Friday, October 14, 2011


I love the wildness in these preliminary sketches by illustrator Bernie Fuchs:

They were done quickly, and with some violence:

They look completely unfettered.  Not a traffic light in sight.

 Yet, these are not random spasmodic brush strokes.  If you look closely, you can see the fruits of years of discipline and technical skill.

Fuchs spent his first years out of art school working in a small studio in Detroit learning to paint tight, highly realistic car illustrations.  Eventually he left that world behind, but decades later-- working with the palette of Bonnard and using free, spontaneous brush strokes-- Fuchs still retained all that hard earned wisdom about how to convey the weight and volume of a car. 

Fuchs' apprenticeship taught him lessons about form that Bonnard was never forced to learn.  Look beneath the apparent freedom of his brushwork to the subtle treatment of those purple hubcaps (with no wheels), or his reduction of the shapes of light and shadow, or his highlight on the corner of the fender, and you'll see that Fuchs was in full control the whole time.

There are a dozen subtle choices in that "freely" painted sunset.
Similarly, Fuchs spent two years in art school learning to draw the human form.  Years later, when roughing out a human form at lightning speed, Fuchs didn't need to pause and think about the way fingers bunch together, or the way an elbow works.

Look at the way his apparently free line captures the character of those wooden chairs.  This is a line that has definite opinions about its subject matter.

Some like to think they can save time by skipping over the long hours of basic exercises and turning straight to abstraction, or to copying photo reference, or scanning material into Photoshop.

But those dues we pay, they build up equity for us.  And they pay off not just when it comes time to paint that 100th car, or that 500th elbow, but also when it comes time to paint the nameless and formless abstractions as well.


chris bennett said...

Another lovely post David.

The thing that has always struck me about Fuchs was his way of compressing his intoxication in the veritable fabric of the world into plastic statements that make us live his experience. A sort of up-ended, gawky, glamorous, oxygen breathing, chance taking, charismatic and eager delight in the world that we taste every time we come across one of his paintings.

Thinking of your recent posts regarding illustration and fine art - Fuchs is a great artist.

I would go so far as to say Bernie Fuchs' work is the plastic embodiment of the wisdom of joy.

Winston said...

What is "the character of those wooden chairs"?

MORAN said...

Everything Fuchs touched, including his preliminaries, had a beautiful design. He was incredible.

chris bennett said...

Winston:-- 'What is "the character of those wooden chairs"?'

They are an extension of the man in the painting. They are his embodiment absorbed in the office infrastructure, just as he is an extension of the office, connected by the same colour.

The woman is compressed by them graphically and by narrative. Is she trapped? The chairs suggest she is and isn’t – are they are simply in the way, insistent? Or are they supporting her? Or are they a sort of prison?

They support the picture’s architecture and they support the woman: just like her employer in the picture does – supporting her with money and imprisoning her time at the same simultaneously.

The shape of the chair mass and man mass draw the woman just as much as her shape draws the shape area of the chairs and the man in his office.

She’s a chair shape, he’s a chair shape, and the whole painting is in a sense a chair shape.

A court room chair, a support and a prison.

Kyle said...

you have a thoroughly enjoyable command of the perfect adjectives in relation to Bernie's always, thanks for bringing such wonderful attention to this talented man's work. one note about the "lightning speed"...oddly enough, he was a terrible pictionary player! :)

Anonymous said...

Yet another god of the illustration world covered...and in a way I have not seen him covered as well. Great entry, David...and very nice posts, Chris B!

ken meyer jr

David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett-- Thanks, I feel the same thing about Fuchs' work-- that it is powered by a visual optimism or an "eager delight" that resonated with audiences. There is a lot of joy in these pictures.

And I certainly agree, "Fuchs is a great artist." Thanks too for your exegesis on Fuchs' chairs.

MORAN-- Agreed.

Kyle-- Ha! The thought of Bernie Fuchs devoting his skills to "pictionary" makes me think of the famous story of Michelangelo's snowman: one winter after a rare heavy snowfall in Florence, the Medici family summoned the young Michelanagelo to make a snowman in their courtyard. Nobody else got to see the result, but the thought of Michelangelo having silly fun sculpting snow has always been quite warming.

Anonymous said...

"visual optimism" A nice two word summation of the spirit of his work .

I love all his work , the late 50's early 60's car ads and social settings make you wish you could step into that world .

As with the great book on Fawcett , I wish some - many could be done on Fuchs Peak Heindel for starters .

Al McLuckie

David Apatoff said...

Winston wrote, "What is 'the character of those wooden chairs'?"

Chris Bennett has offered you one very thoughtful response.

For me, the easiest place to start is the great variety of the line. There is a reason Fuchs chose to draw one part of the chair in a thin light line, and another part in a thick, dark line. Obviously, Fuchs wanted to emphasize parts of the chair he found most interesting, or that he thought would best convey the personality of the chair. Note for example how the flat seat is faintly outlined, while the curved, tapered backbone of the chair (which is the heart of its design) is emphasized with bold, heavy strokes. Fuchs appreciated the chair as a piece of sculpture and conveyed its form quite sensitively.

Or, look at how he conveys the structural strength of the chair by placing a few dark accents where the legs join the seat. Those were not placed there by accident.

Or, look at the compositional significance he gives those chairs: he places them center stage, and takes up such a large percentage of the picture with them, he can't simply rough them in with a bland, uniform line. They are an important theatrical prop with as much psychological significance as the expression on the girl's face. (see Chris Bennett's comment).

I'm not suggesting that Fuchs consciously planned all of this in advance. I assume he did it quickly and intuitively because he had a gift for staging pictures. It is up to us, after the fact, to dissect why we respond to his pictures the way we do.

Tom said...

Chris Bennent "She’s a chair shape, he’s a chair shape, and the whole painting is in a sense a chair shape."

More fundamentally everything is a right angle that leads to the woman.  Every line in the picture connects to the center of the universe. I think it is interesting the way he left the small picture level on the office wall as the whole picture's perspective is tilted to the left.
The tilt reminds me of how the camera is tilted in old rock videos to make everything look more exciting. Or being on a boat.

David said " I'm not suggesting that Fuchs consciously planned all of this in advance" 
I think he did, that's what makes him an artist. The best artist have the clearest intentions.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if these are primarily color scheme/palette studies? I'm not that familiar with Fuch's work, but that's what jumps out at me.

First one makes me think of the Manson murders.

David Apatoff said...

Ken Meyer Jr-- yes, these unpublished studies don't get nearly the attention they deserve, in my opinion.

Al McLuckie--a book about Bernie Fuchs' work is tops on my list.

Tom- Excellent point about the composition. As for the question of whether "Fuchs consciously planned all of this in advance," he may well have. I just don't want to superimpose my own theories on the artist. His work product is there for all to see. Whether he did it intuitively or by mapping it all out, the result is terrific.

Donald Pittenger said...

Dave, thanks for the reminder regarding Fuchs and cars. Some studios had guys that did the cars and other guys who painted in people and/or backgrounds for advertisements and catalogs.

The best-know "dynamic duo" is the Van Kaufman (backgrounds) and Art Fitzpatrick (the cars) team who did those fabulous Pontiac ads of the 1960s and thereabouts.

Fuchs not only did ads for General Motors but also would include cars in his non-automotive illustrations from time to time as well as in his fine arts paintings. For instance, he shows cars in some of his street scenes of Italy.

I mention this because some otherwise capable artists (and illustrators, even) have no idea how to draw or paint cars. They create, say, a decent streetscape and then drop in some cars that are out of proportion and whose wheels violate rules of perspective.

I should add that many car stylists are really bad when they include people in their renderings. Fuchs seems to have been a fairly rare bird who could do both people and cars.

Anonymous said...

LOVED the post. Thanks so much~

Rick McCollum said...

Hi David,

I so love Bernie's sketches. And these are terrific. He was a master composer, and his point of view was absolutely astonishing. They remind me of two responses he made concerning one of his paintings, "less is more", and "I did it because it felt right". I'm sure some of our comments would make him grin.

christopher panzner said...

David, I'm a regular reader of your blog and would like to send you a complimentary copy of my New Art & Culture Magazine ( if you'd like... please drop me a line if you're interested:

Best, Christopher Panzner

kev ferrara said...

Fuchs good.

Fire bad.


Anonymous said...

How big are these studies? It's great to see how Fuchs worked.


David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc-- Color was certainly important to Fuchs' work (I was serious that his palette in that last study is in the same league with Bonnard). But there are other things going on in these sketches; I think he was working out compositions and exploring line work and value, especially in those first two sketches. I gather that his sketches were tighter and more thorough early in his career, but as time went by his sketches became looser and more selective as he got a better sense for what he needed to do for planning purposes.

Donald Pittenger -- You are right that "Fuchs seems to have been a fairly rare bird who could do both people and cars." His very first picture in the Society of Illustrators Annual (in 1959) was a GMC truck. But in an era of specialization, he soon focused on people/backgrounds, while the cars were painted by great talents such as Bill Teodecki and Ben Jaroslaw. Fuchs used to talk about those car painters with great reverence and affection.

I also agree that the "dynamic duo" of Van Kaufman and Art Fitzpatrick were famous back then. I think they were also very astute in the way they marketed their art. In hindsight, I think AF and VK were technically dazzling but for my taste, they didn't always have as much of the poetry as some of the other car painters.

Terry-- Thanks so much, good to hear from you.

David Apatoff said...

Rick McCollum-- Thanks for writing, I appreciate your insights. I suppose when you are Bernie Fuchs, you can get away with saying, "I did it because it felt right" because your results speak for themselves. I once heard illustrator Chris Payne giving a demonstration lecture and a student asked how Fuchs painted. Payne replied, " Bernie was from a different planet-- he was the Mozart of painters for his generation."

Christopher Panzner-- Your magazine looks interesting. I look forward to reading it.

Kev Ferrara-- I guess that pretty well sums it up.

tim egan said...

What a great post, as always. Bernie gave a speech at a Society of Illustrators' event some years ago and was asked the standard question from someone, "How long do you spend on a painting?"
Bernie answered, "Hopefully, an afternoon. I like to golf as often as I can."
There was a wave of laughter, but underneath there was also a sigh from the talented crowd, because everyone knew he wasn't kidding. He was a brilliant draftsmen, an impeccable designer and an astonishing painter who created these amazing works without struggling. I love the analysis of the chairs and I think you're right, Bernie just drew them in a minute and they're perfectly done. He never overthought any of it.
He was one of the very best and is greatly missed.
Thanks, David, for another wonderful tribute.

Anonymous said...

Hi David..
thanks for another great post,
Mr. Fuchs always hovers around in my "alltime favorite artist" area..
somehow he was able to create controlled apparent oxymoron.. there a source to see a bunch of his work in one place? (museum, book, blog, site, etc..)
thanks for a wonderful blog about Art,
Derrick H.

Anonymous said...

David , do you know if Bernie ever did things like life drawing , observational sketching , exercises like that to refresh eye-mind-hand skills ?

I know from your Illustration mag article that he did that in his foundational years , just wondered if in his case it was either superfluous later on or if he did it occasionally as Fawcett did .

Thanks , Al McLuckie

David Apatoff said...

Tim Egan-- Thanks for a heartfelt and instructive contribution. That's one lecture I would've liked to hear.

Derrick H.-- Many thanks. I don't know of any centralized place to see a large collection of Fuchs' work, except for the issue of Illustration Magazine dedicated to him. A book is long overdue. I need to find the right publisher.

Al McLuckie-- Fuchs spent the first two years of art school in intensive life drawing, and continued to take drawing classes for the remaining two years. After that, while he drew constantly and was never far from a pad, he did not do regular life drawing like some artists.

Advocate-art said...

Hey we really like your work, keep it coming.

David Apatoff said...

In response to a couple of side queries I have received from fans interested in Bernie Fuchs preliminary studies: I recommend that you contact Mitch Itkowitz at He has a number of original studies that he is selling on behalf of the Fuchs family.

Anonymous said...

Thanks David. Your check is in the mail!

David Apatoff said...

Advocate Art-- Thanks.

Mitch, I know the Fuchs family is careful about who they entrust to sell these studies. I'm not surprised they turned to you; you have always been a knowledgeable straight shooter with me in the past.

I understand that you have a few other studies in addition to what is currently on your web site.

Mitch Itkowitz said...

Thank you for your kind comments.
I do indeed have other sketches other than what is on my site.
Should anyone be interested, please email me privately.


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matt dicke said...

Dear David
Another great Fuchs post. I love the sketches he did in the 60's. To me they are just as good if not better then some of his finishes. The experimental media and design in them are just fantastic.

If your book is as good as your Fuchs Illustration article I CAN'T WAIT!

and in the meantime if anyone is still reading this you can see more Fuchs work here
a collection 100+ images of his tear sheets from the 60's. There are a few sketches on there too.
Matt Dicke

osaka said...

The calm image is great.

DSM said...

I need a Bernie fix now and then; thanks for this

Yvonne R. (Teodecki) Hamer said...

I saw this post thru a relative on facebook. As the daughter of Bill Teodecki, I take great pride in saying I grew up knowing Bernie Fuchs & his family. Such warmth & great spirit! Any insight into that era is a gift. My Father is still alive and well @ 82, & painting in Philly. He does not touch computers & only recently is using the digital camera I bought him yrs ago for Xmas. LOL. He prefers film!!! Theres something to be said about these truest artists of their era... its REAL art.

David Apatoff said...

Yvonne R. (Teodecki) Hamer-- Of course I know your father's work and would love to hear more. If you get a chance, please write me at

Unknown said...

Yes, I was at a studio in Chicago ,when the magic of certain slick art got the studio in flame.
It was an epidemy with a name,that is ,with 3 names.
Bernie Fuchs,the illustrator, Otto Storch the art director at Mc Call and a product of guaches from England called Design.
It was a great time.
Many many years have gone by.
At 80 I am still around.
I was born in Italy ,now I live in Bogota.
Hello to everybody.
Gastone Bettelli born in Modena where they make Ferraris ,Lamborghini ,Maserati and nuts like me