George “Bud” Guzzi, A56, J83P, J84P, A86P
A scene from The Exorcist, illustrated for Cosmopolitan magazine by Bud Guzzi and tamed by the editors
“Here’s a book. Pick out a scary scene and draw it.” That was one of the first assignments George “Bud” Guzzi, A56, J83P, J84P, A86P, received from Cosmopolitan magazine in the early days of his 35-year career as an illustrator.
The book was The Exorcist. The scene was iconic.
“I drew the little girl in the bedroom,” writes Guzzi. “The room is freezing, the priest has a sweater on, the woman has a blanket on, and on the girl’s chest are the words ‘help me.’” Editors would later ask Guzzi to take off the priest’s sweater, throw the mother in a tight top, and remove the silent plea.
“I did 10 illustrations for them before, but this one they were nervous about,” he writes. “I think it was the Catholic Church. But I made the changes.” Just another day at the drawing board, he writes.
“When I first started going to New York City in '64; to show
my portfolio, I went to a paperback company.” With the
typical student portfolio in hand, Guzzi applied for work at a publishing company. “The boss looks at my portfolio and says to me, ‘This looks very nice, but let me show you what we do.’ He shows me this huge wall of oil paintings: girls running from gothic castles, Romeo and Fabio, and all that.” Guzzi, who was able to recognize a fellow artist’s work amid the ripping bodices, was given three assignments that day. “One was the cover for The Single Man, which they just made into a movie.”
Another surprising gig was a commercial for Liberty Mutual where Guzzi was asked to paint words and images on the body of a bikini-clad young woman. “It was their version of Goldie Hawn on Laugh-In!” Guzzi spent what he calls a “funny afternoon” of painting and repainting as the camera lights melted his work off of the model’s body. “She was really worried about that paint coming off,’ he writes of the model who was set to get married three days later. “My pal Ed Spinney—who’s played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street, and Mr. Lion on Bozo the Clown—came over to the studio to say hi.” As the model was lying on the table and Guzzi painted, Spinney simply said, “I love your easel.”
During his long career as an illustrator, Guzzi has produced artwork for album covers, book covers, and Redbook, among other commissions, such as capturing a young Susan Sarandon on film and in acrylics.
Susan Sarandon, 1975, acrylic
“I paint by photograph a lot of the time—especially for landscapes where you know the lighting isn’t going to last. In 1975, I photographed Susan for about four hours. She’d been in a few movies, but she wasn’t really well known then. Afterwards, I took her to lunch and this friend of mine came up and says, ‘Who’s the girl?’ I say, ‘Susan Sarandon, an actress.’ ‘What was she in?’ I told him the movies, and he says, ‘I haven’t seen any of them.’ Poor girl!”
Guzzi didn’t always have his sights set on the arts as a career. “I was premed at Tufts, but I didn’t get into medical school.” Fortunately, he had another talent up his sleeve that he’d been practicing for most of his life.
“I had rheumatic fever twice, at ages six and 10, so I was in bed a lot.” In 1942, Guzzi’s cousin sent him photos of fighter planes to keep him occupied during bed rest. Guzzi began copying the photos. “One was a P39 bombing a town. It was the first drawing I ever did.” Back at school, he began to entertain classmates with pictures of Superman and Batman, “or whatever they asked for.”
At Tufts he drew cartoons for The Daily. “I was taking organic chemistry and I was doing very poorly in class. The professor gave these hour-long lectures without notes or breaks, so I did a cartoon of him asking the class if it’s perfectly clear—the kids are up to their necks in snow. When I asked how he liked it, he said it was the first time I ever actually got a formula right!”
For Guzzi, every assignment has had its highlight, but the most fulfilling paintings have been those of the war heroes, the fighter pilots, he writes, like the Flying Tigers and the Doolittle Raiders. “I spent my childhood reading about these guys and now 70 years later I’m doing prints of them and meeting them in Boston. It’s unbelievable.”
Commissions like these from NASA and the armed forces allowed Guzzi to interpret the real world, including the first space shuttle launch after the 1986 Challenger explosion. When NASA resumed the shuttle program in 1988, Guzzi was invited to paint the liftoff of the Discovery, commanded by Frederick “Rick” Hauck, A62, A87P, J92P, H07. “That liftoff … there’s nothing like it,” Guzzi writes. “We were three miles away. The thing took off, and my pant legs started to shake. When you see it all on television, they pan out and it looks so slow. When you’re there, it’s as fast as lightening. It’s incredible.”
Guzzi had the privilege to paint the first launch after the tragic explosion of the Challenger in 1986. He writes that with his pre-motor-drive camera, there was only time for six clicks of the shutter before the spaceship was out of sight.
Astronaut Dale Gardner performs an extra-vehicular activity. Guzzi painted this scene from a photo taken by fellow Jumbo, astronaut Rick Hauck.
“It’s a shame now,” he writes of the end of NASA’s shuttle era. “No more kids are going to grow up wanting to be astronauts.’
Recently, Guzzi’s artwork graced the June/July 2011 cover of International Artist magazine. He now teaches a landscape painting course with his wife, Rita, J83P, J84P, A86P, at Tufts’ Talloires campus and the couple reside in West Newton, Mass., when not spending their summers in Maine or traveling to Europe to paint scenes of the Mediterranean.
It Takes Two
His advice to aspiring artists? “Learn how to draw. Picasso could draw like Da Vinci when he was 10. Pick out someone you admire and absorb it. Go to museums, see masters, and adopt what you like into your own technique.” Avoid trends. “Do what you like and you won’t have any problems.”
The most important lesson of all: find a partner who understands your creative process. “My wife understands why I’m cursing when I’m cursing. Without her, I’m not sure where I’d be.”
Guzzi’s work can be seen in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution and the Pentagon, among others.