story and photos by James Dietz
Howard Pyle said, “In composing a painting of an event, make it more interesting and involving than the actual event was.” The challenge for a representational painter today is to try to make the oldest art form new again.
I was inspired by the artists of the golden age of American illustration, who created paintings that combined fact and fiction, story and composition, color, detail, costume and background
--artists like N.C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell, Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish, J.C. Lyndecker and, of course, Peter Helck. Like these artists, I have tried to move my work through inspiration, preparation and execution in a fairly straight line, but as in the manner of a tightrope, that straight line is not always an easy journey. I must compose and compress a scene that makes an actual event more interesting than it really was, without offending those who were there or the historians of that era. The “real” elements of the vent—props, people and background—must be blended with story, mood and motivation so that the resulting painting comes close to matching the original events and the vision of the artist.
A painting is not a movie—it cannot incorporate every single element and action of a moment in history. It is my job to edit these elements down to the essential two-dimensional format that best tells a short story of any particular event.
One more intangible quality of a successful painting, and this may be the most important and difficult of all, is that it have “staying power.” In order to justify its continuing exhibition, whether in a museum or the wall of a home, it should have that certain something that makes it forever interesting to the viewer. It combines the skill of the painter (composition, content, rendering), the ability to pull the viewer over and over into the
scene, the artist himself, his life, his struggle. The viewer brings his or her own involvement to the painting’s subject matter. But without that certain something, heart and soul, so to speak, paintings will have a short shelf life.
In looking over my decades as an illustrator and artist, I am my most dedicated critic. I know that the first years of painting were the rocky roads of preparation. They allowed me to acquire knowledge and maturation of interest in all forms of 20th Century transportation. I was able to hone my skills and to acquire the patience it takes to deliver, and to acquire the human experience that years bring. Not the “I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps” way of thinking, but the help and friendship along the way that allowed me
to do what I do, chances I was given, doors that opened. I have benefited greatly from so much help and I hope I can give something back through my artwork.
The genre of automotive art has provided me over the years with a broad history and interesting and eclectic subject matter. The stories, the scenes, costumes and people provide the color and the drama and the automobile sets the stage.