Eighteen years ago today I married my best friend, the love of my life and luckily a woman with very low standards in men, Anna Voss. We are celebrating tonight with a fancy dinner out. 18 years has gone by in the blink of an eye. I’m a very lucky man. As much as I’d like to write about my lovely wife and the wonderful years we’ve shared, there is something else I need to write about today.
Last year on this day Anna and I also celebrated our anniversary with a fancy dinner out. Unfortunately we spent most of it staring into our plates and our wine glasses, having a hard time concentrating on toasting the joy of the previous 17 years. Our minds were elsewhere, because on that same day, September 23rd 2005, my friend of 20 years, a man who was a mentor, a surrogate older brother and one of the people who gave me my start in the art of caricature, Gary Fasen, died very suddenly of complications relating to his diabetes. Gary had just celebrated his 47th birthday. Nobody saw it coming or expected it in the slightest… it took us all by surprise. On my old website I had a memorial page to him, which was lost when I had the site redone. This blog post will have to serve the same purpose.
Gary Fasen was a gifted artist, cartoonist, caricaturist and illustrator. He and his brother, Steve, gave me a job drawing caricatures at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, IL in 1985 when I was the tender age of 18. Gary was the manager and lead artist at Great America, and as such was the person who taught live caricature to the hundreds and hundreds of young artists who worked with him over the twenty plus years they had the operation. He eventually bought out his brother and owned the operation himself, in addition to his own endevours. Gary’s illustration work was terrific, doing work for national publications including the “Limbaugh Letter” and for advertising. I still occasionally see his illustrations on candy displays in my local Blockbuster, which never ceases to make me smile because that artwork is so “Gary”.
Gary was an incredibly talented man, a generous person and one of the most genuine people I’ve ever had the privilege to know. He taught me to draw caricatures and to airbrush, he was a great friend and encouraged me to work hard to achieve my goals and dreams. His advice and direction to me has served as a guide all my adult life. Many National Caricaturist Network members and professional caricaturists knew Gary, who attended several NCN conventions, was instrumental in starting the careers of a lot of talented artists and was a mentor to many, many young caricaturists and cartoonists. He is greatly missed. The world is a poorer place without him. Some of his work is still up at his old website. I don’t know how long this will last, his old URL www.air-art.com no longer points to the site. I suppose it’s silly to think anyone will pay to have his website continue to be hosted after he has gone, but I hope it will. It would be sad to think his artwork will also disappear and will not be able to be seen and enjoyed by the world.
I remember Gary as a vibrant and funny guy who loved art and drawing. He was always there with advice and had a great deal of ‘common sense wisdom’. He was a down to earth guy, having come from a big family and working his way through college through is dad’s dairy business, where he spent several summers traveling to area dairy farms inseminating cows, which he described as being “up to his elbows is cowhood”. In fact he used to tell me that, although it had been ten years since he had done that particular job, there were still some cows in Minnesota that got misty-eyed when they heard his name.
Gary was also someone who was free with advice and support. He encouraged artists that worked with him to work hard to be the best they could be. He could be brutally honest. Once, on a long car ride with him back to Minnesota from the Six Flags park we worked at together in Illinois near the end of my first summer, he told me something I’ll never forget. He said very frankly that I was not the most naturally talented artist they’d ever had work for them, but that he expected me to go a lot farther in life and with my art than anybody he’d worked with so far because I had the “brains, ambition and plain old work ethic” to take my talents as far as I’d care to. I’ve remembered that round-about advice… that hard work and determination are as important, if not more important, than talent. I’ve tried hard not to let him down. He told me once not so long ago that he was proud of me. I was genuinely pleased and touched to hear that. He was like the older brother I never had… I wanted him to be proud of me. I owe him a lot.
Gary died one year ago today, on my wedding anniversary. I don’t think this day will ever go by without my thinking of him, but I hope in the years to come I can do so with more of a smile than I do today. His time of leaving us is still too near for that. Still, they say with the passage of time it becomes easier to celebrate a person’s life at these times than remember the sorrow of their deaths. I hope that is the case. Then I’ll have two things to celebrate every September 23rd. Tonight Anna and I will toast him, and hopefully be able to get on with the enjoyment of our evening together.
We all miss you, Gary. Peace.
Self-caricature by Gary
In Memory of Gary Fasen
September 9, 1958- September 23, 2005
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