(Music playing.) I have here a really early painting that I had done. It's dated 1981. And it's not framed. It's been sitting in drawers since then. When this was done, this was a bright blue sky. This was a charcoal gray building. Now you can just about make out the lines, the separations in the bricks, but most of the detail, at this point, is gone. So these things weren't really archival.
They weren't meant to last forever. But I didn't expect my artwork to last forever. I was doing it just for fun and for the experience of it. So I was born in Manhattan. I was born in New York City. We lived in Harlem at the time, Spanish Harlem, back up on 138th Street and Broadway. All through elementary school I was always drawing. I was always getting in trouble because I was constantly drawing. I used to draw the Alamo with 4,000 little Mexicans charging in. I used to love to draw all the time.
And when I was applying for high schools, it was the nun, my teacher in the eighth grade, who suggested that I try out for the High School of Art and Design. Because she says, "You know, you have got in trouble for drawing. Why don't you do it professionally?" So I tried out for the High School of Art and Design, and I made it. I got into Art and Design, which was in Manhattan. So all of a sudden I was leaving the neighborhood and going to Manhattan, and then it was a whole awakening for me. I actually started learning how to compose things, how to properly illustrate things, lighting, all kinds of stuff.
When I got out of high school, I wanted to go to college, and we were poor. So back then, there wasn't all the opportunities you have now, so I joined the Marine Corps, so I would get the GI Bill so I could go to college. And then I got a job in an ad agency, my very first job in an ad agency. I was going to be working in the Bullpen - Bullpen, a term they used to use, which is where the mechanical artists were. The mechanical artists, which today would be the guys who are working in InDesign. Back then they were the guys using rubber cement or waxers and pasting up all the stuff, which was fun in those days.
Once I had become a Creative Director, then each job I went to I went as a Creative Director, which wasn't as much fun, because Creative Director didn't - the only actual hands-on that I had was basically sketches on cocktail napkins during lunch with the client. I didn't actually do work. I would just be directing art directors on what they are going to do and so on. So it wasn't as much fun, and I liked getting my hands dirty and management didn't like that. They wanted me to be the manager. They didn't like that I socialized with my workers.
That wasn't my job. My job was to sit in my office and be grumpy. So I did that for a little over a year, and I left and went into my own business again. I started another small agency, doing catalogs again. And it was there that I took a partner, who was going to be my account man, and he told me that we had to computerize. And I said, "Okay. We will get a computer, but don't expect me to be sitting in there entering data." He said, "No." He said, "There is a new computer coming out that you can actually do layouts on." So I went down to the store in Manhattan and looked at this little Macintosh 128, and I said, "Well, it's cool." I picked up the mouse, and I did a little box. "That's cool." And I selected the box and moved it over - "Oh. That is cool." I could move things around.
Then I accidentally discovered a thing called FatBits, which allowed me to zoom in, and all of a sudden I was at the pixel level, and that clicked. Something in my head clicked and said, this is it. This is the media of the future. Because I used to work large to get detail in my paintings, but now I felt I could zoom in. It's only black and white and big giant pixels, but I felt that this was going to grow. So I just went crazy into that computer. I was in that store every day until my computer was delivered. I was doing demos of MacPaint in the store.
I had mastered it sitting in the store everyday. They let me play. They just let me there, and they saw it as a good thing because customers would come in and they would see me doing stuff. So I became kind of almost like a salesman. So I was doing demos in MacPaint, and then when I got my own machine, I completely got submerged into the machine, gave up the ad work, stopped the whole ad agency thing and started a whole business around the Mac.
In Bonus Features, Bert talks about the differences between digital and traditional art and how he chooses reference material for his paintings.