Wednesday, June 25, 2008

John Berkey

It seems to be a dark time for my childhood heroes. I only discovered in my latest Cinefex that one of my absolute favorite artists has also passed on. John Berkey was one of the greats, with an unmatched fluidity and effortless-looking style. I first discovered Berkey's work with the unforgettable poster for Star Wars, and the fold-up epic battle poster that came with the first album I ever bought with my own money, the Star Wars Soundtrack. I remember being outraged in the way only a nerdy kid can, at how there were multiple Millenium Falcons in the piece, and how the TIE Fighter's solar panels were square, rather than hexagonal.

As I began to become an artist in my own right, Berkey's masterful ability to denote solid form in the fewest, seemingly effortless brushstrokes became a goal that to this day I despair of ever reaching. It was always a delight to discover his visions of space and technology hiding in the pages of Popular Science or Road and Track, and I would find myself picking up softcover SF books from authors I didn't even read, as the Berkey covers promised wonderous adventure that the text could rarely live up to. There was an optimism to his visions of titanic, streamlined spacecraft tracing rainbow contrails through the firmament that evoked a heady time of exploration and discovery that we seem to have lost in this period of cynicism and apathy toward space.

A prolific artist, he left us a wealth of pieces to continue to inspire us, and in recent years two collections of his work were published, something I could only have dreamed of as a child. Hopefully his work can keep inspiring new generations for years to come.


Jeff Carlisle said...

Berkey was a great influence on many people. I remember all the book overs and magazine illustrations he did, including articles in Popular Science from highschool that I still have.

This is a bad year...and evidence that our generation needs to step up and take the reigns.

Which, of course, you are doing, Phil--which makes all of us beam with pride.

artbot said...

Wow, I just found this post and was saddened and surprised it didn't get more press. I had the exact same experience with that Star Wars poster, which was right at the side of my bed as a kid and I have every brushstroke memorized! What a sad loss.

Not to sound crass, but a few years ago there was an obscure gallery in the midwest selling his original book cover paintings, many of them for under $1000. I don't care much about art going up in value since I buy what I like and keep it forever, but damn! Now all his stuff is 5 to 15 grand. So much for my dream of owning a Berkey original.

RIP Mr Berkey.