Retrospective: Tom Fritz

by Tom Fritz

Born and raised in San Fernando California, I was a child of Lockheed. My father worked in their “Skunk Works”, applying his talents to the U-2 and SR-71 ‘Blackbird’ spy planes. Life was RIDING BIKES, SCHOOL, FOOD, TV, & BEING IN THE GARAGE WITH DAD to avoid whatever back-breaking, joy-squashing labor Mom might otherwise assign. Predictably, I quickly achieved an appreciation for, and some proficiency in wrenching on wheeled things you put gas in. At 13, I rebuilt a small block Chevy. Toys, BB guns, no back talk, paper route, champion swimmer – all that peaked out with High School graduation. I was a big kid now facing cold realities. It was the beginning of life, I was grown up, and I was going to college – whatever that was. I needed some wheels under me, so that summer I rebuilt the ’56 GMC pickup which I still own.

One consistent thread weaving its way throughout my childhood was the knack for isolating myself almost daily and drawing. It came easily to me. I was consumed with its power and it launched me into the obsession I practice to this day. Influenced by the motorsports culture I was immersed in, my subject matter was mainly – cars. So I decided to discover who I was, entered Art School, got some skills, and let her rip. This was the 70s and at the school I attended, abstract art was all the rage. Ultimately my goal then was commercial art, so I suffered through most of the curriculum.

Soon enough afterwards, I got a job working daylight hours for a Fortune 50 ‘bomb factory’ as a “junior technical illustrator”, and some 20 years later found myself the exalted “Staff Artist” for yet another defense firm. It was a hell of a show. I was painting tight and very realistic, working in more “commercial” media like acrylics and gouache. All the while, I’d been developing my own sense of imagery by painting away in the nighttime hours. Intrigued by the history of motorsports, especially the hot rodding movement in southern California, I wanted to express it through my art with intensity and quality – and this was damn exciting stuff! For my own work, I found myself moving into oils as it was more spontaneous for me. My style was becoming softer and more impressionistic. I persevered and eventually my work achieved a resonance that allowed me to break through, so I wrote a note to the boss and quit the day job. So far it’s allowed me to pay the bills, stay out of jail.

I’ve worked from ‘abstract painter’ in college to ‘impressionist’ to what I’d call the ‘soft realist’ I am today. For my aesthetic instincts, the ultimate impressionistic expression is abstraction. Put down as little as possible, expressing the narrative – a story of humans within various contexts in an external environment – with shape, tone and color. I focus on keeping it exciting, colorful, and spontaneous. The looseness in the details lets you see something new. Although I work mainly from photographs, I never paint things exactly the way the camera sees them – my design is at the expense of truth. I want it to be better than it looks.

Somewhere in all this, twenty years since my last profile in AFAS Journal (No. 33, 2007), I’ve won the Peter Helck Award for best in show at the AFAS Premiere Exhibition at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance) four more times (for a total of seven). I now have eight Athena Awards (for best body of work), and two Art Fitzpatrick Awards (for automotive art that stirs the soul) from the same venue. Another achievement I’m particularly proud of is the series of five postage stamps commissioned by the United States Postal Service and released in 2013. The “Muscle Cars” Forever stamp series was extremely popular and today my art resides in the collection of the National Postal Museum at the Smithsonian Institution. I’m also thrilled to announce the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance just published the third poster of mine commissioned for their event.

And that’s the short version. Stepping back and taking a look, I keep in touch with my friends, keep painting. Molly and I are getting our heads wrapped around being grandparents. I stay on top of my unicycle and longboard, and pound out an occasional half-marathon to recharge the creative batteries. Some seven years ago I strapped on the backpack and hiked the John Muir Trail.