Art Fitzpatrick

The prolific and incredibly talented Art Fitzpatrick has died. We take an appreciative look back at his remarkable body of work.

Image by Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufmann:
Image by Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufmann:

We have featured a number of Fitz and Van’s illustrations at DTW over the last two years and we are very sorry to hear of his passing. His work was an inspiration to many in car design and anyone interested in drawing.
Between 1959 and 1971 Art Fitzpatrick worked with former Disney illustrator Van Kaufmann to create lush and evocative imagery for GM cars, primarily Pontiac.

As the illustration shows, the pair were able to portray romantic, rich and compelling images of cars. The technical mastery of Art Fitzpatrick is apparent in the detail of the renderings, calling to mind the sensuous reflective qualities of sheet metal, glass and above all chrome. The highlights flow beautifully and have tremendous depth.

Art Fitzpatrick:
Art Fitzpatrick:

As well as being able to represent the geometry of these complex sculptural vehicles, Art had to imagine scenes that best suited the car’s character and image. There is a film-director’s sense of staging and the images are always delightfully composed. The use of colour too catches the eye. Bearing in mind the medium, the images make one immediately think of the materials involved: the glossy paint, polished glass and extravagant brightwork. The page, paint and ink are invisible. The pictures are also superbly able to capture mood.

Not all of them are bright and sunny. The image above takes one to a wet and dark night, making the car seem all the more welcoming and secure. Notice the way the shop-front sign is reflected on the windscreen of the car, drawing your attention to its curvature. Another light source runs down the side of the car as well, adding visual drama. To achieve this kind of effect, Fitzpatrick had to imagine hypothetical light sources; today a photographer will move lamps around to see how the lights will play on the surface.

The difference is that Fitzpatrick had what amounted to a virtual lighting set in his mind and must have spent considerable time considering where and how to place the lights to bring out the main features of the car.

Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufmann´s work:
Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufmann´s work:

Photography put an end to the use of drawings in advertisements in the 70s but what they added in apparent realism they lost in richness, character and depth. To study Fitz and Van’s images is to learn how to render. I like to think that a good artist makes you look again at the subject. There is great intelligence in the way Fitzpatrick used the tools of his trade to put on paper the surface qualities of the vehicles and looking at them will impress images on your mind you take to the viewing of the real vehicle. You won’t look at these cars the same way if you have studied the corresponding images that Fitzpatrick created.


Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

8 thoughts on “Art Fitzpatrick”

  1. I certainly admire Fitzpatrick’s work, and admired it as a teenage reader of US car magazines, though I would have had no idea who he was back then. But I remember that, even as a kid, I found them disquieting. They are evocative, but of an idealised world. Even then, there was the uneasy suspicion that this world would never be achieved, by me at least. Now I realise that no-one achieves it. Still, we can aspire I guess.

  2. Such marvellous work. One wonders if anyone from the Photoshop generation could be capable of such artistry, for that is what it is.

    It is no coincidence in my mind that Fitzpatrick’s work fell out of favour by the start of the 1970s. His work both reflected and fed into the idealisation of the American Dream. But by 1973 that dream had been weakened by the dismal tail end of the Vietnam War, brought to its knees by Watergate and finished off by the first oil crisis. Visions of happy people and luminous chrome must suddenly have seemed out of step with the times. Strange really, as a liberal dose of escapism was surely what people needed most.

  3. In my analysis I have left out the broader cultural context of dangerous cars, pollution and the emptiness of consumerism. Can one do that? It´s not art so I see it as having less requirement for moral stature.

    1. Advertising has always required verisimilitude. After all, the product shown must be the product bought. Artwork such as that created by Art Fitzpatrick played with that convention, offering a hyper-real – yet technically accurate – vision of the product. As you point out, photographers do very much the same thing now, but they can only achieve so much in camera. What surprises me is the lack of ambition or artistry shown by CAD renderers, who can conceivably create anything, yet always end up striving for the verisimilitude of a photograph shot in a diffusely lit, architecturally bland environment.

    2. I could not have expressed that better myself. You´ve put your finger on the problem: all that computing power to create photos less interesting than reality! I think that´s a real insight. It captures something that I could not describe.

  4. I loved these illustrations in magazines like National Geographic and Life as well as car journals. As has been said it is the evocation of something that is perfect but also unreal; dream like perhaps. I feel a terrific nostalgia when I see them again, probably for my late childhood but also for a sense of lost optimism. Does that count as Disappointment.

    Bruce McCall does some affectionate parodies of these adverts in books such as Lazy Afternoons and the Last Dream-o-Rama.

    1. These images came to my attention sometime in the last five years. I view them without the associations of nostalgia and they are still powerful pictures. With a few decades of fond reminiscence they must pack a real punch. As a person who likes to draw, I admire the sheer technical virtuosity of these pictures, miles and miles ahead of what I can do.

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