I just discovered that SF illustration legend John Berkey passed away on Tuesday. I didn’t know John, but he was a friend of my friend Steve Rude, and one afternoon at Steve’s house, he called up John and I had the privilege of briefly speaking to him. Steve called John to have him repeat something to me that he had said to Steve in an earlier conversation; they had been talking about art and Steve asked John how painting was going at this stage in his career. John’s confident yet utterly modest response: “it’s as easy as breathing.” Both Steve and I took great comfort in hearing those words from a grand master of illustration—there’s hope that it’s not always going to be a constant struggle!
By all accounts, he was a complete gentleman, and my brief experience on the phone with him only confirmed that. And as his artwork…well, see for yourself. Bravura brushstrokes filled with confidence and vitality, whole worlds summoned into being with the most economical means. The first time I encountered his artwork was as a little kid; my older brother had some kind of educational coffee table book on the universe, and it had a great John Berkey spaceship image on the cover. When I began getting serious about art, I remember coming across some Berkey images in an illustration annual and instantly recognizing his singular loose style.
Rest in peace, Mr. Berkey. You’ve left an astounding legacy.
News about John’s passing discovered via The Art Department.