Everyone knows the stereotyped image of a journalist on deadline: a hard-bitten reporter hammering away at a typewriter, sweating the last paragraph with five minutes to go. A less common image is that of the painter under pressure, spending tense days standing before the canvas. But that's often the case with artists who do work for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. Consider Bernie Fuchs. Two weeks ago he received an assignment to illustrate Frank Deford's piece on Eddie Bishop (page 88). Fuchs, 52, has done paintings for scores of SI stories, but still this job seemed daunting. "I figured there would be five or six paintings to do, but SI wanted nine," he says. "Then I read the story and realized I had to go down there."
"Down there" was Pineville Kentucky, where Inez Bishop, Eddie's mother, had lunch and lore waiting for Fuchs. "We went through her old photographs," he says. "Then she took me to all of the places that are in the story, which you can do in Pineville in about an hour and a half." Fuchs was recording impressions both by absorbing the mood of the town—"It was sad down there, just like in the story"—and by taking photographs.
Back in his Westport, Conn. studio, Fuchs set to work. As classical music played softly on the stereo, he stood for long hours before the easel. He's comfortable in this room and productive here. He completed a canvas each day for more than a week. He constantly referred to the photographs. "Some people say my work is impressionistic," he says. "I think it's realistic. It's realistically detailed." Finally Fuchs finished. "It's a tremendous feeling when you've done one of these pressure assignments," he says. "You feel so tired, but so elated."
Postdeadline, Fuchs relaxes at home with his wife, Anna Lee. Their three children are, like their dad, communicators. Cindy teaches English at the University of Pennsylvania, Ellise works for a book publisher in New York City and Derek for an Orlando television station. With the kids away, the house is usually quiet...unless, of course, an old impulse strikes and Bernie picks up his trumpet. "That was my first love," he says, "but I just fool around with it now."
November 19, 1984
When Fuchs is not on assignment he pursues other personal interests. A series on old ball parks (SI, July 7, 1980) was his idea, and another, on New Orleans jazz musicians, led to an exhibition in Chicago. Currently he is working on paintings for the Golf Hall of Fame, a job that recalls his first SI subject, the Masters, which ran 24 years ago. When this is finished, Fuchs will undertake another commission, this one a radical departure from the somberness and pressure of the Eddie Bishop story. "It's a whole different thing," he says. "I have to do a 100th-anniversary painting for Dr Pepper."