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Beyond the Canvas: Star-Spangled Spectacle

Published: May 28, 2014

"Fireworks" by Ben Kimberly Prins. July 4, 1953. © SEPS 2014

Ben Kimberly Prins
July 4, 1953. © SEPS 2014

Benjamin Kimberly Prins’ cover, “Fireworks,” for the July 4, 1953 edition of the Post, takes the nation’s colors to the skies above a gathered crowd of beach-goers outside the city limits. The abstract flag is a spectacle, a flash of bombs bursting in air as a visual recitation of the famous verse from America’s national anthem.

The composition’s broad brushstrokes and blurry lights define this painting as American Impressionism. This cover can be viewed in the same scope as Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” an ephemeral moment captured, a simple impression of light thrust fleetingly into the darkness.

Interestingly, a famous English impressionist artist by the name of James Abbott Whistler was taken to court for a painting similar to the cover by Prins, though it pre-dates the Prins painting by almost a century. Whistler’s 1875 painting titled, “Nocturne in Black and Gold-The Falling Rocket,” was the first abstract painting of a fireworks show that held meaning to a nation’s people.

Whistler’s painting was seen as so abstract that a court in London, England, decided the attempt to sell paint haphazardly thrown upon a canvas was akin to theft. Whistler’s now infamous painting focuses on the solitude of each rocket’s momentary brightness above a dark and empty beach just outside of London, England.

Where Whistler’s abstract image of falling rockets focuses on the theme of England’s growing isolation, Prins’ compositionally similar work endorses a sense of American community. His three fire crackers rise together in the colors of the American flag. Instead of isolating lone rockets, Prins’ falling rockets explode in a cluster of colors, enjoyed by a society that has come together on a day when our nation celebrates its independence from England.

Prins’ “Fireworks” provides a fleeting show at a much-anticipated annual event for the whole United States of America. Beneath the exploding exhibit children play, adults watch from cars, and young couples kiss in backseats.

Benjamin Kimberly Prins had, in his own way, taken a simple image of an annual holiday and brought a country together under the light of an abstract American flag exploding into the night sky.

To learn more about Ben Kimberly Prins and to see other inside illustrations and covers from this artist, click here!.

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  • Another excellent article on a great POST cover, this time by Ben Prins. He did a lot of great covers for the magazine along with so many others, that you’ll never run out of work!

    This cover is a great marriage of impressionism combined with realism. You feel you’re there too, enjoying the fireworks. I clicked on the Whistler 1875 abstract, and found it fascinating. It eerily had some visual commonalities around the center/left (orange and white smoke area) not unlike what’s a hallmark in the works of a personal favorite artist of mine, Bob Peak (1927-1992) that was known as the ‘Father of the Modern Movie Poster’. In addition to doing many magazine covers (no POST’s) he did a lot of illustrated ads for major ad agencies when artwork was still the desired choice over photography.

    The only thing I don’t quite get in ‘Nocturne’ is the cartoonish figure toward the bottom right. It seems out of place somehow. It kind of looks like a man with a beard hunkered down possibly looking at the female figure wearing a cloak looking behind her. I might be way off, who knows, since it IS abstract after all.