One of the most imaginative and prolific illustrators of the 20th century, Robert Peak revolutionized advertising in the film industry and is considered the “Father of the modern movie poster.” Robert Peak totally transformed the approach to movie advertising from basic collages of film stills or head shots to flamboyant artistic illustrations. United Artist hired Peak in 1961 to help promote “West Side Story.” His innovative solution-painting characters and scenes into a single montage-became the first of over 100 such posters, among them “My Fair Lady,” “Camelot,” “Rollerball,” “Star Trek,” “Superman” and “Apocalypse Now.” Peak was not short on editorial assignments with 45 covers of Time Magazine featuring his illustrations-most notably the portrait of Mother Teresa.
Born in Denver, Colorado, Peak grew up in Kansas. He knew from an early age that he wanted to be a commercial illustrator. At age seven, he received a gift of brushes and paints, and by age nine he was drawing recognizable likenesses.
He attended Wichita State University where he majored in geology with a minor in art and got a part time job in the art department of McCormick-Armstrong. That is where he gained the confidence to choose an art career and learned the skill of versatility-doing layout, illustration and lettering. After a stint in the military during the Korean War, Peak transferred to the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, California and graduated in 1951.
In 1953 Peak moved to New York, landed an Old Hickory Whiskey ad campaign, and from that point on his career skyrocketed. His work appeared in major advertising and national magazines. Sports Illustrated sent him on assignments throughout the world, including a safari to hunt ibex with the Shah of Iran. He received the largest commission of an individual artist from the U.S. Postal Service to design 30 stamps for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California and 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.
In 1961 Peak was named Artist of the Year by the Artists Guild of New York, and in 1977 the Society of Illustrators elected him to its Hall of Fame. For his 30 years of outstanding contribution to the film industry, the Hollywood Reporter presented him the 1992 Key Art Lifetime Achievement Award.
Peak’s work is included in many permanent collections, and three of these paintings-of Anwar Sadat, Mother Teresa and Marion Brando-hang in the Smithsonian Institution.