By Matthew C. Durkee
Triplicate Features Editor
You'd be pardoned for your skepticism if a Brookings gallery owner were to tell you that he currently has what may be the most important West Coast art show of the year.
But Joe Tonini at Signatures Gallery has a point.
On display now at the gallery is the world's first ever glimpse of the private works of Drew Struzan, who has produced some of the most instantly recognizable art of the last 30 years.
Struzan is the exclusive painter of Star Wars movie posters and was the first to draw Indiana Jones and E.T. The memorable Back to the Future movie poster, with Michael J. Fox checking his watchthat's Struzan's too.
And among his more than 150 posters, it is believed that Struzan may have painted the most widely seen piece of artwork in the world.
The poster? "Star Wars: Episode One, The Phantom Menace," which, if you're a science fiction fan, may immediately spring to your memory, with its demonic Darth Maul lording over a tableau of other characters from the movie.
It was the only poster commissioned by George Lucas to represent the movie, and it is believed to have been seen by as many as 1.2 billion people.
"Only a million and a half people see the Sistine Chapel every year," Tonini says.
Collectors pay $100,000 for originals, so for security reasons you won't see any originals at Signatures Gallery, but you will see top-of-the-line prints of something Struzan has never shown to the public before: his personal, uncommissioned artwork.
As Struzan was nearing graduation from art school, a counselor asked him if he wanted to make art for himself and make no money or produce art for others and get paid.
Raised in a poor family, the Portland native chose to be a commercial illustrator.
Now wildly successful, Struzan can be counted on to portray actors with chiseled accuracy and capture the essential moods of a movieand do it all in just two days per poster.
Struzan also paints book and album covers. His cover for Alice Cooper's 1975 EP "Welcome to My Nightmare" was numbered among Rolling Stone magazine's greatest 100 album covers of all time.
But Struzan has kept his personal, uncommissioned work to himself. Until now.
The Pasadena illustrator often comes to Brookings and paints, where he has rekindled a friendship with Tonini, who has known him since sixth grade. Tonini asked him if he would be interested in showing a few of his commercial projectssay, six or soat the gallery, and he agreed.
Then Struzan surprised him by asking him about including 12 of his own paintings. Excited by the idea, Struzan eventually upped the number to 19 private works and seven commercial.
The private works reveal a different sideactually, many different sidesof Struzan's creative range.
At Signatures there are Struzan portraits and nudes in a surprising range of styles portraying wildlife and people real and mythical.
The moods in his paintings vary, but the intensity doesn't waver.
Tonini says that since word of the Struzan show got out, he has received phone calls from three major galleries wanting to show Struzan's new work.
But Struzan, Tonini says, seems to like the idea of starting out with a small showing so he can see how people respond.
And that's fine with Tonini, who encourages everyone to come to the gallery and feast on Struzan's visual banquet.
"This is the only chance locally to see the work of a living master," Tonini says.
Artists, he adds, are welcome to pull up a chair and examine the pieces at length.
"This is a big deal" Tonini says. "We just want people to see it while it's here."
Reach Matthew C. Durkee at 464-2141 or mdurkee@triplicate.