DON IVAN PUNCHATZ (1936-2009)
2009 continues to be, let's face it, a terrible one for the arts community. It is with the deepest sorrow that we have to report that legendary artist, colleague, Spectrum Grand Master, Advisory Board member, and close friend Don Ivan Punchatz died October 22.
Don suffered a cardiac arrest on the morning of October 11 and never regained consciousness. After eleven days of intensive tests and treatments the doctors determined that there was no brain activity or chance of recovery and the family made the difficult decision to remove him from life support; he died peacefully shortly after the machines were disconnected. "He never wanted to be kept alive like this," Greg Punchatz, Don's son, reported, "so we are respecting his wishes."
If you didn't know Don Ivan Punchatz's work or who Don was... you should have. A true giant of American illustration of the last half of the 20th Century, he joined Mark English, Bob Peak, and Bernie Fuchs as one of the most important and high-profile artists of the day. Don was renowned for his illustrations for Playboy, National Geographic, Boys Life, and Penthouse; for his advertising work Exxon and Atlantic Records; for his book covers for Ace, Warner, Berkley, and Dell, and his covers for TIME, Newsweek, and National Lampoon. Punchatz was also accepted in the Fine Art world and his paintings are part of the permanent collections of the Dallas Art Museum and the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery.
He was comfortable with any style and switched between photo-realism, humorous illustration, and surrealism with ease. When he moved from New Jersey to Arlington, Texas Punchatz became the first major illustrator to prove that you didn't have to live in the New York area to be successful nationally; other artists followed his lead and regional studios popped up like mushrooms. He became teasingly known as "The Godfather of Dallas Illustration" and his Sketch Pad Studio helped launch the careers of Gary Panter, Josť Cruz, Mike Presley, and Roger Stine among many, many others.
Don also taught illustration and graphic design at Texas Christian University for nearly 40 years and was a regular guest instructor at Syracuse University: the number of student artists he influenced and helped and encouraged over the decades is countless. He taught through nudges and suggestions and gentle guidance, always colored with his quick and mischievous sense of humor.
Through it all Don was a humble and self-effacing man: he was always far more interested in listening to what others were doing than he was in talking about himself. And he never groused about the business or the "ones that got away." Years ago he was hired to produce the packaging for a new video game by a start-up company; the owners offered to either pay him his fee (which he had cut to meet their budget) or give him a percentage of the game's profits if it took off. Not being familiar with this new market and having his own bills to pay, Don opted to take his fee instead of the percentage. "So how was I to know this thing called DOOM would make a jillion smackers?" he laughed years later.
Ray Bradbury once wrote, "Don Punchatz! [Don's] ability to touch men with acrylic and melt them into beasts, or touch beasts with oil and ink – and: voila! they are senators or brokers – is endlessly stunning. Metaphor, after all, is the universal language. [Punchatz] could teach at Berlitz!"
Rick Berry says, "I think of Don as one of the pivotal artists in our field. His work simply made the world bigger and freer for me, long before I ever knew how sweet a guy he was." Harlan Ellison describes Don as "...one of the truly great modern artists."
In this world there are great artists and there are great men; being one sometimes precludes being the other for any number of reasons. But not when it comes to Don Ivan Punchatz: he was a great artist AND a great man. He will be sorely missed.
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