***ing hilarious, but insightful LUNATIC who always had the right words to say at the right time. I spoke with him often during my adult years up until the time his death. He always had the BEST advice when I needed it the most!
Joe was born in Norwalk, Conneticut. The second of four children. My grandmother Margie (who some of you may remember from St. Simons Island where I grew up) was the the oldest. Their father died when he was two, and my great grandmother Lena took over the family grocery store to provide for the four of them. At the age of 17 he enlisted in the 10th Mountain Division and fought in some of the bloodiest battles in the Italian Campaign during WW2. He was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery but his story about how he got it was much different and a lot more of how I would’ve imagined it actually happening from knowing him! He told me he was lost and wandering around in the woods during a battle in the Apennines. He happened to wander up behind a German fortified emplacement and said “stick em’ up!” He captured a bunch of them and they gave him a medal for it……. He never boasted about it, just said it was “dumb luck” and he was fortunate not to get killed. Classic Uncle Joe …….
After WW2 he enrolled at the Art Students League of New York and jump started his career when Town & Country magazine and Saks Fifth Avenue published his illustrations. He went on to illustrate for Eugenia Sheppard’s fashion column in the New York Herald Tribune. Later, he worked for Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar. One of his most notable relationships was with Yves St. Laurent and he illustrated his first (1958) and last (2002) collections. He was also the house artist for Coco Chanel ,Gianni Versace, and Christian Dior who he had close friendships with and he also had close friendships with many musicians. He did album covers for Miles Davis (Sketches of Spain), The Supremes , Liza Minnelli ( Liza with a Z) and one I remember seeing on his drawing table, The Dixie Chicks. The stick figure drawing of the three of them playing their instruments. I think my dad has the original in his private collection…. He also did work with the famous photographer Milton Greene . Joe and Milton took the black and white pictures of Marilyn Monroe in the fish net stockings. Ever seen the logo for Studio 54? Joe did it…..
During the 70’s Joe became the creative director for Halston and was instrumental in moulding his image and lines into the recognizable brand today, but to me he was always just Uncle Joe and growing up I never had any clue that he had all those achievements under his belt…… he was just my insane and witty great uncle……. Always made me laugh and ALWAYS took time to play, talk and be involved in my childhood…….He was just one cool mother****er!
Joe died on October 27th, 2004 from pneumonia and a bad reaction to chemotherapy. The world lost a great man and I lost a good friend, mentor and confidante. Every year in late October he visits my mind often and this year I just wanted to pay tribute to him…….. Rest in peace Uncle Joe, I know you are entertaining someone, somewhere with your crazy antics!