Biography of John Rush
1948 Born in central Indiana
1963-66 Cartoonist and illustrator for the high school newspaper and yearbook
1970-71 Worked in Holland as an industrial designer for Philips Corporation
1971 Graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a Bachelors degree in Industrial Design
1970-72 Machine tool designer for Structural Dynamics Research Corporation in Cincinnati
1972 Worked as a city planner for the City of Cincinnati
1975 Graduated from Art Center College with a degree in illustration
1975-78 Employed by Jack OGrady, Inc. and Handelan - Pedersen, Inc.(two large Chicago art studios)
1978 Moved to New York to work as a freelance illustrator
1980 Received a gold medal award from the Society of Illustrators
1980 Returned to Chicago and continued freelancing
1982-83 Began studying classical Greek and Italian Renaissance art
1985 Traveled to Greece and Italy to study art
1987 Traveled to Spain and Portugal
1988 Began producing intaglio prints
1989 Received a Commission from the government of France for a painting to be exhibited at the bicentennial celebration
1989 Traveled to Greece
1990 Featured in a cover article in Step By Step magazine, focusing on painting technique
1990 Jury member for the Society of Illustrator show
1991 Began exhibiting and selling paintings at the Eleanor Ettinger Gallery in New York
1992 Communication Arts magazine published an article in January about his historical and mythological paintings
1992 Traveled to Greece and Turkey
1993 Received a mural Commission from the U.S. National Parks Service for a painting depicting the Battle of Lexington and Concord
1994 Received a Commission for a painting to be used as a theater curtain for a Branson, MO music theater
1994 Jury member for the Society of Illustrators show
1996 Gold Medal from the Spectrum Illustration Annual
1996 Traveled to Greece and western Turkey to study Hellenistic and Ottoman art
1997 Completion and installation of the Battle of Lexington and Concord mural
1997 Jury member for the Society of Illustrators student show
1998 Began work on illustrations for a children’s book version of Ivanhoe
1998 Received first annual David Usher Memorial Award at the Society of Illustrators Annual Show
1999 Painting selected for the cover of the 41st Society of Illustrators Annual
2000 Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators
2001 Completion of 23 paintings for Ivanhoe
2002 Silver Medal from Blue Cubed Illustration Annual
2003 Began exhibiting and selling prints at the Frederick Baker Gallery in Chicago
2003 Jury member for the Communications Arts Illustration Annual
2004 Chronicle Books publication of Ivanhoe, illustrated by John Rush
2005 Completion of Hoover Dam mural project for the U.S. Dept. of the Interior
2006 Received a Commission for a 3x9' triptych painting titled Hippocrates Teaching
2007 Silver Medal from the London International Design Awards
2008 Faculty member at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco
2009 Began work for a one man gallery show
2010 - 2012 Commissioned by Wells Fargo to produce a painting series illustrating the history of the American stagecoach
2013 Backpacking and artistic experimentation
2014 Traveled to Greece to study classical art
2015 Publication of the Wells Fargo painting series
John's work has appeared in several major graphic arts publications, including the Society of Illustrators Annuals, American Illustration Annuals, Communications Arts, Print, and Graphis magazines.
Clients include: National Geographic, The U.S. National Parks Service, Wells Fargo, Ford Motor Company, United States Steel, American Airlines, Microsoft, Time Life Books, Random House, Alfred Knopf Publishing, Playboy magazine, and the History Channel.
Prints are sold through the Frederick Baker Gallery, 1230 West Jackson, Chicago, IL. He has had work exhibited at the Chicago Cultural Center, the Hong Kong Art Expositions, French Bicentennial Expo, throughout the U.S. in various galleries, and in the Society of Illustrators traveling shows. His work is included in the permanent collections of The U.S. Department of the Interior, the French National Government, United States Steel, Wells Fargo, The Brauer Museum of Art, and in many private collections.
He lives in Chicago and continues to divide his working time between painting, illustration, and printmaking.
My favorite icebreaker question to illustrators is: Did you always like to draw? John Rush responded promptly and positively to my query, but the subject matter that he remembered pursuing in his formative years in Muncie, Indiana, seemed a bit offbeat.
As a child, I drew all the time. And the favored subjects of my earliest drawings were car wrecks; though not because I like the idea of people getting hurt. What really moved me was the way my drawings seemed to convert those wrecks into an exciting kind of abstract sculpture. But I also recall that my parents considered this enthusiasm for wreck drawing to be sort of peculiar, at the very least. Happily, my subject matter took a more rational turn during my tour of duty as the Muncie High School cartoonist.
Later, in my college years at the University of Cincinnati, from which I graduated in 1971, my ambition was to become an industrial designer and design machine tools. That was back when Americans were still designing machine tools; which we dont do much of anymore.
After outgrowing his turns at the stylizations of auto wrecks and the design of machine tools and other industrial design pursuits, Rush decided that his primary goal, after all, was to continue drawing. My favorite artists had always been illustrators, like N.C. Wyeth, for a primary example. But even the more famous legendary artists whom I admired with Michelangelo way up front were really super illustrators. It was their storytelling kind of painting that I always aspired to emulate, so I went out to Californias Art Center to get myself on the right track.
After graduating in 1975, John got a job and Handelan-Pedersen, Inc., a leading Chicago art studio which, in those days, had seventeen illustrators on staff.
“That was a great place for postgraduate study. From the start, I could see how all of those veteran illustrators worked by just looking over their shoulders at the tons of work then going through the studio. Not all of it was great, of course, but all of it did have to be done on time. And they would hand me all kinds of assignments and just say, ‘Here, do this stuff.’ And do it, I did.”
His memories of this frenetic apprenticeship still come through crystal clear: I worked like a maniac for three years. And looking back, I realize how valuable that experience was in introducing me to the illustrators craft; close-up and hands on. Unfortunately for todays budding artists, most illustrators no longer work that way.
Today, the majority of illustration assignments go to individual freelancers. And an unfortunate side effect of that development was that it foreclosed the apprenticeship route that helped so many young illustrators of previous generations make more of their talent and ambitions than formal schooling, alone, could ever have equipped them for.
Rush left Handelan-Pedersen, Inc., in 1978, acquired a rep and he and his wife Danea moved to New York. “During my three years in Chicago, I had thought I was living in a big city, already, so our move to the absurdly outsize New York dimension gave us quite a jolt, initially. But early on, I started getting assignments and it all came together. And, despite the inevitable ups and downs of that approach, I’ve been freelancing ever since.”
As it turned out, one lesson from those two years in New York was that Chicago was just as good a base from which to serve the increasingly national market of the Rush enterprise. And it was also a lot less complicated; not least because by that time, most deliveries were being productively handled via telephone and overnight Federal Express.
While John recalls no particular career advance in the wake of their move back to the near-north Chicago suburb of Evanston, both he and Danea consider their change of locale to have been timely. Freelancing has always kept me busy enough to sustain our chosen lifestyle, with enough time left over to experiment with the various new and old techniques and subject areas that continue to inspire me."
Among other initiatives, Ive begun to implement my long delayed reinterpretations of some of the historical and mythological subjects and techniques that have appealed to me since childhood. For one thing, they were great stories, with characters who wore fantastic costumes that are both fun and challenging to illustrate. And for another, their locales ranged from primeval forests where dragons were fought to the slippery decks of Viking ships struggling on storm-tossed seas of legendary intensity. Mostly though, I am inspired by the sheer artistry with which Michelangelo and his fellow Renaissance artists depicted all of those larger-than-life scenes.
While Rush concedes that those durable old classics were often pretty bloody, he suggests that they depicted the gore with far more style, grace and historical perspective than the contemporary fare served up for todays youngsters on Saturday mornings TV menus.
John admitted that his prime obsession for the last few years has been to really learn to draw the figure. While Im making some progress toward that end, Ive gone through a number of different working techniques. I used to do mostly airbrush. Now, my goal is to learn to paint in oils and to refine the etching and drypoint techniques that I am applying to my expanding involvement in printmaking.
John concluded his technique assessment with a convincing admission: For some reason that I havent quite pinned down as yet, I like my work to look as if its not of the time we are living in.
Even as the wonders of computer assisted image-making expand, there may be a timely move toward an offsetting balance in John Rushs fond backward look to Renaissance times for more challenging, and more artistically rewarding, illustrative techniques.