Thursday, October 22, 2009

Don Ivan Punchatz 1936 - 2009

One Sunday, when I was still in high school, I found an ad, for what I don’t remember, in a local newspaper. The page was dominated by a pen and ink drawing of the date “1984”, a reference to the dystopian novel by George Orwell. The numbers were anthropomorphized into threatening faces of steel. It touched my little teenage heavy metal heart. That page was thumb tacked to my bedroom wall for at least a year.

A few years later I was in the art program at East Texas State University, pouring over the Society of Illustrators annuals, where I found that image again, and read that it was created by Don Ivan Punchatz. I found his name in the index and looked up his other numerous pieces, at which point I became a fan.

In the summer of 1976 I had the opportunity to work for Don as an intern at his Sketchpad Studio, serendipitously located in nearby Arlington, Texas. Of the few developments in one’s life that we can call really pivotal, especially in a positive way, this ranked very high as one of mine.

The Sketchpad was set up like the studios of the Renaissance masters, with “elves”, as some of us called ourselves, helping Don in various ways complete his illustration assignments for advertising, editorial and book clients from all over the country. They included Playboy and Penthouse magazine (whatever one might think of their photographic content or publishing philosophy, they also included articles with art from top level illustrators), National Lampoon, Rolling Stone, and others, as well as all the major book publishers, with covers for the writings of Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury and Graham Greene. His work was regularly represented in the annual competitions of Graphis, Communications Arts and the Society of Illustrators, among many more.

Don had a wicked sense of humor. A couple of weeks into my stay at the Sketchpad he took me outside the studio for one of the infamous “Porch Talks” and told me of a prank he was in the process of playing on the rest of the staff. When I first dropped off my student portfolio for his perusal some of the full time Sketchpadders (with whom I’ve been good friends now for over thirty years) apparently wondered about a t-shirt design I had created promoting a Willie Nelson concert at the university. He had told them I was Willie Nelson’s stepson, and that it was a sensitive issue with me and I preferred not to talk about it. He wanted to know if I was comfortable going along with this, and he was clearly pleased when I, a little country mouse in the presence of a giant, said “Uh, sure”.
Eventually I had to ‘fess up, but Don seemed to enjoy the joke as long as it lasted.

In the ensuing years Don came to be not only a mentor and hero, but a friend and confidant as well, always supportive and encouraging, happy to give advice in the most constructive of ways. He was immensely talented, kind and generous, an unfortunately rare combination in the art world.
Although he was brilliant in all genres of illustration, I think Don was, at heart, a fantasy/science fiction artist. Now I like to think he is among those stars whose worlds he so imaginatively and skillfully brought to life.

Below I’ve included a very meager sampling of his massive output (all images © The Estate of Don Ivan Punchatz).

The first of Don's illustrations I ever encountered, at a tender teenage year. It immediately adorned my bedroom wall.

This cover for Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions broke the illustration standard of a single scene representing a whole book, with segmented images tied together with figures appearing to move between different dimensions.

Sigmund Freud

I don't know what this was for, but damn, it's cool.

I don't know what this was for, either, but again, cool.

Packaging for the wildly successful video game "Doom".


Anonymous said...

Thanks Ray Mel, that was great
I know he thought the world of you as well.
Greg Punchatz

Ray-Mel Cornelius said...

Thanks, Greg.

Brad Foster said...

Sad to hear of Don's passing. I showed up at the Sketchpad late 70s and he ripped my poor little student folio to shreds- and rightly so! Put me on the path to doing the art that really mattered to me, and continued to encourage me throughout the years. "Gentleman" is a term not used that much these days, but it fit Don perfectly.

geo said...

I took at least 1 class from Don back in early 70's at TCU and briefly worked at the Sketch Pad. He was always supportive and kind and patient...even when, in my arrogant stupidity, I quit the job after telling him I didn't like his style of art.