Monday, May 5, 2008

John Berkey

I just learned the sad news that John Berkey died on April 29 after a long illness. His semi-abstract casein paintings of space cruisers adorned paperback covers, calendars, and movie posters. His shining example inspired many young artists—me included—to embark into the field of science fiction illustration.

He didn’t travel much, and as a result, not many people got to meet him. When I was just starting out in the early 1980s, I contacted him in the middle of a cross-country drive, and he was gracious enough to let me visit his studio in Minnesota. I was struck with his serene and thoughtful manner and his keen awareness of his surroundings.

He had a state-of-the-art stereo behind his worktable. Microphones strategically positioned around his woodland property brought the sound of any bird or squirrel in a 200-yard radius directly into his work area. With these ordinary environmental sounds piped into his headphones, he traveled to far distant galaxies.

John was a believer in strengthening the imagination by means of plein air painting. His outdoor sketches were fresh revelations. He was self-taught, and completely original in his outlook.

For a biography on Lines and Colors, link.
Tributes on Irene Gallo’s site, link.


Shane White said...

Oh man, he's one of my favorite Sci-Fi artists of all time...oh man! :(

This is turning out to be a sad year indeed, both personally and professionally it's been just one wave a tragedy after another.

Stop the madness, oh ye gods!


Augie Pagan said...

Awwwww man....@#*$! It's always weird when an artist passes on. You don't know them personally, but you feel like you know them through their work. I don't know how many times I stared in awe at Berkey's King Kong poster as a kid. Love that poster.

Unknown said...

Very sad news. I've been poring oer his work over the past year to find inspiration for the Robot Museum. His old work is as fresh as anything. I love the ambient noise story, the man just became even more interesting.

Scott Radtke said...

When I saw "Berkey" in your headline I had a sinking feeling. The man was one of those 'geniuses' that actually deserves that title. Fortunately for us, he's left a huge body of work for us all to enjoy. If anything, his death will, hopefully, bring him and his work more fully into the light.

Lawrence said...

That is very sad news indeed.

I have a limited edition John Berkey poster that I picked up many years ago. It has graced my dorm rooms, apartments, and my home for the last ten years. Many were the admiring comments that it garnered.