Wednesday, April 30, 2008

John Berkey

John Berkey passed away yesterday.

This is truly heartbreaking. He was one of the first artists I worked with when I came to Tor. Although poor health kept him from much new work over the past many years, his paintings are still as fresh and relevant today as ever. John was honored with Spectrum Grand Master award, Society of Illustrator’s Hall of Fame, and Expose Grand Master. The last is almost ironic, since John was known for never having touched a computer, but then, his influence on today’s digital artists is unmistakable. He was all the more amazing that he was able to create the images he did in physical paint....it's as if the art wolrd has just now caught u with him.


“Being fearful of failure or having little confidence just becomes something to climb over.” -- John Berkey


"[John Berkey's] signature style is one of vigorously applied brushstrokes -- never labored -- that in a series of strategically placed dots and dashes, form images so vivid and so credible that they seem to go beyond photographic reality, and yet the artist's hand is always present. We look at these illustrations and know that they are paintings -- they are not photographs -- and, more importantly, that they are art." -- Vincent di Fate’s speech for John’s Society of Illustrator’s Hall of Fame induction. The full essay is reprinted in Illustrators 46.


“There is a type of majesty to his canvases; his cityscape spacecraft have a certain dignity, almost a sense of nobility, not unlike the ailing vessels of a lost age.” -- Arnie Fenner in his Grand Master essay from Spectrum 6

34 comments:

E.M. Gist said...

A truly sad day, he was one of the first guys that made me say "I want to be a painter!"

Bob Eggleton (Zillabob) said...

This is sad. Really sad. This amazing artist was one of my very first exposures to SF art back in the early 70's. He did the posters to the 1976 KING KONG remake which made the film appear way better than it wound up being. He also did some key pieces for STAR WARS that were intended to be the film's poster, but wound up on the paperback cover and another poster was used as an insert to the Star Wars vinyl LP. His work amazed me endlessly with his ability to show with just swipes of paint and color, alien spaceships and detail that was there, but, transparent at the same time. His energy will be missed.

BTW, great seeing you yesterday Irene!!! Hope the meetings got less intense!

John Picacio said...

Nice writeup, Irene. Very sad to hear this. Definitely one of the giants of the field, that's for sure. Yeah, his influence on concept art and digital art can't be overstated -- I think his influence is bigger in recent years than it may have been when his work was fresh and new on paperback covers.

mike said...

wow, sorry to hear about this.
i had no idea how old he was so when i first read he had passed i thought maybe it was some sudden tragic thing that caused it.
how old was he?

his work is so fresh like you said that i just assumed he was younger for some reason.

ToLo said...

Funny that so much Photoshop illustration these days has a "Berkey-esque" quality about it. But he wasn't manipulation photographs - he did it with paint. He simply understood form and volume and light that well, and also understood the dynamics of perception like few artists do. His was a unique talent.

Mark Stroud said...

I remember first seeing his work as a child looking through SciFi books at my local library. His work was always better than the books they covered. When I saw the spaceships he painted I would always imagine myself on one of them. He will be missed.

Scott Altmann said...

Damn it. This is the first I've heard of this. A sad day indeed. I still think his work sci-fi work is highly relevant today, and when considering the fickle trends in illustration is all the more impressive.
Time to go sit down with his book.

ces said...

Oh no!

I loved his work - especially since he did it all by hand without the use of a computer.

neutronjockey said...

Sci-Fi and impressionist work... I get all goosey when I look at his art --- still.

You could see the future, yet still smell the paint and feel the impasto...

Bruce Jensen said...

Oh my...sad news indeed.

A lot of artists working today bear the influence of John, but in the field, his work was truly original. He brought a unique form of impressionism, painterliness and panache to science fiction illustration. His work is awe inspiring: as a craftsman and artist, and for the vastness and scale of his vision.

Christian Alzmann said...

He was a true wizard of painting. He always made his work look so effortless and he somehow made these beautifully designed hulking spaceships move when he illustrated them. What an amazing body of work he created.

M. Fishman said...

very sad indeed , John was a truly unique and gifted artist, a painter's painter. i will miss seeing new work by him. my very best to his family, and loved ones.

greg said...

John was a good friend. I just said to my wife on Tuesday, "We should go have lunch with John and Demi soon. The last time I saw him he looked very frail". Now it's too late. Damn.

Thanks for your kind words.

Greg Ketter

joshua huyser said...

This is definitely a day to remember. John Berkey's paintings were a massive influence on the direction my life headed-all from books in my high school library in Montana in the 1980s. I've been working off and on with his son, Brian (a genius of special effects in the film industry-the inventor of the Berkey System), since 2005, but did not make the connection of who his father was until just a couple of months ago. I was blown away when I walked into Brian's house one day this past March and realized I was seeing his dad's books lying around. Now I am sad that I won't have an opportunity to know John, but am grateful to have the opportunity to work with and know Brian. He has also made some outstanding paintings by the way... R.I.P. J.B.

Tom Vincze said...

I am sad to hear this. He has been a great influence on me personally. He was a magician of the brush, invoking grand space operas with his deft strokes.

I remember seeing his wonderful, visionary art on National Geographic and Popular mechanics covers. From his work, I imagined a future with giant spaceships cruising past the planets. A true master that we will miss.

Amy said...

so sorry about the loss of your brother, thanks for including me in an email, take care Brian.

M Wojahn

robh said...

i was luckily enough to actually meet John,the painter who made me want to be an artist more than anyone else. i will miss him more than i can describe in words.
Robh Ruppel

Anonymous said...

This was a trailblazing master. We own two Berkeys, and they were bought when the money went to him (we hope.) If you could stand up close and see the brushstrokes, you would be as astounded as we are. It's kind of like when you see your first Sargent painting - "How did he DO that?" There are only two artists we know who are WAY under-known. Berkey and Tom Lovell. Hope you all get to see some originals of both soon. Bye, LJH

Anonymous said...

I was at the memorial service for John Berkey.
I was an art student twenty three plus years ago, John would let me and other students watch him work in his studio...
I could go on and on about his work, but more than that, he changed the way I looked at the world. Before I went to design school, before I ever would have imagine meeting him. His images had already effected me. Dreams of flying fighter jets, piloting massive hydrofoils, racing motorcycles, building futuristic designs of ships, cars, trucks, submarines, you name it... had already been planted in me by his images. I left the illustration/design scene over 17 years ago, I became a pilot and now work as an air traffic controller. I still do artwork as well. Everday I look out from the control tower, and see massive aircraft taxing about and taking off, I think of Berkey and how his work effected me..and the world.
As for me I'm living everything his images did to me as a young kid, I will never forget the time he took from his busy schedule to talk to us when we were art students.
John Berkey you will be missed, and thanks.
J. Takakura Palmersheim

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