Friday, May 11, 2012

George Bartell: "I never hesitate to improvise"

George Bartell was a West Coast illustrator best remembered for his automotive art. Writing in the March 1969 issue of American Artist magazine, Frederic Whitaker described Bartell as having been adopted by those in the sports car and racing industry as "their own special illustrator laureate."


Bartell did have a life-long passion for cars. As a teenager he planned to buy a '32 Ford and soup it up. But his parents and the U.S. Army threw a roadblock in his path. The parents said "no way" and the army said "you're needed in Korea." Two years later, in 1953, Bartell returned to California. He studied Advertising Art and Illustration at Art Center School and Chouinard Art School in L.A. From 1959 to 1963 he worked on staff at a couple of large west coast art studios. In '63 he went out on his own. In '64 he finally returned to his high school dream of a converted racer.


Bartell bought and modified a $7,000 Ford Cobra, a car he also illustrated extensively in brochures and posters. (After modification, Bartell's car could go from zero to 115 m.p.h. in a quarter mile).


Although he will always be identified with automotive illustration, Bartell handled a wide variety of subject matter and accounts, including men's fashion, portraiture, and corporate advertising. For instance, at the time of the late-'60s article on him Bartell was painting an album cover every two weeks.





Bartell liked to work in acrylic, but he was more than happy to use whatever was handy. He described his system of working as "open-minded." He rarely planned out a composition - often he just started with abstract shapes and looked for interesting arrangements to build realistic elements into.


When a did job required planning, it would be more in the form of preliminary research. As far as the actual method of execution, Bartell said, "The job dictates the method of portraying the thought. If the subject suggests delicacy, I start with a delicate medium, or if forceful, I may begin painting an abstraction with black paint."


A finished Bartell 'painting' might include, house paint, glue, lacquer, fluorescent paint, lacquer thinner, soapy water bubbles, and torn paper. Unconcerned about chemical incompatibility, Bartell said, "That's the beauty of it. We get odd combinations which, when reproduced, show a most interesting texture."


Going even further, Bartell would sometimes make 'illustrations' out of collaged pieces of metal if that happened to be the thought he felt the job dictated. Wood, sheet metal, rivets, nails ... all of it done with a playful sense of experimentation.


"I don't try to be profound or to make a big event of everything I paint," said Bartell. "There's no fun in that."


"Nor do I strive for ways of doing something new. It's better to be natural or casual - then every job is a new experience. It's a lot of fun just to see what happens."



  1. It's great to just see someone having fun once in awhile!

  2. Beautiful stuff. The Cobra painting is very powerful. We don't see much like that anymore.


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  4. Anonymous12:50 PM

    Is this the George Bartell who also did the Philadelphia Eagles 1966 poster for the NFL? I have the poster but cannot determine if this Bartell was the artist. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks for your blog.

  5. Is this the George Bartell who also was the artist for the NFL Philadelphia Eagles poster from 1966?

  6. Anonymous2:41 PM

    George was one of my Illustration Instructors @ Art center...loved the guy !! Great talent !!

    1. Anonymous7:46 PM

      Mine also ('73 - '74 as I recall) He and Jack Lynwood (of Revell model kit fame) were 2 of my favorite instructors.

  7. Alain A. Moreau3:35 PM

    I was sadden to hear of his passing. I have known George for many years. We first met at Tri-Arts where we both worked. He had a separate studio there. Great talent!

  8. Anonymous7:52 PM

    George was a happy go lucky guy as I remember him. I was fortunate enough to see him paint in his private studio in the mid late 90's which happened to be attached to a cobra restoration shop where I worked all through high school. He gave me several pieces of his work while I was there even unfinished paintings that he was going to throw in the trash. I would always take them and he would sign them for me. He loved the sound of those cobras...but who doesn't I guess.

  9. Wow... George Bartell.
    Not one of my favorite illustrators though very talented. I had him as a teacher at Art Center for half a semester. His young son died in a skateboard accident and he couldn't continue with the class. The department head replaced him with Guy Deel. I couldn't have had a better class that year. Deel was well known for his Louis Lamour book covers and western art!
    "Bartell liked to work in acrylic, but he was more than happy to use whatever was handy. He described his system of working as "open-minded." He rarely planned out a composition" He really didn't. He taught us to forget about tick marks and borders preferring to crop when the illustration seemed right!

  10. That "Sports Car Graphic" illustration was of the GP 7 car built at PAM Foreign Cars on P.C.H. in Manhattan Beach. The frame was designed by Hans K. Adam, the "A" in PAM,. The other two partners were Scooter Patrick and Don Mitchell. Hans is the one who's welding in that illustration. The body was designed by "Skeet" Alex Kerr.

  11. I personally knew George and all I can say about the guy is that he was a genuine, and wonderful person. An absolute pleasure to be around, and a stunning passion and talent for an artistic style he pioneered and brought to the mainstream. Many have tried to replicate the look and feel but they will fail, they're not George. I still look back on the times in his studio watching him pencil and paint for a few minutes and simply BSing about cars or boats or how much he loved his daughter and how proud he was of her. I was so fortunate to have those moments, and yet like my youth it escaped me at the time. I miss George. But I still have a bit of him in the form of one of his works and it makes me smile and think of him each time I look at it.