The Art Of Rafael DeSoto by David Saunders (book review),

Rafael DeSoto (1904-1992) may be more familiar to American audiences than British ones, as his cover artwork graced many works that were less likely to appear in the UK. David Saunders’ biography of the Puerto Rican-born artist showcases DeSoto’s talent for painting and his ability to adapt to the printing requirements of each decade. Saunders also provides insight into how the pulp magazines DeSoto worked on were popular because they were cheaper than cinema, adapted to radio (which attracted its own fanbase since it was free), and ultimately found their way into cinema.

Ironically, it was the cinema’s adoption of pulp stories that contributed to the decline of pulp magazines. As a result, DeSoto shifted his focus to paperback covers, refining his art along the way. His specialty in the pulps was devising ways to depict women in perilous situations, with the writers often having to match their stories to his covers rather than the other way around. This approach required ingenuity from all parties involved. DeSoto was an incredibly hard worker and ultimately burned himself out. Although he had an exclusive contract with Popular Publications, much of his work also appeared elsewhere unsigned, making it difficult to track down his entire portfolio.

DeSoto’s artwork, as presented in this biography, demonstrates his progression in detail and color, suggesting that he evolved in response to the printing processes of each era. He did not limit himself to oil paints, as numerous samples showcase his work with gouache and casein as well. Some preliminary sketches were even done in charcoal. Among his many cover illustrations, DeSoto painted several for “The Spider” series. Additionally, the book presents some paintings without the accompanying text, revealing his sense of macabre humor.

A standout example on page 126 depicts a man waiting with a gun, while another man’s hands emerge from behind a painting, also armed and aiming. A comparison of the preliminary and final paintings on pages 154 and 155 highlights the value of using models to ensure realism. This may inspire some artists to utilize human models or apply lessons learned from life drawing classes to their own work.

DeSoto’s versatility is evident in the variety of covers he created, including a scattering of science fiction covers. His art is characterized by highly expressive eyes, as well as the ability to convey emotion through body language alone, as seen on page 198. If you have the opportunity to explore Rafael DeSoto’s work, it is certainly worth a look.

GF Willmetts

March 2023

(pub: The Illustrated Press, 2019. 224 page illustrated very large hardback. Price: in the UK, you can currently get it while sales last for £20.00 (UK). You can get copies elsewhere. ISBN: 978-0-9995138-4-2)

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