I was born to Fredrick and Lorene Fishel in 1950 in Indianapolis, Indiana. I have a brother Mark, and a sister Rebecca. While growing up our family lived in Indiana, Florida and Texas and I attended school in all three states. When I look back now I think that most likely the seed of my desire to become an artist sprouted in me while at grade school in Florida when at the age of eight I won a contest with my drawing of a clown holding some balloons that wound up on the cover of a national popular scholastic magazine of the time. This is what really sparked my interest in drawing and painting at a young age I think, and seeing how proud my parents were of me at what I had done and all.
As a youth my father used to sit with me and show me how to draw; ducks, birds, frogs on the coffee table and that sort of thing. I used to love the sights and sounds of the forest that was just a short distance from our home from the visits there with him. Even at this young age I remember it instilled in me a keen awareness of the universally inherent design visible in nature and how it applies to art. I think the lesson I learned from those walks was that nature truly is the artist’s greatest teacher and I’ve tried to apply that into everything I’ve done creatively since.
I remember later being particularly fascinated with the naïve artists such as Henri Rousseau (one of my very favorites) and Ivan Rabuzin, the Croatian artist, whose self-taught, primitive, innocent style really appealed to me.
The illustrations of the great fantasy masters of old were also some of my favorites – like the paintings of Maxfield Parrish, and N.C. Wyeth, the illustrations of artists Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and Kay Nielsen from the fairy tales and fable books I would see in the library and at book stores. Later on as a somewhat rebellious teenager I loved the wild cartoon race car drawings I saw in Hot Rod magazines from artist Stanley Mouse and the pulp sci-fi magazine illustrations from artists Frank Frazetta, Kelly Freas, and Virgil Finlay caught my eye as well. I remember spending many hours at home and in school during this time meticulously drawing my own car sketches with big hairy, grinning cartoon drivers, sci-fi monsters and almost anything else that caught my fancy, trying my best to emulate their style; and sometimes not only drawing pictures but also the ire of my art teachers.
Upon my discharge from the military in 1971 I enrolled in the John Herron Institute of Art in Indiana through a veterans’ program. I left however after only a short while, becoming disillusioned and feeling stifled by the Art Institutes focus only on the commercial and advertising aspects of art and design. I wanted to bring my own artistic visions to the canvas.
Painting on my own now with no restraints on my style or subject matter I was able to let my imagination run free and being young and idealistic I was determined to try as best I could to both paint and fulfill a commitment to myself as to what I felt true art should be. I tried not to let outside influences like money, recognition or critical acceptance steer my personal creative output. So I buckled down and spent the next few years virtually alone in my studio every day, painting large canvas after canvas without a thought to their commercialism or, God forbid, hanging them in a gallery somewhere to actually sell. This was a satisfying time for me creatively, to be sure, but by the mid-seventies and thinking of starting a family and possibly buying a house the financial reality of that began to sink in a bit. I was impressed by some of the art posters I was seeing in the windows of the local so-called ‘head shops’ and record stores around during this time; so I decided why not send out some of my own art to a few of these poster publishers to see if it might stir up some interest?
Around 1975 or so I sent out some photos to a few of the poster companies of the day whose posters I had seen and liked. One of which, located in San Francisco, was called Thofra, which later became Pomegranate. It was run by a man named Thomas Burke who wrote back and expressed an interest in publishing my art. I remember they were publishing some very talented California visionary artists back then, some of whom later went on to become letter and email friends of mine over the years, like Bill Martin and Gage Taylor.
The photos I sent out also caught the attention of Big O Posters in the UK; or more specifically Peter Ledeboer who was one of the first to write back to tell me he would like to publish my paintings as posters as well. I had seen both Thofra’s and Big O’s posters around at the time because they were sort of competitors really, but there was just something that caught my eye about the Big O posters – their size, the color, the quality of the printing, or something that influenced me into perusing them. So thus my professional art career began with Big O.
I first saw a Big O poster in a record store window around 1972 I believe. Big ‘O’ back then was a bold, totally innovative printer of large beautiful wall poster art, art books and postcards that had such great vision and clarity to them and way ahead of their time really and it was a Big O Roger Dean poster of his album cover art for the band Osibisa. I remember thinking to myself ‘You mean an artist could design and paint his very own text logo for a band, then paint a mythical green watered jungle landscape inhabited by red, winged elephants flying in hot on their approach to attack some mini-dragons perched on the shoreline and have that be the actual album cover for a band? Then have it mass produced as a large poster so all the fans of the band could have it up on their wall while listening to the music, and people buying it? Far out man!’
Big O published ten posters of mine in total. Peter started out with printing four of my paintings in 1976 I believe as 24 x 36 in. full color posters, and along with those four an additional sixteen more of my paintings he printed as 6 x 9 in. postcards. Then another six posters followed a couple of years later. I remember not being concerned all that much at the time on what he might be willing to pay me for this as just being thrilled to think that my art was deemed good enough by someone to be actually printed,
marketed and sold right alongside some of my favorite artists then like Roger Dean, Rodney Matthews and Mati Klarwein. I remember thinking to myself now I’m going to be able to walk into those ‘head shops’ and record stores that I had been frequenting and see my own art right up there in the window too!
The Big O period for me was an exciting time and it began as I wrote in my book The Art Of Big O when Peter responded to my photos I had sent out when he also mentioned in his letter that he was planning a trip to the States soon and could he come to see me and meet up? It was actually pretty funny really but as a kind of ruse and since I didn’t have a car at the time I remember telling him on the phone that I was coming to pick him up at the airport in Indiana where I was living with my agent. He responded glumly by saying ‘Oh, right now you’re bringing along some dude in a suit eh?’ The agent was really only my friend who was willing to drive me up in his car. So we picked him up and on the ride back neither my friend nor I said a word for a while just to see what would happen. I recall seeing Peter in the back-seat looking rather uncomfortable until both my friend and I burst out in laughter and told him the truth. Peter laughed that big laugh of his and we got along just great afterwards. He looked at my paintings, we drank coffee, smoked cigarettes, and sat and talked for hours. He brought with him some current projects he was publishing at the time, like the newest Roger Dean images, some Rodney Matthews things, postcards he was printing for Mati Klarwein, and a new copy of the H.R. Giger book Necronomicon that he gave to me.
It was snowing at the time and I remember us all going out to dinner and then for a walk in the forest for a while. All in all we had a grand old time, I just recall him being this big jolly fellow with a beard and it was either November or early December then and, before leaving, him placing in my hand a nice size check and me feeling like it was Christmas come early.
Never really thinking that I was actually going to make my living entirely from posters of my art being sold, I began exploring other avenues. Now, this was a time well before the internet was even a word in people’s vocabulary, much less a reality, so the only way really for us artists to get our work out there was to either walk around with a big leather portfolio, have an agent, or place them in galleries of course. Or else to photograph our art and mail them off along with a letter of introduction to as many prospects as we could think of, and this is what I did. The transformation between my original views of being a “quote” real artist and painting my own visions clashed as I’m sure it does for many artists working for book and magazine publishers, commissions, puzzle companies and the like. So, I only contacted companies that I felt I could reasonably do that with.
Doing album covers was something I really never pursued much. I do remember though sending my art off to a few record companies at the time with not much interest really. And me being from the mid-west and not located near the big cities where most of them were situated, and not really knowing personally any big name groups to speak of, this proved to be rather fruitless. Oh, I remember being contacted once around the early 80s I think and being told I was in the running, so to speak, for one of my paintings to be on an album cover for a band called Styx for their album The Grand Illusion but ultimately that went to another artist.
I also recall sending off photos of my paintings to Omni magazine and getting a letter back from Omni and Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione who told me he really loved my painting The Creator and would like to use it on the cover of Omni. Unfortunately for some reason or another this never materialized either. So, around 1980 or so with the reality of paying the bills always looming and my daughter on the way, I decided I better start getting a bit serious about finding a way to generate some steadier income with my art.
I subsequently sent some photos off to a rather unknown little company at the time called TSR Hobbies in Wisconsin, better known now of course as Dungeons & Dragons. Gary Gygax, the founder of TSR contacted me and asked if I would be interested in doing artwork for them. I began illustrating some role playing books for them from my home for a while and I remember enjoying the pay, and while I liked drawing dragons and orcs all day it wasn’t really my forte. So, after illustrating a few books for them I wanted to move on to something else a little more creative.
Then right around this same time period I was contacted out of the blue by Avon Books in New York and offered the cover art commission for one of their fantasy anthology series books called The Phoenix Tree containing stories from authors H.P. Lovecraft and Richard Adams among others. Then a few years later there were many of my paintings published as jigsaw puzzles by Eaton and Springbok, and some other puzzle companies that I made a pretty good income from and which I still do with that sort of thing to this day.
In the 1990s I had some posters published by the European Wizards & Genius company run by Hans Kunst that my friend Les Barany, the agent for HR Giger, arranged for me. Also, around this period I got a divorce, opened an art studio in a college town, Bloomington, Indiana, hired some students, and worked on some commercial things in the daytime to pay the bills, and in the night time wound up having way too much of a good time for a man my age and ended up getting into a bit of trouble with the law because of it. To make a long story just a little shorter, after that episode and now into the 21st century I decided I needed a bit of a break from art and the wild side of life that can sometimes go along with it to just focus on settling down and getting my life back on track. So, I moved here to Austin Texas along with my daughter Lindsay, worked on that, enrolled in college and after five years received my degree in digital publishing, and visual communication. I’m still here in Austin, very happy with my life now and still paint from time to time, murals, commissions, etc. and have things published, and I also enjoy working on creating art on my computer in the digital medium too.
A bit more background on one of the projects that is featured here on my website was the idea I had for The Art of Big O book which actually began within me nearly 20 years ago. Just the thought of compiling and bringing all those artists together again and documenting in one book all of the great artwork from Big O from that special time in art and music history was an idea too important and exciting for me to ignore.
Thinking about my idea for my book now it might be a bit of nostalgia in me maybe for those times. Back in the 1960s and 70s, posters, record album covers, a trip to a museum, a library,
or the occasional magazine were about the only means available to anyone who wanted to see (via a large format view)
the most visionary, colorful, original and quite literally mind blowing graphic images that the art world had ever seen up to that point.
This art was coming from extremely talented artists who were literally making the rules up as they went. They were rejecting ideas from decades gone past about what painting and illustration should be.
By The Art Of Big O book I guess you might say I was trying to re-conjure those feelings and capture that same kind of wonder and excitement again in art in a physical, lasting way. The book of images and stories aims to share that time again with those people that might have been there to experience it for themselves and also for those people who were not, to try and give them an understanding of just how this exciting period in art began; and last but not least, for all the young artists out there that might see this book and become inspired themselves by the art and the stories in it, then follow their hearts, and create to share their own kind of art out there with the world too.
When I first began painting I really didn't think that my art might actually influence or inspire anyone nor did I paint to try to succeed in any purpose other than to try to please myself. As I grew older and (hopefully) wiser I came to realize over the years from letters I've received and now emails from people all over the world that it does indeed inspire others to create and helps them to open their eyes up to a new way of looking at nature and this beautiful world that surrounds us. So hopefully this website that I built about my life and art will help people to experience and feel that same kind of excitement I felt about this wondrous world in which we all live that I tried so hard with my art to capture as I did when I created my paintings in the beginning. If my art only touches one person out there and it helps to bring them inspiration, wonder, harmony and a sense of peace and tranquility into their life then I can consider myself a very successful and thankful man.