by Wallace Wyss
I first met Bill Motta in 1969 when I was a newbie to the West Coast just signing on to Car Life magazine, a sister magazine. I think they hired me because they thought I was from Detroit and might know advertising people that would urge automakers to buy ads. I didn’t get them any ads and only a few months after I started, they closed out the magazine.
But I remember meeting Bill who was not only the art director of Road&Track but sometimes created illustrations himself and often hired free-lance artists.
I was already hooked on Road&Track when I was still in Detroit. I enjoyed the dramatic way the magazine began. A car engineer, John Bond and his wife, Elaine, had decided to make a magazine that reflected their interest in sports cars . Though the magazine was long identified with Newport Beach, it, was founded in 1947 in Hempstead, Long Island, by two friends, Wilfred H. Brehaut, Jr. and Joseph S. Fennessy. They managed to get out only six issues from 1947 to 1949. John Bond, a contributor, became the owner of the title and moved it to Southern California. They eventually built their own office building in Newport Beach on a hill overlooking the Pacific. Right from the start it was "fancier" than Motor Trend, appealing to a different crowd than any of the Petersen magazines (Motor Trend, HOT ROD, etc.).
Bill has always been an inspiration for me even before I joined the AFAS in 1996. I became aware of this amazing automotive illustrator and painter around the time I started ArtCenter to study transportation design. All of us at school couldn’t wait to see his latest creations in Road&Track. Bill was inspirational to so many of us because of his unique style and painting technique. When I first met him, so long ago now, I was so impressed not only by the talent of this person but by the type of man that he was. He was so down to earth, witty, knowledgeable, helpful, sincere, etc. but he was a beautiful person and everybody loved him. After I joined the AFAS, we became closer friends and he continued to encourage me to keep pushing the limits of my new work. It was always fun doing the shows with Bill. I had the honor of him doing a painting showing one of the tapestries I did and we swapped for one of my early sculptures. His wife and family were all adorable. He loved his wife so much and I enjoyed talking to them and listening to all their fantastic adventures from around the world. Just an amazing man and I’ll miss him.
Sad news indeed. I could write quite a letter dedicated to Bill and his work at Road&Track, his influence on my own and others viewing his work while at Art Center, his work for and with the ASAA and finally and for me the best his friendship. But I’m sure it would only be a faint echo of what the rest of his friend’s might write or say. So allow me to say that old cliche, he will be missed, missed personally by me, and he like so many other creative people who pass from our world he leaves a hole that will not be quickly filled.
In the early 70's, I was very much concentrating my efforts on my marketing career. I didn't do a lot of artwork myself or really paid much attention to automotive themed art beyond my responsibilities within the marketing sphere. Except once. I don't recall exactly exactly what the subject of the work was... I think it was the grill of a yellow or cream colored MG... but I clearly recall thinking to myself that this is what automotive "fine art" is all about. Bill's painting stepped outside and beyond the advertising art and design drawings of the period introducing the subtle element of "fine" art. Here we are, some 45years later and I still recall the impact of the work on me. That says something about Bill's contribution to the state of automotive themed art today. It also says that when he commented on your work, it really meant something. I finally got to meet Bill in 1989 when I became an AFAS member. I am honored and proud to have known him and his late wife Margit.
Bill was with AFAS from the beginning in 1981 right up to our latest Show at the New Masters Gallery in Carmel. He was my right hand in designing every AFAS Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance for 33 years. He and his wife Margit were pioneers in creating Automotive Art Exhibitions at Auto Expo in L.A, Las Vegas and The Newport Beach Concours d'Elegance all before AFAS formed. He also exhibited annually at the Laguna Art Festival. When looking at Bill's new work each year you would expect high quality but you also found new ideas . Every one of his paintings started with a new idea. He did all of this while holding his full time job as Art Director of Road and Track Magazine B.C. (...before computers). He also mentored many artists and published their wok in R&T and invited them to show with AFAS. Although he didn't need to own a car as he had access to new cars through R&T he did buy and keep until a few years ago one of the earliest Porsche's. It was the L.A. Auto Show display car in 1953. You can see his Porsche in many of his paintings. Although he was an Advertising Illustration major at ACS you can see that he also loved cars. In addition to his art Bill through R&T became a world traveler and especially loved Japan and created a beautiful Bonsai garden at his home in Newport Beach. Oh, did I mention he built models of ships and airplanes and collected hats!. He was an interesting guy and a good friend.
Bill taught me to be patient with the people who worked for me and not to be a micro manager. “You hired them so you should be confident in their abilities.” he said. This proved to be good advice because I had very little turnover at the magazines I worked for. Ski Magazine: 8 years, TAM Communications: two people were with me for over 17 years. When Ken Eberts co-founded the Automotive Fine Arts Society, Bill and I were a couple of the first to join. Ken and I were room mates after Art Center and we knew everyone in the automotive art world. Bill Neale, Ken Dallison, Hector Bergandi, Dennis Brown, Walter Gotschke, Russell Brockbank, Mark Stehrenberger, Stan Mott of Cyclops fame, and Dick Corson, were all contributors to Road&Track, even Charles Addams and so many more. Bill hired the best and had a great eye for illustrators outside of his own abilities. He was a graphic designer and that helped when he developed his paintings.
I have to say I was knocked out when he offered me a job. Some wonderful times developed as a result. Thanks Bill.
Although I’d been working with Bill for Road&Track over the phone, I’d never met him face to face. At the time, I’d only been asked to do black & white drawings for the magazine. I was thrilled when Bill finally called to see if I was up to creating a full two page spread with color and suggested we meet at the Newport Beach office to discuss the project at lunch. WOW! I was finally going to meet the great Bill Motta, Japanese illustrator and art director for Road&Track.. After checking in at the front desk and being sent up to the art department, I scanned the room for an Asian guy and heard “ Hi Dennis.” Standing right in front me was Bill Motta and my preconceptions, flew out the window. That was the beginning of some of the best times of my life. Bill became my mentor and my good friend - the kind of who doesn’t hesitate to listen and help with anything. I got to meet his wonderful family, Margit, little Drew and Cam as well as a lot of his friends and he didn’t hesitate to introduce me to new art directors and others in our field. I will never forget Bill for his steadfast friendship, love of art, sharp sense of humor and his generous spirit.
Bill Motta by Dennis Brown