Thursday, March 31, 2016



Jack Unruh has had a long career of sustained excellence.

Born in Pretty Prairie, Kansas, Unruh graduated from the famed illustration program at Washington University in St. Louis (the starting place of Al Parker, Bernie Fuchs, Douglas Crockwell, John Hendrix and others).  From 1960 until today, Unruh's artistic dedication has taken him to the most unlikely places:
As an illustrator I've crawled through caves to research paleolithic man, flown on helicopters, slept in cars to view the Valdez oil spill, visited research labs, refineries, deserts, coldrooms, tops of mountains, floated remote rivers in Alaska and Chile, and viewed every major brewery in Mexico.
Unruh has done a splendid job with all sorts of subjects...

...but his greatest strength is as a nature artist.  I've previously quoted Unruh's friend and admirer John Cuneo who said, "Here is a man for whom 'back to the drawing board' usually involves pissing on a campfire."    Unruh looks nature in the eye, up close and personal, finds rich patterns and textures, and reveals them to the rest of us through graceful lines and colors.  I love the ink on this Griffon Vulture:

Jack's intimate appreciation for nature shines in these pictures.  His love is infectious.

One of my personal favorites is his drawing of a spoonbill:


No other artist-- not Audubon, nor anyone else-- has ever captured a bird in a way that I find as intensely moving.

Jack is a terrific illustrator and an even more terrific human being.  He is ailing these days.  I would urge others who have been similarly moved by his work to tell him so, via facebook.  And don't take too long to do it.


MORAN said...

You're right this is awesome work. I'm sorry he's sick.

Anonymous said...

I love his work. I didn't know he had such a history. Thanks for these great images.


Kim said...

Thanks for this! Yes..., he is everybody's art hero!

Dysconnected _ said...

Wonderful subtle work.
Many thanks for sharing this.

Russ said...

The most unassuming genius I have had the true pleasure of being able to hang out with. Have loved watching him sit down with someone he doesn't know well, spending time, learning that persons whole life story and leaving that conversation with them not knowing that they have just spoken to one of the GREATS in what he does, unless they already knew.

Joe Ciardiello said...

A true giant in the field and generous and wonderful guy.

vma100 said...

Imagine your great good fortune at moving next door to this genius and his beautiful wife Judy.... Such is my luck in life. They've had my back and my heart forever more. xoxoxo Vicki Mabrey

skizzobarocco said...

Thank you a lot for sharing this!
I didn't see yet such revolutionary way of treat every subject in any other artist.
This is PURE drawing! It doesn t happen often to see so overwhelming beauty.
I bow down to this genious

Tom said...

Great drawings David, I feel like that vulture is moving his head back and fourth from left to right!

David Apatoff said...

MORAN-- Yes, he's quite something. For details on his illness, consult his facebook page or his family.

JSL-- Jack has a very storied storied history working on all kinds of projects. Most of all in an era before illustrators sat at their computers and worked from digital reference, Jack was out in the field living and breathing his subjects.

Kim-- Yes, I'm getting that feeling from the number of readers who are contacting me privately. Thanks for writing.

David Apatoff said...

Dysconnected-- It's very difficult to convey the subtlety of Jack's work with scans of tearsheets. Even scans of originals (such as these four pictures) don't convey the intensity of Jack's fine line work, which is why I have tried to share so many close up details.

Russ-- Sounds like you've had the privilege and pleasure of knowing Jack for some time. I haven't known him for all that long but I can vouch for that "unassuming" business. A man with his great talent has earned the right to be arrogant but Jack is as genuine and unpretentious as they come.

Joe Ciardiello-- Many thanks for weighing in. Your opinion counts for a lot in these precincts.

kev ferrara said...

I really appreciate how personally observant his drawing was. Not only is it clear that he did his own perceptive homework, but I don't think he could have operated in any other way. He seems to have been that lucky, cursed artist who engaged with the world as only he could, and only as he could.

cheryl binnie said...

for once, I am speechless, but full of admiration and love for Dear Wonderful Unassuming Genius Jack. and the roseate 2nd fave animal in the world (2nd to duckbilled platypus!). Jack, YOU are the art form. Love you so,


David Apatoff said...

vma100-- Sounds like you won the lottery.

Skizzobarocco-- I'm glad you share our enthusiasm for Jack's drawing.

Tom-- Thanks for writing. One thing I love about that vulture is the extreme difference between those delicate fine lines and those big wet brush strokes.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I agree, Jack is an original. He doesn't seem to be building on anyone else's assumptions or shortcuts. He looks hard and draws his own conclusions.

cheryl binnie-- Many thanks for your contribution.

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