Following a stint illustrating construction equipment, he became a designer in a graphic art studio and then a freelance in-house art director for a Sydney advertising agency while running his own art gallery at North Sydney. In 1983, helped by his wife, Helene, he started his own design and art business.
Bridges was introduced to airbrushing about 20 years ago by Mike Cuff, an English technical illustrator at the company where Bridges worked as an apprentice detailed draftsman. “I used to watch him doing these amazing renderings, while I was relegated to two-dimensional drawings of girders, nut, and bolts,” Bridges recalls.
But passionate about painting, Bridges would paint at night and on weekends, and his efforts bore fruit. His surreal and futuristic works–done at a time when every other Australian artist seemed to be doing abstract-contemporary or conventional landscapes-were featured at several exhibitions over the next years. At the time, Bridges recalls, the Australian art world treated airbrush as “some sort of commercial trick, rather than art,” so for years he ignored its possibilities and did all his paintings with only conventional brush techniques. “It’s amazing,” he comments, “how society can influence your work.”
He did not introduce airbrush into his work until years later. And since incorporating the airbrush, “I have never looked back.” Reiterating the lesson from the sand castle experience, he urges, “Use whatever you can lay your hands on to achieve the best result.” And he adds, “Read whatever you can. Research your subject.”
Bridges feels that the effects an artist can achieve with an airbrush are not very different from conventional painting techniques but are achievable so much faster. To meet deadlines, the airbrush i s essential. And to do the best job, he stresses, “You should be open-minded enough to try any technique, medium, or instrument that will help you do it.”
Bridges has rarely read science fiction since his teen years, but what he did read left a lasting impression, beginning with his first, “most moving” science-fiction experience, 2001, which “really influenced my art.” His favorite writers in that genre were Robert Heinlein, M h u r C. Clarke, and Isaac Asimov. Today, he limits his sci-fi reading to the transcript or synopsis of a book he may be illustrating.
Although Bridges does some fantasy and science-fiction covers, he considers them limiting to his development “because I’m just interpreting some part of the writer’s imagination. Although I’m exploring my own imagination to make it believable, deep down i ts roots are not mine.”
So, surprising though it may seem, he finds more freedom to express his individuality in corporate assignments. Because his images are so different and attention-getting, corporations and ad agencies generally leave the execution of the assignment up to him. His instructions, in essence, are, “Do whatever you like, as long as you can tie it into what we’re about.”
For instance, the people who commissioned him to do the Miracle Mile poster featuring a horse were familiar with his style and instructed him that so long as he built his idea around a horse, could create virtually whatever he wanted.
In contrast, Bridges points out, a book cover or an illustration must have some relationship to the story, which he feels “doesn’t leave much room for deep thoughts. So you have to work on other things like superficial appearances and imagination for shapes and landscape, rather than profound ideas. Or create unusual landscapes or dramatic lighting. And sometimes, if the book shows very little or is filled with cliches or has poor visual ideas, you have to invent something to make it look good. Then your cover gives people a false idea of what the book is like, and I don’t feel good about that.”
In corporate art, however, “the image is tied only to a broad entity, and ironically, therefore, it allows me to explore my imagination more.” Despite the latitude on corporate commissions, he’ll usually do a preliminary sketch to let his client know where he’s heading.
All of his current work is commissioned. Asked by people all over the world to work on their projects as much as a year in advance, he accepts only assignments hat he deems consistent with the current direction of his work. Because the assignments vary, he doesn’t get stuck in one area, and the diversity “enables me to learn more with each project.” Whatever the assignment, “I like to create the whole idea and attempt to portray something new with each piece.
The work that he considers the most unusual and most interesting was the piece featuring the horse. To research it, Bridges, along with a friend who pretended to be him, rode in a track car leading the galloping horses and photographed the panting, sweating steeds from only a few feet away. “It was amazing.”
Obviously an artist who likes to experience what he paints, Bridges investigated the possibility of going up in a jet plane for an Air Force assignment but aborted the trip when he learned that it would cost $12,000 just to take off. He settled for sitting in the cockpit of an FA-18 — on the ground.
His first sale came in 1969-0 commissioned futuristic vision from a surfboard manufacturer of what surfing might be like in the future-for which he was paid $50. Bridges, who today rarely does anything for less than $1,000, was very happy with the amount because it equaled about two weeks’ wages in those days.
His weeks, shown at annual one-man exhibitions from 1972 to 1977, initially sold for about $150 to $450 and kept increasing. At his last show, the best pieces commented on best pieces commanded about $1,000 each, and he sold nearly every work on display. But soon he realized the impracticality of having to paint all year with no income until exhibition time.
It was a few years later that he decided to speed up his productivity by incorporating airbrush into his work, and both career and earnings took off.
Bridge’s reproduction fees are based on the work’s seize and level of detail and the length of its use. His originals generally sell for more than the reproduction fee. One of the most recent, Future reflections, a small (20-by-15-inch) but impressive piece, garnered $8,500 in a group art exhibition. Normally, though, he tends to shun group shows, finding many paintings exhibited at them tailored to decor and too sugary for his taste, and therefore he feels his work is out of place.
Bridges’ large body of work includes assignments for prime corporate clients and ad agencies in the South Pacific, album covers for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, magazines covers for the Parks and Wildlife Service, posters for the Ogilvy & Mather, and books covers for Macmillan, HarperCollins, Penguine, and Del Ray books.
Though he’s explored various styles over the years, he prefers the futuristic-surreal approach for which he is best known and wants to continue specializing in it.
Convinced that to be successful, an artist has to know the field and concentrate in areas where little or nothing has been done, Bridges notes, œBy studying various artworks, from cave paintings through Renaissance impressionism to contemporary, postmodern, and so on, I was able to see where I could position my work in masterpiece. Explaining his commitment to œfocusing down a particular path he draws the analogy of single versus wedded bliss. œlike the person who chooses to stay single and perhaps have many partners, each different, you can try many different styles to express yourself. Or, as he has chosen to be married to one person and explore and grow together. Bridges decided to œmake the commitment to engage in the exploration of my futuristic river of work.
He was 12 when he did his first futuristic piece “ his concept of a city of tomorrow that was sent to England among examples of Australian children’s artwork and remains in his mother’s collection. He didn’t do his next piece until four years later. He was then besotted by Dali’s painting The Burning Giraffe, and the piece served as the catalyst to fire his interest in the surreal.
Artists who have influenced Bridges’s work, in addition to Dali, include Magrifte, Bosch, Escher, Rembrandt, Vermeer, da Vinci, and Michelangelo. Bridges also enjoys abstract expressionism and postmodernism, and most art forms appear in his work “More obvious” influences are such contemporary artists as Syd Giger, Hildebrandt and Roger Dean.
Currently serving as President of the New South Wales chapter of the illustrators Association of Australia, Bridges guest-lectures on illustration for degree and diploma courses at Nepean University. His futuristic art appears in the CA illustration Annual. Among the awards he has won are the Southern Cross, On Broadway, and the Macquaire University art prizes and, for the second year, the Design Down under Award. Gregory Bridges is represented in the United States by Bernstein & Andrilulli, Inc. in New York City.