First Indiana "official artist" for the 500

Walter Knabe gets the honor

May 12, 2010
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Indianapolis-based Walter Knabe has been named the official artist of this year's Indianapolis 500. Past Indy 500 artists include Peter Max and LeRoy Neiman. Knabe is the first Hoosier to land the gig.

Knabe, who has worked with Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, has been a staple on the Indianapolis art scene for the past 15 years. His work is featured in the private collections of Neil Simon, Spike Lee, Bill Cosby, Madonna, Michael Jordan and Caroline Kennedy and has been publicly presented at Trump Plaza, the Paris Casino in Las Vegas, Walt Disney World and the White House.

I haven't seen the 500 work yet (it will be revealed this month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway), but I'll safely say that whatever Knabe creates will be a marked improvement over that of 2009's Thomas Kinkade.

Find an IBJ review of a recent Knabe show here.

Your thoughts?

  • Not so fast...
    Ron Burton, a long time Speedway fixture and well known Hoosier auto racing artist painted for IMS since the late '60s/early '70s. He's done a few 500 program covers and his work was exhibited at the IMS Museum for several years.
    • Named the Official Artist of the Race
      Yes, while that may be true for Ron Burton, Walter Knabe is the FIRST Indiana-based artist to be NAMED The Official Artist of the Indianapolis 500. There is a different distinction for artists of the race and those given the "official title".
    • What about Todd Reifers
      Todd Reifers was not just based in Indianapolis, he was born here. I forget which year and could not find it on a search, but he did the program artwork once.
      • Todd Reifers
        The year was 1987.
      • Not the first...
        Although I am not the first Indiana artist to do the cover, I did do the 1987 cover for the Speedway and as posted above Ron Burton has doe a few also. Please correct your information and do some research before you post.
        Todd Reifers
        Indianapolis IN
      • First Indiana 500 cover artist
        Okay, here's the straight scoop on the cover artists for the Indianapolis 500 Official Program since 1982.
        I was the art director for the Speedway from 1982 until 2001 as a contract supplier. Along with former IMS VP, Bill Donaldson we decided who was to be the cover artist. The first year that I designed the program, 1982, the cover was a photograph montage assembled by me and shot by Indianapolis photographer, Bill Tobias. The second year of my tenure, 1983 we used San Francisco artist, David Grove. In 1984 Indianpolis Sculptor, Roger White created the cover piece. By this time we had begun using international know artists and Indiana artists in alternate years but foreseeing 1986 being the 75th anniversary year and a year that we would want an internationally know artist we used Indiana artist, Ron Burton for 1985. As stated before, in 1986 we used the the late internationally known Bernie Fuchs for the cover which was our first gate fold cover. In 1987 the renown Indiana artist, Todd Reifers produce the art and in 1988, the late internationally known artist Bob Peak produced the cover art. In 1989 Seattle Illustrator, Jim Dietz, did the cover art and in 1990 another Indiana artist, glass sculptor, Stuart Gaunt, created the artwork. In 1991, Bernie Fuchs' art was again on the cover and this artwork received the Gold Medal for that year's Society of Illustrators Annual Awards. In 1992 no less than 6 national and international artists were used for the artwork, all on one cover, with Indiana artist Dave Taylor being one of those illustrators. By 1993 onward until the end of my tenure, by the decision of the management, all the artists were to be of international status. In 1994 it was Ken Dallison, 1995 David Grove, 1996 Jim Dietz, 1997 Philip Castle, 1998 poster artist, Dennis Simon, 1999 Bart Forbes, 2000 David Grove, and in 2001 it was a lenticular, 3D motion cover which I assembled, so at the end of my involvement was about where it started.
        I don't know all the designers and artists following the end of my tenure but I do know that gifted Indiana artist, Greg Beall did do the 2006 cover.

        I hope this somewhat clears up the debate.
        • Poster Artwork by Hoosiers
          Several years ago, there was a long-standing partnership between the IMS and Herron
          School of Art that resulted in a poster competition. Under the guidance of Illustrator & Instructor Kathleen O'Connell, students would create posters showing various aspects of the race. The winning poster would be reproduced and given away or sold to the public. The posters were strong examples of the excellent work done by Herron students and a huge HIT with the public! To my knowledge, this competition is no longer - its a shame. Thanks Lou
        • "official"
          Thanks for the information. To clarify, I never said that Indiana artists had never been associated with teh 500, done work for the 500, or had their work featured on the program cover or poster.

          According to IMS, "Knabe is the first Indiana-based artist to be named the Official Artist of the Indianapolis 500."

          If that is incorrect, please let me--and IMS--know.

          Thanks for reading.

          Lou Harry
          • source
            Here's a link to the IMS info on Knabe:
          • Now it's "Official"
            What took IMS a long time is to annoint the artist creating the art or graphic with the honorific "Official". Prior to the Official Artist of the Centennial Era Thomas Kinkade (gag me), I find no prior use of the word Official for any year's artisit or graphic designer. Do you? So no one ever held that title before that I can find.
          • Official Artist is different than cover design
            The Indianapolis 500 has not always had the designation of "Official Artist of the Indianapolis 500". Certainly there were artists from Indiana that designed the cover. The Official Artist designation has been a newer thing (over the last decade or so) with artists like Peter Max, LeRoy Neimann, Knabe etc. The artists with this new designation do more than design the cover. This is not a negative comment about our fellow Hoosiers who have designed the covers. However, the official artist, here, created a separate painting, is doing work for the Indy 500 Jewels and Jeans Charity, and much more. There is a lot more to it these days than in years past. The Motor Speedway does not hire or ask an artist to do the cover anymore. It is a more expansive position now. The author's facts are correct.
            • print makes it "OFFICIAL"
              It is my belief that "Official" means it is endorsed by and approved by the IMS and when it goes to press...IT IS OFFICIAL! Nuf said.
            • "Official"
              During the eighties and nineties the cover art was used, in addition to the OFFICIAL Indianpolis 500 Program, the OFFICIAL Indianapolis 500 Poster, the OFFICIAL Indianapolis 500 Media Fact Book, plus on a few occasions, other OFFICIAL Indianapolis 500 material. I sort of agree with Todd, if an artwork is used on all those OFFICIAL publications I think it has to be considered OFFICIAL. For the Public Relations department of the IMS to state Mr. Knabe as the first OFFICIAL Indiana artist sounds to me like a minor blunder considering the Hoosiers who were so honored, if not OFFICIALLY, before. If this is incorrect, the multitude of attorneys chasing copyright infringements for IMS should probably ignore 'unauthorized' reproductions of the cover art. But dimes to donuts they would never do that.
            • Master Artist
              Dear John, thomas Kinkade's master artwork
              of the 100th running is wonderful and even
              features Leroy Neimann sitting next to
              Norman Rockwell and others. Can you find
              Dale Earnhart in the crowd? Check for yourself
              Why do a few think it is "cool" to put this
              amazing American artist down? I don't read
              any reason for it in the article. God bless!
            • Stuart Gaunt
              Does anyone know where Stu Gaunt might be.
              Stu did a glass etching of my bird dog about 16-17 years ago. Lost contact over the years and would like to get a hold of him.

              Thanks for the help

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