Stan Galli for many years has been a successful San Francisco illustrator whose work has appeared regularly in some of America’s most prestigious popular magazines. Galli’s career presents us with the near perfect western archetype that many of us of that generation aspired to. There has always been an integrity and honesty in Galli’s work that both buyer and viewer can immediately recognize and accept. To survive the lean years of the 1930s, West Coast artists learned to work economically with directness and simplicity. This has always been true of the Galli style and it is one of his most identifiable hallmarks.
Stan Galli knew very early in his life to what purpose it must be lived. As a young boy, his talent for artistic expression attracted attention. This recognition, and the various awards it earned for him, strengthened his resolve. It seemed that nothing could go wrong, but as Murphy’s Law states, it could and did. The force of the Great Depression abruptly knocked down plans for a formal art education, and a long interruption of sustenance jobs took their place. Frying doughnuts as a baker’s apprentice was one of the first, followed by the rugged life as a hired hand on a Nevada cattle ranch. After this stint came the forgettable period of sweating out the San Francisco waterfront as a longshoreman during the violent days of the dock strikes. Galli worked at whatever he could get, his sense of purpose still intact. The slogging detail of truck driver, delivering linen supplies to flophouses and whorehouses on the night run between Fresno and San Francisco, eventually gained him enough resources to make his way through the doors of the California School of Fine Arts, where his first formal art study began. The money saved, along with scholarships and awards, kept him there for several years, but part-time work to help him continue was soon indicated.
It was found in one of San Francisco’s best art workshops. Thrust prematurely into the professional world totally without practical experience, Galli found himself working among some of the best artists on the West Coast. It was a traumatic period of frustration, struggle and hard learning among his more experienced peers, but it was the turning point in his career.
In the world of creativity, the art fraternity is perhaps unique in its generosity towards its young hopefuls, helping and guiding each promising new talent as it comes along into the mainstream almost as a given responsibility. Most influential in the development of Galli as a first-rate professional artist were Fred Ludekens, Haines Hall and Gilbert Darling, all prominent San Francisco artists active in the professional art world. Their care and interest in Galli as an artist helped greatly in the formation of what came to be the Galli style.
In California, old guards Maynard Dixon, Maurice Logan and Harold Von Schmidt were the then respected caretakers of the West Coast style. But it was a time of change, and other San Francisco-trained artists like John Atherton, Frank MacIntosh, Ludekens and Darling were looking toward the East. Von Schmidt, who was one of the first to leave San Francisco, brought the West Coast tradition with him. The others took on eastern influences and were soon absorbed into the New York milieu.
These departures, admittedly opened the market for the new generation coming up in San Francisco. Stan Galli’s life became easier as he assumed a partnership in the art service. His vision widened as his interest in the open life of the West developed. His love of the wilderness and its wildlife found its way into his work.
His first great break on the national scene came from Weyerhaeuser, who commissioned him to create for the company a new image, as conservator and protector of the western wilderness and its natural resources. Galli’s paintings, as part of the Weyerhaeuser program to allay and educate the public, were marvelously effective and remained a key factor in their advertising program for over fourteen years. Although New York itself had no great appeal for Stan Galli (he visited the city once in the late 1940s for a month) a regular flow of assignments started moving toward the Galli easel, now located in Kentfield, north of San Francisco.
Beyond subject matter, what are the characteristics of the Galli style that set it apart and makes it so compellingly pleasant? Sharp-focus realism and precise representation, held together by a clear color palette pushed to a surprising strength. There is also firm design in which a penetrating sense of dramatic story-telling detail is contained. One can always sense the clear line of intent that runs continuously through his work. He paints as he must, with pragmatic honesty, and it is this essence of himself that he communicates.
Adaptability and versatility are key words in the survival kit of most West Coast artists. This is especially true of Stan Galli. The variety of ventures, the challenges he has met head-on, attest to his lively interest in the wider development of his work. His exploration of new areas of activity are all a part of his need to stay fresh. In the disruptive 1960s when the disillusioned young were aimlessly copping out, Galli found a need to proselytize his personal beliefs. He found the time to teach art courses at the college level on the philosophy of effort in art. Again, he communicated as in his art, with effective results.
In the more current present, Galli has shifted the emphasis of his work from illustration to easel painting. The vanished past of Colonial Spanish California is the focus of his interest. He paints, now for himself, the old ways of the vaquero. His research is prodigious and accurate. Early California ranch society as recorded in journals and historical records of the period before the advent of Yankee influences fascinates him. A new world is being created on canvas, from one long gone, in an inspired series of paintings that have been exhibited with success in two California museums and various regional galleries.
It is fitting that we at the Society of Illustrators should cap the distinguished career of this artist as an illustrator and painter by awarding him our finest honor. His place in the Illustrators’ Hall of Fame has been justly earned and properly bestowed.
© 2011 Society of Illustrators, Harry Carter