Turn Back the Pages: Robert M. Cunningham


Robert M. Cunningham (1924-2010) is an illustrator who was born in Herrington, Kansas and studied at the University of Kansas and the Kansas City Art Institute before moving to New York City. There he studied at the Art Students League and with Jack Potter at the School of Visual Arts. He went on to work with clients such as McCall’s, Sports Illustrated, American Airlines, and the United States Postal Service.

Wendell Minor had this to say about Cunningham’s time in Jack Potter’s class:

“Bob took a class with Jack Potter at the School of Visual Arts in 1958 and 1959 to which he attributes a change in his perspective in the art of picture making. For the first time Bob felt liberated enough to express himself in a more fluid style.”


What I like about Cunningham’s artwork is how he breaks down his compositions into simple shapes. He then he paints them with flat color and a selective use of texture. For example, take a look at the image below. He put the figures, and boats, at the bottom of the page and painted the top part in ‘layers’. My guess is that, in the ‘real’ scene, the water might not have been green and probably had waves in it. I’m sure none of that stuff was really flat, but he painted it that way to give it a specific look and add variety to the “busier” part of the piece where the people are at the bottom.


Also of note is that he rarely paints facial features on the people in his illustrations. Instead he uses shadow and shape to suggest what’s there. To me, that adds a mystery to his work that makes it all the better. I think had he drawn in the details of a face it might even be a distraction and something that you focus on instead of looking at the entire image.


Cunningham went on to a long career and in 1998 was elected into the Society of Illustrator’s Hall of Fame. Below is a selection of images done throughout his lifetime.




Tags: , ,

Categories: History of Illustration, Illustrated, Illustration History, Illustrators, New Illustration, Painted

Author:Daniel Zalkus

Daniel Zalkus is an Illustrator and graduate of the School of Visual Arts in NYC. You can see more of his work at: danielzalkus.com

Don't miss a thing!

Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

2 Comments on “Turn Back the Pages: Robert M. Cunningham”

  1. April 2, 2019 at 7:01 am #

    One of my all-times favs. Nothing easy about those “simple” shapes. He deserves to be much better known and remembered. Happy to see this post via Feedly. One correction. He died in 2010, not 1910.

    • Daniel Zalkus
      April 2, 2019 at 9:37 am #

      Good catch. Thank you for that. I meant 2010 (and just fixed it). I agree….there’s nothing “simple” about those shapes!


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.