Bruce's early career was dedicated to doing commercial illustrations for the men's adventure magazines as featured on American Pickers. When the men's adventure magazines faded away in the 70s, Bruce was able to pick up work doing paperback covers. Paperbacks paid more than the men's adventure art and the deadlines weren't as tight. There was often down time between jobs. During this down time, Bruce concentrated on his fine art.
His favorite medium was collage. Here's how Bruce described it: I create collages because I like the spontaneity. As a result of my illustration experience, if I paint a landscape, a still life or a figure, I can’t turn away from the reality. With collages, I don’t have to worry about that and it’s liberating. Sometimes, I have an idea of what I want to create but usually, I’ll be inspired by a piece of something in a magazine. A bit of writing looks like mermaid hair or potato chips look like
feathers. I will tear out things that interest me, but I never know where it’s going to take me. Halfway through, I may change the whole idea. If I can’t find what I want, I paint it or if I don’t like something, I can paint over it. Distortion doesn't bother me either as sometimes it’s essential to the composition and it’s also the antithesis of realism, which is what is so freeing. My collages are sketches for possible paintings. I can reproduce anything I see because of my illustration background so it doesn't hold me back as far as what I cut out. I enjoy doing the paintings because it is a challenge to work on a larger scale; scale changes everything. They have a solidity and purity of color that is only possible with paint. The collages and paintings inspired by them give me so much more freedom than I ever found in any other medium. Opening a magazine and finding a seed of some inspiration or an image that triggers another idea is fascinating to me. I never know where I’m going and it still excites me after all these years.
Heartbreak Hotel - Collage
Heartbreak Hotel - Painting
Heartbreak Hotel done in 1981 is an example of a collage that was turned into a painting. We were familiar with the painting. It hung in Bruce's house for a number of years and was included in the book. It is whimsical, ironic, and haunting and a great composition. We had never, until recently, seen the collage. It was fascinating to see what he changed when the 18x20 inch collage was transformed into a 4-foot wide painting. On the original , the singer's face is from 3 different images. In the final, the face is uniform, but distorted. He also changed the license plate number to HAG-1 (in reference to Merle Haggard). As with most of his collages, Bruce didn't just use images he found in magazines and colored paper, he also painted large sections (e.g, the parking lot, the hotel roof, and the sky) and smaller sections (e.g., the train tracks that merge with the hotel and the train smoke) to improve the composition. For Bruce, it had to "look right." He never really articulated what that meant. His technical skills enabled him to change things as he saw fit. In my next post, I'll explore some of the recurring themes of Bruce's collages.