Hi, I’m Bill Ferguson and welcome to my website. I grew up in a small, rural farm town Iowa in the 60’s called Albia. By the time I was 8 or 9 I realized I had some art talent. I would do sketches, pastels or watercolors of local landscapes and wildlife, and by 4th grade I was actually getting some blue ribbons in local art competitions. Not really having any thought whatsoever about “what I wanted to be when I grew up”, it was just fun to draw. Somewhere around junior high, an art teacher named Roberta Witt told me that I was talented, so for the first time I started taking art somewhat seriously…
By high school I was winning most of the purple and blue ribbons in each category in the local art competitions and was awarded some prize money now and then. My teacher in high school, Doug Genschmer, did a lot to encourage unbridled creativity without regard for the pursuit of money. But it wasn’t until junior college did I realize that I might actually be able to consider this talent a real profession.
I have always been a “realist”, not by conscious choice; it was simply the only thing I’ve ever really been good at. But somewhere in the early 70’s I decided I’d try to create a canvas that was not just realistic, but awesomely realistic! So I took a photograph of my brother’s motorcycle (Kev’s Honda) with my mom’s Kodak “Instamatic” and tried to reproduce the sparkle of the paint and reflections in the chrome as faithfully as I could. Our house in Albia with my mom washing dishes at the window was reflected in the chrome. My art teacher was visibly impressed when I brought the large canvas in to class for critique finally. That felt great, but all I knew was that I really loved to paint things that sparkled, and to try to make them jump off the canvas. Living in the Midwest, that meant my subject matter was cars, trucks, motorcycles and small town store windows usually. Eventually I realized that I was beginning to want to paint beyond the surface of the sparkle of glass and chrome, and began to try to capture the layers of depth I could see in the reflections themselves. Soon thereafter, our art instuctor took our painting class on a field trip to Chicago and I saw canvases by Richard Estes and Chuck Close for the first time. That was when I first heard the term “Photorealism”, as it was just becoming popular in New York. Not having any idea I was part of “a movement”, I continued to paint anything that caught my eye, after capturing it with my “Miranda” SLR and my one 35mm lens, then waiting days for the slides to be developed mail-order by Agfa-Gevaert. I had a real hunger for it by then, and painted only in acrylic simply because I was too impatient to wait for oils to dry. I had become fairly prolific, sometimes painting all night in my parents basement, staying up until dawn. (Just ask dad. He’s still annoyed that I had the stereo on all night, even with the headphones on!) I was beginning to get requests for commissions and started selling quite a bit locally. I’d charge $100-$250 a canvas to paint just about anything. And I loved it. I painted a lot of farmhouses, livestock, trucks and grain silos in those years. My Dad became my “sales rep”, promoting me to his farmer and trucker friends to get me work…worried that his oldest son had chosen a ridiculous way to make a living. My art teacher in junior college had told us that a career in art would not necessarily be a lucrative one, but that he also believed that success in anything was determined by your love for the work itself, and the perseverance in pursuing it. He also encouraged me to try to compete professionally and to exhibit on a broader scale, in larger shows and to aim for galleries. His name is Richard Dutton, and he is the most influential and significant mentor I’ve ever had in pursuing my career in the arts. I owe him much.
After junior college, I attended the Minneapolis College or Art & Design and next, The University of Iowa where I majored in painting and photography. I continued to do commissioned works while in college, much to the chagrin of professors and fellow students. I always had a conflict in art school, landing philosophically somewhere between the commercial/graphic arts department and the fine arts department, since I loved to “sell”, and that was somehow less noble in fine art. I won “The People’s Choice Award” for a painting of my brother’s Honda in the Iowa State Fair in the autumn of that year, which meant a lot to me since that award was determined solely by a majority of votes from the people of Iowa, not by art critics or jurors. Percival Galleries in Des Moines contacted me the next week. The curator asked my mom by phone if I had professional representation. She replied, “No, but Des Moines was much too far to drive, so ‘Thanks, anyway’”. I called back, and Mr. Percival gave me my first group-show in his gallery soon thereafter. The art reviews of my show compared me to Richard Estes in the newspapers, and I was obviously very pleased. The gallery also sold some of my work to their collectors, and I decided it was time to move to a large city and pursue this seriously.
I came to San Francisco in 1978. The movie “The Eyes of Laura Mars” had just been released starring Faye Dunaway. Her role as a fashion photographer fascinated me, but her gallery photos in the film, (that were actually those of Helmut Newton) were what really got to me. I was already shooting night-time photographs of department store windows on Union Square in San Francisco. But after seeing that movie, it added a fascination with fashion designers and mannequins themselves to my obsession with the plate glass reflections. Suddenly the mannequins came to life for me and I voraciously painted 12 very large canvases, one-right-after-another, of high-fashion window displays in Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, Gucci, I. Magnin & Hermes. I had my first California, one-man show in July of 1979. The show generated some favorable reviews in the San Francisco Examiner, ArtWeek and others and initial sales were good. The Emporium department store commissioned me to do 6 large canvases for their own display windows with the same mannequins posed next to them. During that period Elton John coincidentally had a performance in Berkeley. Having always been a huge fan and a pianist myself since I was 6 years old, I spontaneously yanked one of the paintings from the show and had it shipped directly to his dressing room as a gift. Naïve as I was, I really didn’t know if it would even get there. It was simply an honest gesture of pure appreciation for his immense talent and music. I had listened to his albums incessantly during the 70’s while I painted, and felt I owed him at least that for his inspiration. That night he phoned me from his hotel, told me that he liked the painting a lot and invited me over. I went to meet him, and the next day he purchased my remaining 9 canvases from the art gallery. Needless to say, I thought California was a pretty cool place to work by then. I had no idea how lucky I was at that point. Over the years Elton and I became friends and we still get together occasionally.
Somewhere in the mid-80’s, though, I had become interested in architecture as well. Since computers were not even around when I was in school, I decided to try my hand at computer graphics and taught myself AutoCAD, a computer-aided drafting software application. My partner, a professional architect named David Kalb, helped me get a job in the firm where he worked. I loved it immediately, and picked up 3D computer graphics skills along the way. Little-by-little the fine art took a backseat, while I pursued my new love of computer graphics. Soon CAD led me into 3D realistic, architectural “walk-throughs” and renderings, which led to game companies, where the stability, salaries and benefits from Silicon Valley companies were pretty enticing. Besides, entertainment software “simulators” were very similar to Photorealism. I also found that I loved managing and directing other artists and the skills I’d picked up in multi-million dollar construction accounting and business management combined nicely to make me a natural as an executive art director. So after two decades going from lead artist, to art director, to executive art director, having worked for AutoDesk, Microprose, Hasbro, and finally Electronic Arts, I realized finally that my heart and first-loves are still in fine art and architecture. Computer graphics is one area where I can combine them. How to combine them in sincerely fulfilling & profitable work is a constant challenge. But now in January 2020, I’ve turned my attention back to painting full-time. I intend to stay here now, too!
So I’m back to where I started in many ways; full circle but with a lot more experience. My current inspirations are David LaChapelle, Damian Loeb, Jenny Saville, Wayne Thiebaud, Herb Ritz, Steve Walker, the new work of Chuck Close, and the late Gianni Versace. My journey so far has sometimes been rocky but always fascinating. But I’m truly happy to be back where I belong. It’s a bit like starting all over again, which is exhilarating, having neither gallery representation, nor any substantial addition to my fine art resume as of this date! But do have new work in progress and someone in my life who believes in me, which is huge. I get up every morning smiling again now. Life is good!