Artists I ‘Draw’ Inspiration From

I’ve wanted to launch this series of posts for quite a while now, and have even touched on it before with a look at Op-Art, but wanted to really dig in, and hopefully expose you to some artwork (and the creators of that art) that you may have never seen before. (mind you, these installments are purely to give thanks where due to artists who have inspired my work… I urge you to seek out more information when interested, and enjoy their talents and give support some when you can!) If you know me, you know that my schooling in Fine Art plays a hugely important role in my work, whether automotive, or non car-related, and with that impact, there’s always an influence from an artist I’ve come across or studied. I tend to draw from something in their art, whether it’s a brush stroke or some use of texture, there’s always some little hint in every piece.

As a monster and B-movie fanatic (even more of the artwork on the movie posters and lobby cards!), I’ve always been into the oddities or more “fringe” kinda stuff… the lesser-known works and artists, some of whom a reader or client will pick up on, and shoot me an email that shouts “I know that artist!” or “I’ve seen that before!”. It’s a great response like that which makes my day… A lot of the stuff I like, as well, is work from artists that hit mainstream success in some ways, and occasionally even cult success. The kind of stuff that you and fellow enthusiasts may know. (I always wondered if Thomas Kinkade — whose last name sounds like something a dominatrix might drink between clients — created work for less commercially-successful industries. I’d love to find that he was the ‘painter of nail guns’ as well) Let’s take a look at monster art, and do this thing by looking at two artists who inspired the hell out of me as a kid, and who recently had their influence muscle its way into some new work, James Bama and Basil Gogos.

James Bama is one of those artists whose work just floors you with technical precision… He’s a realist in the finest sense, and his incredible method of making the subject of his work look REAL, while still managing to throw in such expressive color is a tightrope act with no equal! I chose to cover Mr. Bama’s work first, as his approach is not that different from many of us in the automotive art field. He strives to create a reality… to elicit a response that makes you step back a pace or two and think “wow… it looks real”… and yet somehow, there’s just enough room to make your own interpretation, and get lost in the story each piece tells. Influenced by artists like Alex Raymond (of Flash Gordon fame) and Norman Rockwell, Bama grew up poor in New York, losing his father early and his mother having suffered a stroke. He drew from an early age, and following his service during World War II, enrolled in the Art Students League. While he’s known for his hyper-photo-real commercial illustrations in the Saturday Evening Post and covers for the Doc Savage paperback novel series (and in recent years his paintings of Western themes and subjects), I’d like to keep this installment centered on his work with the Aurora plastic model kits of the Universal Studios movie monsters.

james bama cover art

The series of kits in question were released in response to the popular Universal re-release of many of its monster films as Saturday matinee’s, and struck absolute gold. In 1961, Aurora released its first monster kit, based on Universal’s Frankenstein… followed by twelve more over the next five years (Dracula, Wolf Man, Mummy, Creature, Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Godzilla, King Kong, Mr. Hyde, Salem Witch, Bride of Frankenstein, and Forgotten Prisoner). These kits were an outgrowth of Aurora’s already successful figure models, which centered on historical characters, and were wildly popular (not to mention collectable today… you can learn a LOT more by grabbing a copy of Bill Bruegman’s The Aurora History & Price Guide). While the kits were great, it was Bama’s box art that drew many a kid in for closer inspection, and ultimately ownership of the kits! Aurora understood that he art had to be exciting, yet toe the line so as not to offend parents. They sought out Bama, whose work on the Doc Savage books had gained him a tremendous reputation, and he created the absolutely stunning artwork which, while astoundingly detailed, left enough to the imagination to inspire young builders. I recall seeing many of these kits as a kid when we’d drop by swap meets and flea markets, but unfortunately lacked the funds to grab one… these probably would have funded a first home! Yet it was the artwork that stuck in my mind, and prompted me to draw (along with old movie posters and more).

aurora box art

Bama would later move on to create cover art for paperback releases of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the reprint of King Kong, and many others. He continued to create artwork for movie posters, The Baseball Hall of Fame and clients like NBC. He simply retired from professional illustration while at the peak of his career, selecting to focus on his other passion, painting. Make it a point when browsing used book stores and flea markets to seek out samples of his work, and simply enjoy a master’s vision and skill.

The other artist I’d like to include in this quick look is Basil Gogos. Being an absolutely huge fan of old monster movies, and especially fanboy extraordinaire Forry Ackerman, it was seeing his work on covers of the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland that pushed me to work with color in entirely new ways as a young artist. Like Bama, Gogos attended the Art Students League of New York (as well as the School of Visual Arts, Phoenix School of Design and the National School of Design), and began his career as a professional after winning a contest through his school, sponsored by Pocket Books.

Born in Egypt (to Greek parents), he was the artist responsible for over fifty covers for Famous Monsters of Filmland, beginning in 1960 with Issue 9, on which he created an impressionist-style portrait of Vincent Price, using three simple colors: red, yellow and green. Gogos’ use of brilliant, high-contrast color left an impact on me like being hit by a boulder dropped from a skyscraper. I was so blown away by his ability to show such impact that I was often working this inspiration into my early color work in school. To this day, I use a bold palette and try to capture the same visual drama in my work (and like most following a master, I’ll probably never reach his level, but it’s a blast to try!).

basil gogos art

Basil’s work is instantly recognizable, and he’s even the man responsible for album covers from The Misfits and Rob Zombie, as well as monster trading cards and covers for Monsterscene Magazine. His work has been featured in other magazine titles as well, ranging from Wildest Westerns to Creepy and even The Spirit. After retiring from commercial illustration, he continued to create work for Universal, working as a photo retoucher in their ad department, and working on the occasional movie poster, and is also the man behind the concept art for those incredible Universal Monsters commemorative postage stamps. While his work spanned a number of genres, like WWII battle scenes, men’s adventure magazines and pin-ups, he’ll probably be best remembered for his monster work.

I hope that you’ll take some time to not only seek out more information on these tremendous talents, but appreciate their art (and those who have been influenced by them as well!)… It’s always interesting to look at someone’s work and see influences in it, and I hope that you’ll see a little bit more in mine. I’m very interested in hearing about who or what influences you and your work, and hope you’ll continue to look in as this series continues!


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About drawinghotrods

I draw cars. I also provide full-service hot rod design and illustration, custom car, graphic and web design tailored to the custom automotive aftermarket, including logos, branding, project planning and research, and even apparel design. Need an ad, some copy, or a jump on social media? I do that, too. My mission is straightforward: To consistently provide the ultimate in design creativity and customer service, with an experience and artistic vision that is second to none. While working to raise the standard of automotive illustration, I seek to educate the public with regard to the labor and sacrifice required to create a work of fine art.

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