This isn’t really an article about a party, or about me. It’s for students, and it's about the future.
A couple of weeks ago I had an email from a friend from my time as an art history student at UC Davis, Barbara Coffey (formery Oliver). She had joined Facebook, and came across my recent landscape show video. She googled me and got in touch for the first time in over 30 years…she wrote me an email, and mentioned a couple of things that provide the framework of this article:
“Hi Robert Hunt,
The last time we spoke was New Year's Eve, was it 1978 or was it 1979? You were going to have a party and it was a theme party and you were so excited about it -and I was planning to come, even though I didn't have a clue what kind of costume I might wear, and then I got sick with bronchitis or whatever and I bailed. How did that party turn out? I have always wondered. You thought I wasn't really sick. Yes I was! ”
As it turned out, Barbara got married and moved to Oregon but still came to the Bay Area periodically to visit her 99 year old father. This weekend she came to the gallery to see my landscape show and we caught up a bit. She said ”you used to be so shy-you’re the same but now it’s like you have confidence now. it’s funny- you’ve done all this work- but I never even knew you wanted to be an artist- I never even knew you could draw”
No one did, including me.
After six years of college and two years of part time bicycle racing, in 1978 I decided to get serious. At Davis, I was originally an "art studio" major, but very frustrated. Wayne Tiebaud (who I only met because I worked in the art library) had suggested that I should study art history because I was interested in “traditional” representational art, and that I might look into illustration someday. 2 years after graduation,I had saved up enough money to go to grad school for one semester, and had met Barbara Bradley at the Academy of Art, who seemed to think that with a lot of work I could be molded into some kind of illustrator. My friend, photography student Charley Anderson and I wound up sharing an apartment on Nob Hill while we went to our respective art schools. My school was down one side of the hill and his, the SF Art Institute,was on the other. Our apartment became a beehive of art activity- after a couple of months, in the spirit of the time,we decided to throw a new years eve costume party.
We sent out a series of invitations to almost everyone we knew. You had to come as a building or a product. Old friends, new friends, girlfriends past and present- we set up a fake corporate identity, “costume troubleshooters” to advise people on their costume construction…we spent so much time and effort promoting our party that it took on a life of it’s own. It was to become a sort of landmark event for a number of people–and it certainly was for me.
costume tips- note metric conversion!
I kind of drew a line in my life that night…my art history friends, my bike racing friends, high school friends- a lot of them were at the party…but I never saw most of them again . 1979 marked a point for me at which I committed totally to illustration. When I got to the Academy I threw everything last ounce of everything I had into learning to draw. A couple of weeks after the party I won a scholarship and people started paying me to draw pictures. I never looked back.
A ballet dancer I had known in Davis named Lynn Tolomeo came from LA for the party. Around 5 am we stepped over the passed out bodies in the hall and went out for a walk around the block. I told her that I had found out what I was going to do, that I thought I had figured out a way that I could be an artist, and that I wanted her to come along down that road with me. Amazingly, she agreed and in the summer she moved to SF up from LA. Thirty-three years and two kids later, we are still on that same trip. Illustration made that all possible.
Mercifully, few photos exist of the event. Here, a burrito and the hollywoood sign join a conga line with the empire state building.
When Barbara Coffey said “ I never even new you could draw back then”, it reminded me of how much different life became for me once I made a serious commitment. Everything has an opportunity cost and many sacrifices have to be made to accomplish anything worthwhile. But I could never have dreamed of what the future had in store for me.
So what is my point here?
There is a lot of talk in our business- (there always has been, as far as I can tell) about the future. Budgets, technology, animation, the death of print- What can one say to a student, someone who is contemplating enetering this business, this field? I say this: for the individual, the answer is total complete commitment to developing yourself as an artist. Without that you never will know what you can accomplish. Look at the Tomer/Yuko/Weber show, for example. Amazing, incredible illustration....that could never have been imagined in 1979. What will your future be?
The economy and the technology have changed, and will change more, and you need to be prepared to move with the changes, but the thing you need is to really care about your work. If you really, really want to be an artist- thats what you should do. If you care enough, work hard enough, devote yourself to cultivate whatever ability you have as far as you can take it, you may be very surprised where that energy can take you. Where will that be? I can’t say. No one can and you shouldn't listen to people who tell you they know your future.. But it can be an amazing journey. It may or may not be lucrative…but If you are a student reading this, ask yourself as you go back to school this fall: why am I doing this? And am I doing every last thing I can to make this the absolute best work I can do? What are your priorities? If you can honestly look within yourself and say yes, I believe something good will happen. If it happens to enough of you, something good will happen to our whole business. If you do something really good and unique and usefull, you have a special power. For you students-it's time for the kind of intense, total commitment that can change your life and your future. Imagine that.