You’ve worked on some incredible projects as an illustrator. Can you tell us a little about those?
You must remember that we are looking at a career that has spanned over 34 years. Remember that I am a dinosaur that is prone to forgetfulness. I have been blessed to have been able to paint a large body of work before the digital revolution.
Projects back then were drawn and/or painted as opposed to a final product that had a digital hand in it’s production. I had been doing some magazine illustration while still a student in school however, my career didn’t take off until I started working at Willardson/White Studios. W/W was an illustration shop started by legendary illustrators Charles White and David Willardson. Charlie and Dave did promotion and PR, while Mick McGinty, Rick Brown and myself did the bulk of the illustration. We didn’t get paid too much but we managed to have a great time working on great jobs. We were given specific projects that came into the studio and we had free latitude to execute the art in a way that we saw best. This was at the time of the rebirth of the airbrush whose look and range of use had been greatly enhanced by the new Iwata airbrush that could handle most any kind of paint. Previously air brushes were largely limited to inks, dyes, watercolors and gouache. Not only was this a time before digital but it was also a time of vinyl records with 12”x 12” album cover packaging. I was able to work on a flow of record album jobs. Most were unmemorable however two that I recall well were “Only A Lad”, Oingo Boingo’s premier album on A&M Records and Styx, “Paradise Theater” also on A&M.
The most memorable part of the Oingo Boingo project was working with the band’s leader Danny Elfman. It was caffeinated high octane fun without any real caffeine or preservatives. “Paradise Theater” was a large project that included full color front and back art as well as hand painted lettering, poster designs, inside album art, a center label
painting, a 45 sleeve, outdoor board design, point of purchase display and a design that was lazer etched into the vinyl. I was only 26 years old at the time and I felt as though I was given a commission to paint the Sistine Chapel.
While at W&W I painted advertising campaigns for clients such as Levis and for Nike. After three years I left W&W and struck out on my own. Jobs came pretty fast and furious at that point. I immediately painted theme art for The America’s Cup, and reestablished what would become a long time relationship with the NFL that resulted in a full array of projects from posters to magazine art, trophy design, paintings for cards, portraits for the NFL Hall Of Fame and theme art for Superbowls, XX, XXI, and XXIII. By this time I had given up airbrush in favor of traditional oil painting however I still did a little airbrush when it was called for.
One of the last airbrush pieces that I painted was the advance marquee one sheet for the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”. At that time film work was an illustrators staple in LA. Some of the other film promotion I contributed to were, “The Return Of the Jedi”, “ A Christmas Story” and many others. It was some years later that I worked on my last movie project, a set design painting of a large muraled dome for the film, “The Pagemaster”. I continued painting for numerous publishing clients including most of the large NY publishers. In 1991 during the Gulf War I was requested by the US Government to create a painting that would pay tribute to the troops at their impending homecoming.
I would be in competition with such artists as Peter Max and other better known art professionals of the day. Whether the powers that be were drinking that day or for what ever the reason my piece was selected as the theme art for the Desert Storm Homecoming.
After That event I was able to paint numerous pieces that paid tribute to those who had served in Viet Nam, an issue that was still a point of contention at that time. It was an issue that I felt strongly about as I never thought that the men and women who came back were ever treated with the respect that they deserved. In that season of my career I was drop kicked into the sports world . I worked with various athletes and organizations that would sell my art with proceeds going to worthy charities. I became a member of Steve Young’s Forever Young Foundation that gifted to the Ronald McDonald House, Winners on Wheels and many others. After so many years in this business I could go on but I fear the boredom factor has already become intolerable.
In the past few years you’ve moved into doing fine art. How did that journey happen?
Illustration had moved into the digital arena. I had a choice to either adopt and embrace the computer as my tool of income or go back and be totally traditional. Since childhood I have always wanted to feel the pencil scratching across the paper and the brush dragging and pushing paint across a surface. I would tell people in jest, “Real men don’t draw with mice.” I have nothing against digital art, it was simply a choice that I felt passionate about. I just love to paint and draw. In time I started to feel the consequences of my choice and gradually moved from the illustration world into the gallery world. Even there I felt my freedom as an artist being curtailed as I was encouraged to paint images that would have a certain salability as per my name recognition. For years as an illustrator I had painted pieces at the bequest of others most often painting forgettable pieces with only the reward of a paycheck at the end. (I suppose the paycheck part isn’t all that bad!) I was honing my skills as a byproduct of all those years of work.
I consider myself a life time student and I am by no means a master of anything however I have gotten better through the years and felt as though it was time to paint what I desired. Although I enjoyed painting landscapes and still life’s the stimulus wasn’t sufficient. I really wanted to paint a narrative of the human drama that is a part of our history and a key part of various cultures.
You’ve done a book, Eagle Dancing that has breathtaking beautiful art in it.Can you tell us about how that came about and the research involved?
Once again I tripped and fell into this subject. I was mentoring an extremely talented young man, Gyibaawm Laxha, from the Tsimshian First Nations tribe. His father, David Boxley, is a Culture Bearer and master Tsimshian carver/artist. My family and David’s family became fast friends. I began painting his story, and some people took notice. Evelyn Vanderhoop a dear friend and a master weaver from the Haida Nation put me in contact with two benefactors who were each seeking an artist who would delve into and paint this subject. One benefactor wanted a narrative of contemporary Haida life the other wanted very large scale paintings of Northwest Coast Native History. Both projects required much research, field work and travel. I was able to speak with and get the help of tribal chiefs, culture bearers, noblemen and
archaeologists/anthropologists. The culture is both rich and fascinating. My wife and I attended many potlaches and honorings and have established life time friendships. I had a solo exhibition of the work at the Forest Lawn Museum and published the book in time for the exhibition.
Where can the book be purchased?
The ordering info can be found at this link. However if there is a problem one can contact me at my email address through my website.
You’ve also been doing extraordinary work for the Air Force. How does that work?
The Air Force and I have become the perfect fit, (in my opinion anyway). As a member of the Air Force Art Program I have been able to travel to remote areas of the world sketchbook, camera, and paintbox in hand to record different cultures and our men and women in uniform. There is always a certain amount of down time in these areas which enables me to record the people, animals and general goings on of the area. Not tourist sites but the real nitty gritty.
However I spent a short time in Afghanistan and I will admit that the nitty gritty there is probably better left alone. I also paint historic narratives for the Air Force and have embarked on a large project in conjunction with the Pentagon that deals with the experiences of the Tuskegee Airmen.
The first and only all African American fighter squadron that served during WWII at the time of Jim Crow. Once again the accurate narrative can only really be achieved by much study, travel, and interviews. So far I have found the story to be an incredible journey of triumph and honor in a battle of two wars one domestic the other abroad.
Is there a site that people can go to see more of your work?
or if you wish an overload, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Chris-Hopkins-Art-just-off-the-easel/176266929068301
my Tuskegee Airmen project can be seen at, http://www.facebook.com/ChrisHopkinsTuskegeeAirmenProject/photos_albums
Where can people purchase your work?
The only gallery that I am currently active at is, Grand Teton Gallery in Jackson Hole, WY.
Or one can contact me through my website, www.chrishopkinsart.com
What do you love most about what you do?
The predictable answer: Everything! I have loved this since I was in kindergarten. In all of these years that love has only increased. I also love the fact that my wife, Jan is a very gifted fiber artist and that all four of my children have artistic talents including our only son Justin, who is a professional illustrator and composer in Los Angeles.