To illustrate the first and second installments of Leo Durocher's four-part series of reminiscences, which continue this week on page 38, Art Director Dick Gangel called upon a man whose affection for nostalgia made him seem ideal for the task. Dickran Palulian, a 36-year-old Midwesterner of Armenian parentage, lives in a Victorian house in Connecticut and draws with a technique and vision straight out of the good old days.
The ease with which Palulian handles historical subjects has been apparent in previous SPORTS ILLUSTRATED assignments, among them depictions of hockey players in a 1930s gangland setting, sporting ghosts of long ago, famous golfing gaffes at the U.S. Open and a University of Michigan football player named Gerald Ford. As publisher of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, I was proud to present the latter illustration to the then Vice President last summer. It now hangs on the north wall of the President's study in the White House.
While Palulian's work is not confined to evoking the past, he has a special appreciation for it. Of his own childhood he says, "One of my most vivid memories is playing ball in an open field beside a gravel road. That kind of uncomplicated, rural quality that baseball used to have is what I wanted to bring out in the Durocher assignment."
Palulian began his professional career after an art-school teacher in his hometown, Detroit, told him that the best way to become an artist was to go out and be one. He did commercial-studio work there, then moved to New York, where his hustle, persistence and ability won him free-lance assignments for a number of leading magazines. "I don't consider myself an innovator," he says. "Mine is an amalgam of styles best defined as neo-realist."
After 15 years in the business, Palulian is still turned on by a new assignment. "I will lie awake at night thinking about it. In my mind, I see the entire work in full color before I sit down to draw it. Often I'll get out of bed in the middle of the night and start to work. My upstairs studio is a messy place, but that junk pile is my private lair. I don't like strangers to see it. I feel as though they are intruding."
Hanging above the litter of manuscripts, discarded drawings and art paraphernalia is a punching bag. Palulian calls it his "kicking bag." A karate enthusiast, he uses it to "work out my aggressions."
Away from the studio, he has a less menacing image. Dressed casually and with his work wrapped in brown paper because he considers portfolios unwieldy, Palulian says he is often mistaken for a delivery boy.
The work inside the plain wrapping speaks otherwise, however. It reflects his belief that "the way an artist thinks is as important as the way he draws. He must interpret the mood of a story and project its feeling."
For his Durocher illustrations, Palulian deliberately turned to "the color and imagery of the more pastoral days of baseball." When the brawling character of Leo's famous Gas House Gang got in the way of that conception, he dispelled it with a karate session at his kicking bag.