Kunio Hagio’s poster art for “Raging Bull” smolders with a ferocity that could make a boxer facing such an opponent want to flee the ring.
Using oil paint, pencils and an airbrush, he created a sweat-drenched, bruised, hyper-realistic portrait of Robert De Niro as boxer Jake LaMotta that conveys a battered pugilist stalking his prey.
His painting for the 1980 Martin Scorsese film became one of the most recognized images in cinematic history.
Mr. Hagio, 74, who had heart and lung problems, died in his sleep May 8 in Arizona, where the Skokie native moved years ago.
He thought the warm weather improved the flexibility of his right hand, his drawing hand, which he’d injured in his youth when a window at school slammed down on his ring and middle fingers, according to his daughter Allison Hagio-Conwell, who is also an artist.
Dawn Baillie calls his “Raging Bull” illustration a “masterpiece.”
“This is a case where the painting puts more intensity and emotion than I imagine the reference photo was able to do,” said Baillie, who has designed many movie posters, including the one for “The Silence of the Lambs” that shows star Jodie Foster with her mouth hidden by a death’s-head hawkmoth. “Dots of highlights, veins, bruising. The design of the sweat, the staredown, the hair — everything comes together to give you a taste of what the experience of this film will be like. We strive for this when we make a poster for a film: to encapsulate the experience in one striking image. Kunio Hagio’s masterpiece is a classic cultural icon. You cannot remember the film without first remembering the poster.”
Christie’s described Mr. Hagio’s portrait of De Niro as “uncannily lifelike” when it was offered at auction in 2000. It sold for $35,250.
“Kunio was probably the greatest ‘face man’ that ever picked up a brush or pencil,” said Jim Costello, his friend and agent. “He did faces like no other.” (ChicagoSunTimes)