A blank canvas troubles many artists, but it was almost a relief for Bernie Fuchs to get down to painting the college hangouts (pages 32-36) for this, our annual college football issue. It was his camera that had been the source of trouble. Fuchs works from a combination of photographs—"If I could get a perfect one, I'd be a photographer"—but people expect artists to carry sketch pads, not cameras, which proved especially unwelcome in bars. At the Last Lap in Knoxville, for example, they thought Fuchs was the law, come to check on overcrowding and get the evidence on film. He had to cool his heels while an employee called SPORTS ILLUSTRATED in New York for an identity check. And at more than one alumni hangout, introductions and explanations brought the response, "Forget it, no pictures." The alums did not care to be photographed with people clearly not old Army buddies, so Fuchs decided to concentrate on student bars.
There he found that hospitality was the problem, not hostility. Often, in his 10 consecutive Friday and Saturday nights of research, when he mentioned SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Fuchs would be told, "The place is yours." He claims he got the assignment because he can handle his beer, but there were three times when he could not find his rented car. And at Penn State, "After a tour of 10 bars, they all started running together." Fuchs did find, and walk unaided to, his car that night, which is more than can be said for some of his student guides.
The assignment did not evoke Fuchs' own college days at Washington University in St. Louis. He was an art major who attended one football game in four years and played trumpet in a jazz band on weekends for his spending money. After graduating in 1954, he spent five years in Detroit illustrating automobile ads, but his plan was to make it to New York and be working for the women's magazines by the time he was 25. He succeeded, and in 1959 moved to Westport, Conn., where all his idols in magazine illustration seemed to live. A year later he met SI Art Director Dick Gangel at a party. Gangel asked him to illustrate our Masters golf tournament preview. "You're a nut!" exclaimed Fuchs, not one to suppress his personality for the sake of his career. Or vice versa. His paintings of Palmer, Venturi, et al., a radical departure from his boys-and-girls-together work, were his first in our pages, and soon he branched out further, painting portraits of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson for another publication.
His style changed and so did his pace. In 1969 Gangel sent him to Pasadena where he watched the Rose Bowl game live and the Orange Bowl on a television set and in 36 consecutive hours produced six paintings of both events for a fast-closing story. He still considers it his most exciting assignment.
September 4, 1977
Since then Fuchs has had over 30 assignments from SI, on subjects as diverse as Ali and the city of Munich, O. J. Simpson and the Kentucky Derby. He has been elected to New York's Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame, a singular honor, where at 44 he is the youngest of 29 members and probably the only one ever to hit 10 bars in a single night—in the line of duty.