The Automotive Art of “AF and VK”

By Peter Stevens

The mastery of Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman

It was not long after joining the design department of the Ford Motor Company way back in 1970, having graduated from London’s Royal College of Art Vehicle Design School, that I made a great discovery. Nosing around in the bottom drawer of the Exteriors Studio’s big old plans chest, I came across some ’60s Pontiac sales brochures.

The studio was about to clear out what they called “a load of old junk” – previous designers’ work, a few ancient, dog-eared magazines, sheets of “old fashioned” Canson colored paper, and some past Pontiac brochures.

Inside the brochures were not photographs but fantastic illustrations done by two people whose initials at that time meant nothing to me – AF and VK, or occasionally VK and AF.

Before the internet became an astounding source of information, it was difficult to find out who these anonymous characters were. AF was Art Fitzpatrick and VK was Van Kaufman.

It was at Mercury that Art Fitzpatrick proposed Van Kaufman as a fellow illustrator, the start of 24 years of professional collaboration and 43 years of close friendship. Uniquely, they worked both together and separately; they would travel to locations that they thought would make the type of backgrounds that suited Pontiac’s objectives of expressing high-style living and exotic pastimes.

Something that you notice about AF and VK illustrations is that no one is ever looking at the car. There may be one person or a couple interacting with someone sitting in the car, but it is that personal interaction that is the focus. Or there may be one or more persons leaning against the car looking away from it.