Friday, August 5, 2011

A visit with illustrator/fine artist Bernie Fuchs

I’d admired illustrator and fine artist Bernie Fuchs’ work since the early 1960s – long before I could link a name to the art, much less a face to the name.
    At that time I was an illustrator for the U.S. Air Force – and Look, Life, and other popular magazines of the day featured not only Bernie’s award-winning illustrations and portraits of the famous, but many of the advertisements he’d done.
    About that same time Liquitex® acrylic paints were introduced. I wanted to paint like Bernie, so I applied slashing backgrounds to illustration board, then glazed a second color over that in another direction. Funny, it never measured up Bernie’s often-imitated work.
    So, when Bernie Fuchs and I met in 2007 through a mutual friend who had purchased an original “B.F.” signature oil painting for his office, I was honored. Our brief visit at a trade show in California later led to inviting myself to his studio “the next time I was in Connecticut.”
    Amazingly enough, I was on a photographic assignment in Connecticut few months later – in the next town over from Bernie’s Westport home. Though our visit was arranged weeks ahead, a GPS locator was needed to find his place up one winding tree-lined road, then another.
    His over-the-garage studio was astounding! Framed period Oldsmobile ads on the wall. Vintage illustrator annuals in his bookcase. A trumpet case. Unstretched painted canvases – some rolled, some lying flat on the floor. Reference slides on his light table – next to his palette with ages-old piles of raw umber and sap green and titanium white oil paint.
    Push-pinned to his easel was a two-thirds-finished painting of an Italian street scene, progressing from the top down. (The painting “Outdoor Café” was included in his 50-year Retrospective Exhibition at The Talluride Gallery of Fine Art in June, 2008.) Bernie painted in sections onto unstretched canvas tacked to a large drawing board. He’d apply dark paint with a broad brush, wipe away, then glaze. Bernie painted soft-focus back- and foregrounds punctuated with a razor-sharp focal point. Truly amazing. Finished paintings then were rolled and shipped to a patron, gallery or printer in a FedEx tube. Some art became postage stamps, other paintings became pages in children’s books and some was sold to patrons worldwide.
    On the floor of an adjoining room, stacks of framed paintings leaned against a wall. “James Arness,” I said of one. 
    “Cover of TV Guide,” he replied. He mentioned the year but I don’t remember.
    The stories and visual treats that afternoon! I had to leave too soon.
    Bernie Fuchs passed away on September 17, 2009. He left too soon.

Bernie Fuchs with painting-in-progress Outdoor Café.

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Welcome to my glob, Volume 1, Number 1. There could be erors.

I was told to write from what I know, and I know something about art, but certainly not everything I should about the subject. And that’s why I’m counting on feedback from friendly friends and (constructively) critical critics.

As a painter I favor realism with maybe a touch of humor — from others as well as myself. I believe we should paint to the best of our ability each time, and then build on that to become better — eventually achieving artist stature. Is randomly smearing paint on a canvas declaring: “It came from in here” (pointing to the heart area) the best use of God-given talent and resources?

I was not blessed into a wealthy family, nor folks that encouraged my art, nor did I have the talent to earn an art scholarship. What I learned was gleaned from art history books and studying the techniques of the Old Masters.

When I graduated from North Salem (Ore.) High School, I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was sent to electronics school where my classmates were already ham radio operators and already knew the color codes on resistors. That I knew the primary and secondary color wheel was of no consequence. In the little time off I had, I’d paint oil portraits of classmates’ girlfriends from a tiny photograph . I learned the tough lesson that if it did not look like their love interest, or better, I didn’t get paid. In the mix of subjects I painted portraits of a captain and a major. The Air Force then decided I’d make a better Illustrator than Missile Maintenance Technician, so I painted fighter jets in acrylics and prepared informational slide shows for the remainder of my commitment which concluded in South Korea. At the Base Exchange at Osan, Korea, cameras were duty-free and I had access to a darkroom, so I retired my paintbrushes for a time and pursued my new found interest in photography. I admired the crisp landscape work of Ansel Adams, struck up a postal correspondence with him, and in 1966 purchased one of his noted photos — Aspens, New Mexico.

After four years of military service, I worked for the State of Oregon Education Division as a Graphic Artist, the (Salem) Statesman-Journal newspaper advertising department as an ad designer, the Silverton Appeal-Tribune newspaper as Advertising Manager, State of Oregon Employment, again as a Graphic Designer, and a now defunct graphics firm in Salem before launching my own design, commercial photography, publication design, and humorous illustration studio in 1976. We pretty much have to do-it-all to stay in business in a town the size of Silverton, Oregon. April 2011 marks my 35th year as Kassell Concepts. I photograph, write, then design ads, brochures and booklets.

I enjoy humorous illustration (cartooning), because humor and caricatures often best drive home a point. Photography is especially rewarding because a photographer has to actually be present at the event to capture a photo, and sometimes that requires extensive travel. In forty-plus years of photography I’ve met so many interesting people and witnessed so many gorgeous sunsets that I can’t keep it inside. A photo in an album, attic, or still in a camera or computer is like the tree that falls in the forest and nobody hears. So, I choose to share my illustrations and photos — but like home movies, they’d better be interesting. I published two photo books of my hometown, Silverton Sampler (1972) and Silverton Sampler II (2003).

As much as I love photography, film and darkrooms have gone the way of tail fins on cars (remember 1957?), and digital photography and its editing programs have made practically everyone a photographer. In December, 2007 I bought some canvases, an easel, a few brushes and a selection of Gamblin oils and launched my third or fourth career. Now with our six kids out of the nest, and with my wife Julia’s blessing, I paint, paint, paint — whenever I find time — like when I was in the service more than forty years ago.

Favorite artists

Seriously. The best artist in history was Norman Rockwell. The best impressionist was Bernie Fuchs. My favorite living artist: James C. Christensen. Others, living and not-so-much, are Adolphe William Bougerau, Nelson Shanks, Jacob Collins ... all traditionalists.

The best artist in Silverton, Ore. is probably the lady who decorates cakes at Roth’s Fresh Markets.

What I’ve been up to

This painting is from a photograph taken many years ago of a friend posing with my wife Julia’s VW Beetle, Susie. “The Controlled Beetle Hunt of 1968” takes a humorous poke at Oregon’s SUV and pickup owners who see little foreign nuisances on the road as fair game. A brush-and-ink rendering of this painting will be featured in an upcoming book I’m working on. I’ll keep you updated.

The Controlled Beetle Hunt of 1968

The Controlled Beetle Hunt of 1968
Oil on canvas, 24 h x 24 w