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The Art of Mort Künstler / Documenting America / Other Works / Aviation Art

Unlike many of history's great civilizations, America has existed almost entirely in an age where media has been present to document the nation's trials and culture. During his long and complex career, Mort Künstler's art has found many ways to contribute to the visual landscape that this media provides.

Ramey Air Force Base, Puerto Rico - Cutting Sugar Cane

Historical Information

Fear of and hostility to communism were nothing new in the postwar years. It was born of the Communist Revolution of 1917 – after all, not until 1933 did the United States recognize the Soviet Union. The overriding need to defeat Nazi Germany dictated an alliance between Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union, but even before the war was over the old antagonism between these nations flared up again. What might be regarded as an informal declaration of Cold War came in March of 1946 with Winston Churchill’s famous address at Fulton, Missouri, where he asserted that “from the Baltic to the Adriatic an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent” and called for the United States to take the lead in destroying it. With the Soviet blockade of Berlin in 1947, and the almost miraculous success of the Anglo-American Berlin Airlift, the Cold War was formally on. It persisted until 1989, expanding to embrace Soviet satellites and China and contracting when these moved towards greater independence – not from communism, but from the Soviet Union. It plunged the two most powerful nations on the globe into an insensate arms race, each pouring tens of billions of dollars each year into new armaments, mostly nuclear. Again and again there was a threat that the Cold War might become a hot war. That catastrophe, which would spell destruction for a good part of mankind, was avoided.

The Cold War affected many countries, but probably none more profoundly than the United States herself. It called into existence a national security state, helped build up a military-industrial-labor-finance-science-university complex, and dictated intervention in the internal affairs of a score of nations throughout the world.

The Era of Men's Adventure

Beginning in the 1950s, Künstler’s illustrations were sought after by art directors of the leading magazines. Künstler’s captivating and sometimes provocative images adorned the covers of Stag, For Men Only, True Adventures, Male and True Action magazines. Magazine Management, the publisher of these magazines, asked Künstler to use pseudonyms because he was doing so much work for them. Two of the pseudonyms he used were Martin Kay and Emmett Kaye – a play on his initials “MK”. These illustrations have become emblematic of the pop culture of that era.

From Men’s Adventure Magazines in Postwar America
(Max Allan Collins and George Hagenauer, Taschen GMBH, 2004, p. 500)

“Künstler was at the top of the game in the genre, putting incredible detail and accurate descriptions of uniforms, weapons, and settings into his paintings, even when illustrating the likes of “The G.I. Who Raided Saigon Sally’s Sin Barracks.”

“His art has appeared in major magazines, such as National Geographic. The Saturday Evening Post, and Newsweek, and his commercial oeuvre also includes film posters and advertising work. He is now considered to be one of the premiere fine artists in the U.S painting historical objects.”

The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts opened a major retrospective exhibit of Künstler’s art in November 2014, including many of his Men’s Adventure art. Mort Künstler: The Art of Adventure, had over 80 pieces from early childhood through his most recent works. This traveling exhibit went to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, Virginia, the Citadelle Art Foundation in Canadian, Texas, and the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, New York.

Date Created: 1958

Medium: Oil on canvas

Image Size: 24" x 48"


All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2022. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.