A Few Minutes With: Tom Fritz

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Category: Interviews

Art is the window to fantasy. It goes without saying that if you enjoy motoring art you've no doubt encountered Tom Fritz. He's a master of color and composition who continues to inspires generations of artists all around the world.

Sit with Tom for five minutes and you'll encounter a man who's passion for nearly anything with a motor is amplified through his paintbrush and imagination. However, it never fails, every time I meet up with Tom you can't help but enjoy his mischievous and curious nature about his own work. So when I caught wind (via Red Bull Media) about him being the master mind behind the On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter official poster, I just had to give my buddy a call. Here's what he had to say about his work, his participation in the movie and some advice for aspiring artists.

Tom Fritz Interview

RideApart: How long have you been painting professionally?

Tom Fritz: I've been painting since I was a kid, but I started painting as a way to pay my bills when I was going to art school back in the late '70s. So it's been about 35 years.

RA: When your father took you to see On Any Sunday, what inspired you the most about the film?

TF: I can't pinpoint it. Just about everything, really. My eyes were wide open the whole time, soaking it all in. We got to the theater late and I have a crystal clear memory of entering the dark theater at the part where Mert Lawill had the helmet cam on the flat track. When the movie ended, my dad, brother, and I hung around and sat through the movie the second time, so we could watch it in it's entirety. I was twelve at the time, and as a kid living in the San Fernando Valley, the film introduced me to a much wider spectrum of motorcycling and some of its various personalities. I'd packed my head full of scenes that, over the course of many years, I'd try to imitate on my own.

Tom Fritz Interview

RA: When Red Bull called you to create the poster what were the objectives?

TF: A poster is an extension of the movie, but a different medium than film. The task is to create a concise, attention-getting image that will engage the viewer and motivate them to do what you want, which is go see the movie. Some of my notes from the initial contacts: One image (not four). Open to abstract as well as slightly more literal. Anything more literal in shape should lean towards forms seen on dirt over road. Motion and flow. Warm, uplifting, fun. Passion and freedom and a touch of flying. Bright color scheme. It needs to be recognized/readable from a distance.

I always try to go for an image that will be remembered.

RA: What do you look forward to when creating your pieces?

TF: When I create a painting, I try to communicate something to others on a personal level. I have to share something of myself. What I share is my expression of whatever it is I'm observing. This is not only just how something looks to my eye, but also its character, and how it makes me feel. I'm not necessarily looking to imitate a camera, but rather stir the soul.

Tom Fritz Interview

RA: How do you conceptualize your subject matter?

TF: To make an image, I focus on what I think are the most important aspects of an idea. This takes an understanding of the subject along with some thoughtfulness and insight. It ain't easy to do, especially if you throw in something like a deadline or other outside influences. Then I start with thumbnails. I keep these about the size of a business card or even smaller, and mostly work on the composition. Most would think I'm just scribbling, but I'm paying attention to shape, rhythm, form, etc.

We’ve known each other for quite a while now and I remember your passion for color and creating a dramatic experience for your viewers. What are your favorite moments in your On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter Poster?

Each of the four images on the poster maintains its individuality, yet at the same time relates to each other through position and lighting. As the project developed, there was a consensus from the client that one image couldn't effectively capture the entire movie. So they went with the foursquare solution you see today. Decisions to lImit the color palette on each image within its own bandwidth of the spectrum, relating each image to a "left turn", and other nuances lend to the unity of the four individual paintings. Considering that limited reference creates unique compositional challenges, not only within each of the four images, but also within the grouping as a whole, I feel satisfied with my end result.

Tom Fritz Interview

RA: You are known for your automotive paintings and within the past few years I’ve noticed even more motorcycle paintings emerge from your studio. Can you tell us the challenges you face when painting bikes?

TF: Gosh, I've been painting 'transportation' since the mid-80s back when I worked at the 'bomb factory', and I've been painting bikes for several years now. In fact, the series I painted for Harley-Davidson's Annual Report, which led to my becoming licensed by the Motor Company happened back in 1998.

For all vehicles, the biggest challenge is painting the wheels so they look round. Motorcycles are different in that there are several "windows" in their silhouette and more details that have distinct, precise relationships with regard to overall proportion. An automobile tends to hide all of that behind large sheets of metal, making them a heck of a lot easier to paint.

Bikes also are fundamentally different than other vehicles in that if you turn your back on them, they want to lay down. You gotta keep the darn thing upright to ride it. On a bike, the rider is more visible and is your key indicator of what's going on in the painting. What I mean by that is, the rider has to keep the bike balanced, so to make a painting believable, I have to be aware of the dynamics that are occurring and how they effect the rider – the subtle shifts in posture due to a combination of forces like gravity, roll torque, wind resistance, acceleration, and steering/countersteering, and so on. For instance, a  slight shift in a rider's head position can speaks volumes as to what is going on. This is something I've been observing and have experienced since I was a kid.

RA: For most artists it’s difficult to know when to stop “noodling” their work. When do you know you have finished a piece?

TF: The painting usually tells me when it's finished. I'll mix the next load, scoop it up on the brush, and… there's no where else to put it. That's when it's finished. I'll also look at the piece in a mirror, or flip the canvas upside down or on its side and read the image that way. By doing this, I'll be checking form – looking at my painting as an "abstract" rather than something recognizable.

Tom Fritz Interview
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