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."