Saturday, March 30, 2013


"To live is to war with trolls." --Ibsen 

While researching the upcoming book on illustrator Bernie Fuchs, I was amused by the imitators who seemed to encircle his ankles wherever he went.

Fuchs' illustration for Cointreau...

... was copied by illustrators as far away as Korea:

I love how this imitator re-purposed Fuchs' line for the woman's hair into a dotted coupon line.
The thefts became so blatant that Advertising Age magazine sponsored a competition challenging readers to send in ads that copied the Cointreau ad.  Fuchs never did anything about it, just moved on to a different approach.

He got a lot of attention with this bold new illustration for McCalls in 1964: 

Among the artists "influenced" by Fuchs' picture was Aldo Luongo, who painted the following version and sold it as a limited edition print,  advertised heavily in fine art magazines:

When Fuchs changed directions, painting with a series of thin acrylic washes...


...illustrations by others in the same style began popping up a few months later:

Andy Virgil

I suspect the imitators who hurt the most were the capable illustrators who did not copy a specific image but just adopted the Fuchs "look."  They were the hardest to distinguish.  More than anyone else, these images diluted the the Fuchs "brand."  But he just kept changing the brand.

When Fuchs began painting bright yellow floors... 
...bright yellow became the flavor of the month for imitators such as this anonymous artist. 

Fuchs' agent used to become angry when friends called to compliment him on a new Fuchs illustration that turned out to be by someone else.

But when I interviewed Fuchs before he died, he never mentioned it.  One way to war with trolls is not to notice them. 


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to the book !

Steranko used the first image in his romance story for Marvel , My Heart Broke In Hollywood .

In the last two images , which is the faux Fuchs ?

Al McLuckie

David Apatoff said...

Al McLuckie wrote, "In the last two images, which is the faux Fuchs ?"

Exactly my point, Al. They got harder and harder to distinguish until Fuchs moved on to something else. The second one is the faux Fuchs, as confirmed by the Fuchs family. It is by a competent artist, but the dead give away is the left third of the painting: the woman who melts into the floor to accommodate the composition, that totally unsuccessful treatment of the fire pit, the perspective that's just a little off-- no matter how vigorous his brush work, Fuchs never allowed himself to take the cheap way out like that.

Donald Pittenger said...

Here's hoping that you include a little of this in the book.

I was a commercial art undergraduate around the time Fuchs burst on the scene and definitely had an Oh My Gawd reaction to his stuff. No way was I then (or now) capable of imitating him. I simply assembling a clipping file of his work into the mid-60s that I never had the heart to throw away.

The point of this note is, I suppose, that Fuchs was impactful and influential at many levels beyond technique-aping. Call it his destiny, but he wore the mantle gracefully.

Anonymous said...

did Fuchs ever mention if he was influenced by Al Parker? Every one of my teachers and first boss (all in Fuchs' age range) admit they were so affected, they scoured magazines to see what new technique Parker used that month. Fuchs looks like he traveled the same road of discovery.

Anonymous said...


Blatant copying is one thing, but I think you are a little too hard on stylistic imitation. If it's good stuff, I'll take it.

David Apatoff said...

Donald Pittenger-- Well put.

Anonymous-- Yes, Fuchs was definitely a big fan of Parker's work and listed Parker high on his list of influences. When Washington University held a tribute to Parker, Fuchs participated and recorded a video describing his admiration for Parker.

Etc, etc-- That's fair, and I didn't mean to be overly persnickety about stylistic imitation; after all, novelty is hardly the most important attribute of a picture. I do think that most of the artists included in this post who adopted Fuchs' style suffer from the fact that they are also inferior artists. (I do like Andy Virgil's work). I tried to leave out the quality illustrators who seem to have taken a stylistic cue from Fuchs (such as Bart Forbes).

Anonymous said...

You fail to mention the role of the art director who probably suggested the illustrator 'try something on these lines' to get that up to the moment look for his magazine/advertisement, 'cos Fuchs was either too busy or too expensive.
I think that last artist has done a terrific job on his illo.
Also, constant innovation-for whatever reason- helps keep the industry fresh.

Anne said...

great post and spot on imo... looking forward to the book

Anonymous said...

David, I thought you might like this photo (if you have not seen it already)


Paul Sattler

Matthew Harwood said...

David, thank you putting out another provocative post.

Are overzealous plagiarism lawsuits a detriment to producing good and great art? As a copyright lawyer and artist, what do you think of Pablo Picasso's quote "good artists copy but great artists steal?" It seems to me that other artists’ influences and ideas are crucial to the creative process. At some point in the making of good art, alchemy occurs and the sum becomes greater than the parts. I recently heard accusations of plagiarism made against Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. In our litigious society, are financially successful artists going to be required to list all their influences like warning labels on prescription drugs?

Anonymous said...

can't wait for this book!


Unknown said...

Very interesting. Those Fuchs pieces are absolutely beautiful. It's amazing how versatile he was, and how he was willing to change his brand when the copycats came around.

BTW David, did you know that Bob Clarke of MAD Magazine died yesterday?

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous-- I'm sure you're right-- more than one illustrator was tired of being told by an art director, "give me something with that Bernie Fuchs feeling." And I agree with that part about "keeping the industry fresh."

Anne- Many thanks!

Paul Sattler-- Thank you, that great photo was from the Famous Artists School magazine. Bernie didn't look old enough to buy a beer, yet he was already on top of the illustration market.

David Apatoff said...

Matthew Harwood-- Putting the legal technicalities aside, I have always felt that an artist who adds something important and new to a previous work is self-legitimizing. Shakespeare borrowed pre-existing plots, but everybody recognizes the importance of his contribution. Roy Lichtenstein borrowed heavily from comics and, in my opinion, didn't add much. Worst of all is the obnoxious Jeff Koons who shamelessly "borrowed" entire images from other artists, but as soon as someone else borrowed from him, he became indignant and sent lawyers to snuff them out. Koons was apparently utterly devoid of any self-awareness.

Ken-- Thank you.

Eric Noble-- Yes, I heard about Bob Clarke. It's too bad. He has a long and honorable legacy of good work behind him, and he will be missed. I think he was underrated because he was an excellent artist working in a small stable of brilliant artists.

Matthew Harwood said...

David - I agree, the ultimate goal is to give back more than what you take.

mburrell12 said...

The ballerina piece is so cool. She is perfectly balanced vertically and there are soft echos in the fireplace wall the support leg of balance beam close to her and some others, but the angle of most of the verticals are on a tilt as are the horizontals. In the copy everything is squared up. Fuchs' has energized the scene so wonderfully yet manage to echo the her balance I will remember this lesson and will look for a way to employ it. It maybe stealing I like to think of it as learning and receiving an AHA! moment.
Great blog!

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