If you're of the age that's too old to rock & roll but too young to die, perhaps you'll remember Jon Gnagy, the television art guy that came before Bob Ross. I had not forgotten he existed — not by a long shot — but I don't think I've consciously recalled his name or his art for many, many years. Then, today, my friend Lew "Moose" Hartman, a fair old artist himself, mentioned Gnagy on Facebook, which brought a tide of memories rushing to me. I couldn't have been more than five or six years old when I discovered Gnagy's show, Learn to Draw, on broadcast television. As early as kindergarten, I was cranking out drawings of monsters, dinosaurs, spaceships, airplanes, and such, and I naturally found Gnagy's technique and manner quite engaging. I specifically remember a couple of scenes he drew, one of which I found online — the old oak tree, shown above. Another was a rather lonely-looking house in a valley with the moon shining down on it. Gnagy's compositions and use of shadow and highlights fascinated me, as all my drawings were naught but simple line work. In later years, I became quite serious about producing art, even earning a BFA degree from the University of Georgia, and to this day I must give credit to Jon Gnagy for being my earliest influence in that direction.
My creative focus long ago turned to writing, and I've not produced visual art of any kind in more years than I like to think about, yet Gnagy's influence, however indirectly, may have extended to my writing as well. Early on, my interest in art and storytelling went hand in hand, and the scenes Gnagy created on television were textured and atmospheric — like snapshots of specific moments in the middle of unfolding events. His drawings sparked my imagination, my desire to know what was actually happening in the scenes he rendered. Some of my earliest stories, if one could call them that, were built around memorable images, and the one of that lonely house in a moonlit valley still stands out for me. I don't remember specifically what sprang from my young imagination then, but I'm quite certain it was dark and grim, the subject matter probably born of my fondness for The Outer Limits and such.
Looking at the videos of Gnagy's show now, it's remarkable how vivid and undistorted my recollections are of those programs from the early 1960s — testimony to the depth of their influence. I must seriously thank Mr. Moose Hartman for stirring up those old memories. And who knows, maybe one day I'll pick up some art materials again and really horrify my audience.
Gnagy's granddaughter, Liz Seymour, quite a few years ago, wrote a short, informative article about him that you can find here: You Were an Artist