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Saturday, June 03, 2017

Walter Wyles (1925-2017)

Walter Wyles, whose illustrations graced women's magazines from the fifties to the seventies when they were selling up to three and a half million copies every week, and who was the first British illustrator to be commissioned to draw romantic illustrations by an American magazine (Redbook in 1964), died in April 2017. Known for his exceptional ability at drawing women, which meant that many authors asked that he should provide illustrations for their stories and novels, he worked as a book cover artist for Corgi, Fontana, Star and Bantam, amongst others. While the bulk of his work appeared on novels by the likes of Claire Lorrimer and Catherine Marchant, Wyles also produced covers for Beasts of Gor by John Norman and Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock.

Walter Wyles was born in Canterbury, Kent in 1925, the son of Walter HenryWyles, a solder in the British Army, and Francesca Calvente, from Malaga, southern Spain. In childhood he suffered from poliomyelitis, which left him with a permanent pronounced limp.

Thanks to a recommendation from a primary school teacher, he began attending the Sidney Cooper Art School in Canterbury on a part-time basis; in 1939, at the age of 14, he was awarded a full scholarship but attended for only four months. When World War II broke out, he first began training as a book binder before becoming a junior draughtsman, working for two aircraft manufacturing companies between 1940 and 1942. He then worked for a display company in the West End of London whilst also serving as a part-time Air Raid Warden on the roof of the building where he was employed.

During this period he attended art classes in his spare time at a school off Fleet Street and began working for War Artists and at Cavendish Studios, producing large paintings of battles. After the war he began freelancing fashion illustrations for various trade magazines, including Tailor & Cutter, Man & His Clothes and The Draper's Record.

In the 1950s he began freelancing illustrations to Woman where he was encouraged by editors Mary Grieve and George Watts to experiment with his art, producing detailed oil paintings for historical subjects and more painterly watercolours for more contemporary images. A brief biography at the Lever Gallery says of Wyles' work:
Encouraged by increasingly radical art directors, Wyles’ style continued to develop and push boundaries.  During the 1960s, Wyles’ work evolved from standard realism to a style more reflective of other influences notably American illustrators who incorporated more high contrast colours, Japanese woodcuts, Old Masters (Series done for Woman in 1961) and science fiction.
   Partly as a result of his early experience as a technical fashion illustrator, Wyles was known for exceptional portraits of women. These portraits show an artistic sensibility and fascination with the human form that captures a mood well beyond technical drawing.  For his book cover portraits, Wyles was known for using “real women” rather than fashion models. While this often suited clients, as professional models were expensive to hire, for Wyles this was a creative preference for life drawing over working from photographs.
His work appeared in all the major women's weekly and monthly magazines as well, weathering the downturn in the fortunes of these magazines as they began losing advertising revenue to television and photographs became a cheaper option to painted illustrations. In the early 1980s, Wyles suffered a series of heart attacks which led him to reduce his work commitments. Wyles began representing himself when he and other artists discovered that they had been swindled by their agent and had to take the agent to court to recover payments due.

In later years he continued to paint and took on portrait commissions which he painted in a purpose-built studio at his Canterbury home.

Wyles is survived by his wife Margaret (nee Jarrold), whom he met when she was a student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. They married in 1954 and had two sons, Nick and Glyn.

(* Much of the information above was derived from Bryn Havord's article on Wyles in Illustrators #6, Winter 2013. Further examples of Wyles' work can be seen at this Flickr gallery.)

1 comment:

Allison M @Mary Queen of Plots said...

Hi, I found your post really interesting, thanks for sharing this information on Walter Wyles! I blog about the writer Mary Stewart and her book The Ivy Tree was illustrated in its Reader's Digest format by... Walter Wyles. I have linked to your post in my latest post, and this contains a couple of the illustrations.
Thanks,
Allison M @ Mary Queen of Plots
marystewartreading.wordpress.com