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The Visual Art of Orson Welles

Self Portrait by Orson Welles

This coming May marks the 100th anniversary the birth of iconoclast director, writer, actor Orson Welles. In celebration, the Sedona International Film Festival in Arizona has dedicated itself to Welles, beginning in late February. The festival features screenings of his classic films, including “Touch of Evil,” “Othello” and of course “Citizen Kane,” ranked number one in the American Film Institute’s poll of film industry artists and leaders in 1998, and with a rare 100% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Of particular interest is an exhibit of his artwork: costume and set designs, caricatures, oil paintings and illustrations. Little of this work has been available to the public prior.

Set design by Welles

Costume design by Welles

Movie set study by Welles

Costume study by Welles

As a youngster, Welles’ originally aspired to become a musician or artist, but his father ruled against it. “…he was bitterly opposed to my interest in music and painting and everything like that. As far as he was concerned, if I was going to be an artist, it’d be better to be a cartoonist, like his friend George McManis, who drew “Jiggs and Maggie,” otherwise known as “Bringing up Father”—that’s where the money was.” Regardless, Welles studied art at the Art Institute of Chicago for one summer, and continued to paint and sketch throughout his life.

Illustration from “Les Bravades”

In 1956, he wrote and illustrated a children’s book, “Les Bravades,” as a Christmas gift for his daughter Rebecca, then 12. Workman Publishing published it posthumously in 1996. Little else of Welles’ artwork has seen print. His daughter Beatrice (as she is now known) is planning an exhibit in New York and an upcoming book, something to look forward to.

Painting by Orson Welles


Works Cited:

Welles, Orson and Bogdanovich, Peter, This is Orson Welles, Da Capo Press, 1998, p. 65.

Graphic designer and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Saul Bass (1920-1996) developed an iconic style evident throughout his expansive repertoire. His style, and especially his influence on the storytelling potential of opening credits, has influences numerous films and television series.

In Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design, author Jan-Christopher Horak examines the life, work, and creative process of this prominent designer. Discover the humble beginnings of Bass’s life, his collaborations with prominent directors like Robert Aldrich, Stanley Kubrick, and Martin Scorsese, and learn more about his personal style, like his appreciation of modern art and subsequent incorporation of it into his body of work. Get it here.

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