Somehow, the amazing work of Arthur Radebaugh, the visionary artist behind the late 1950s and early 60s US newspaper feature “Closer Than We Think!“, surely deserving of collection, has completely passed me by until last week, when I not only discovered it, but more of his incredible work – and an award-winning documentary about his life directed by Brett Ryan Bonowicz, available to rent or buy on Vimeo.
Now considered by some as obscure, Detroit-based commercial artist and cartoonist Arthur Radebaugh was born in 1906 and died in 1974. He was at the vanguard of post World War Two futurism and his illustrations, be they his pre-war magazine covers and ads for titles such as Motor, or his postwar cartoon series, offered a “techno-Utopian vision of the future”, and earning him the label “imagineer”.
His best known work is “Closer Than We Think!”, an amazing illustrated feature that appeared in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune between 1958 and early 1963, but his credits also include the “Jet Swift” feature, which has themes echoing the work of Eagle here in the UK.
The award-winning Closer Than We Think documentary is directed by Brett Ryan Bonowicz, whose credits also include the most recently-released documentary series Artist Depiction, about three artists who worked for NASA – Don Davis, Charles Lindsay, and Rick Guidice. The film traces Radebaugh’s life, death and works, exploring the paradox of a man who, though always striving to see ahead, ended up left behind.
Radebaugh’s work was determinedly forward-looking, but as his own chosen medium of draughtsmanship and painting fell into disfavour, so did his vision, even if today’s reality has in certain respects caught up with his imaginings.
Radebaugh died in a veterans hospital in 1974 and, sadly, his work was largely forgotten, but in the 1990s, Todd Kimmell, director of the Lost Highways Archives and Research Library dedicated to American road culture acquired photos of Radebaugh’s portfolio that had been stashed in the collection of a retiring photographer and began reviving interest in his work.
Compiled from interviews and archival materials, Closer Than We Think, which has been shown at several film festivals around the globe, uses Radeburgh’s tragic trajectory from progressiveness to redundancy as a launching pad for more general discussions of futurism’s fragility.
The film, which was the winner of the Best Documentary Award at the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival and the Comic Con International Film Festival, was released by Clindar, a company producing Science Factual films And documentaries exploring our relationship with technology in the Past, Present, and Future.
The company has featured a number examples of “Closer Than We Think!” on its Twitter. – and I have to wonder why the whole run has yet to be collected in a coffee table book, it’s wonderful! One for IDW, perhaps?
• The Smithsonian: Before the Jetsons, Arthur Radebaugh illustrated the future
In the 1950s and ‘60s, the newspaper cartoonist dreamed up a madcap American utopia, filled with flying cars and fantastical skyscrapers
• BBC: Technicolour Visions of the Future
Cartoon strips from the middle of the last century give a vivid insight into the beginnings of our technological age