Cinema Artist Visits Reston

Sunday, September 10, 2006

You know that Sistine Chapel-inspired image from "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial," of the bony alien's glowing finger reaching out toward Elliott's? That iconic movie poster came courtesy of John Alvin. Since the late 1960s, Alvin's mixed-media work, which combines acrylics, hand-drawn illustration and photography, has helped cement films such as "Star Wars" and "Blade Runner" in our collective consciousness.

"Movie posters used to be the visual picture that we took with us when we went into the theater," says Alvin, who'll be showing off his latest collection of character studies, from Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, at Reston's ArtInsights Animation Gallery this Friday and Saturday.

Alvin got his break when a friend was working on Mel Brooks's "Blazing Saddles." The young illustrator came up with the image of Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) rearing up on his trusty horse ("when they told me they wanted Gucci saddlebags, I thought they were using an adjective I didn't know," he says), and the rest is celluloid history. As the handcrafted compositions produced by Alvin's generation gave way to what he refers to as "mountains of slapped-together, Photoshopped heads," he has re-branded himself as a "cinema artist," creating studio-licensed, actor-approved prints drawn from popular films.

"To some Hollywood executives, I'm just this guy who did stuff people used to like," Alvin says, laughing. "I'm just trying to provide people with a means of capturing that wonderful emotional experience of being at the movies for a few hours -- just trying to bump up that memory."

-- Greg Zinman

Friday, 6-9 p.m.; Saturday, 2-6 p.m. ArtInsights, 11921 Freedom Dr., Reston. 703-478-0778.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company