Growing up during the 1970’s and 1980’s, I was fascinated by commercial art or graphic design. Who were these people who took something as simple as a need for a new soup can label and create a work of art that’s a joy to look at and makes the viewer compelled to buy it.
I was also fascinated by the conceptual artists behind the greatest SF movies of my life time. It would be hard for me to choose just one, but there was Roger Dean who created the incredible album covers for rock groups like “Yes” and “Asia” and did some phenomenal book covers. There was also Ralph McQuarrie who took George Lucas’s script and painted a dozen conceptual paintings that inspired Alan Ladd Jr. into bankrolling a motion picture that redefined the term “blockbuster.” Then of course there is Andrew Probert who did most of the conceptual drawings Gene Roddenberry’s projects and made the fictitious 22nd and 23rd centuries come a life and just as real as our own past and present.
Before I was freshman in high school I had all these artistic ambitions. I wanted to be one of those people who took an idea from the mind and made them real on the paper or canvas. I wanted there to be a teacher who would help me take my raw, juvenile talent and guide me into becoming a better artist.
The only class I was really looking forward to the summer before my first year of high school was art. I was a horrible student in all of my other classes, so horrible that I debated on taking my own life since all I head when I was at home was that I was no good and I wouldn’t amount to anything. My fantasy drawings would never take me anywhere.
Right way, when I met my teacher Mr. Blomgren I knew that this man was going to have a positive effect on my life. What I didn’t know that this memory would someday become my moral compass; whenever I thought about doing something that was stupid or wrong I always thought about him and what he would think if I screwed up.
Early on when I showed him the sketches I had done before we met he knew what I was trying to do. He immediately saw that I was trying to take viewers of my work on a journey – some place where they had never been before. He also saw that I drew my inspiration from some of the greatest SF books of that era, up to and including the release of the theatrical version of Frank Herbert’s DUNE.
Rather than encourage me to “get real” he helped me push the envelope by simultaneously teaching me how to draw things in the real world with genuine realism via texture and shading. How can I bend and break the rules of “art” if I didn’t know what the rules were.
There was one moment when I turned in a project that wasn’t my best and he knew it. Immediately after class was over and the bell rang, we all started to stroll out the door to head to our next class. Mr. Blomgren said; “Not so fast, Mr. Fisk…”
I stood there while he said; “You can do better than this. As a matter of fact, you will to better than this! You’re staying after school and you’re going to give this project 100%”
Either in this conversation or in a one we had at another time he told me “I don’t just deserve better than this, and it’s not just the rest of the world that deserves better than this; you deserve better than this. You’re short changing yourself and the rest of the world from your art when you just phone it in.”
By no means do am I employing that he was constantly stern or excessively tough; Mr. Blomgren was a teacher who was over-brimming with complete and utter joy for teaching and had genuine compassion and love for his students. He had a better understanding of me more than most members of my own family.
When I learned that he died earlier this year I had to go to his memorial service that was held at the high school and I was overwhelmed to see the auditorium packed with people standing outside the isles.
After the service I found his classroom, since it had been moved at least once in the past 20 years. The sights and the smells were the same; the odor of linseed oil and paint and a few other cents from a dozen other art supply tools and medium. I sat at what would have been my desk from so long ago and I wondered about the time that had pasted and my genuine regret of not reaching out to him before now.
I can’t help but wonder who or what I would have been if it hadn’t been for him and others like him.