SPORTS ILLUSTRATED art director Craig Gartner had his professional epiphany as a teenager at a Rolling Stones concert. It was at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, and though his ticket was supposed to have consigned him to the back of the stadium, Gartner had sneaked past security to a seat at about the 15-yard line, so close to the stage that he could read Mick Jagger's lips. Yet what truly caught Gartner's eye that night was not the band but the garish mural that served as the stage's backdrop.
"It was this huge cartoony drawing with lots of bright colors—teal and yellow and pink," Gartner says. "I thought, Wow, somebody had to think that up and make it. And that started me thinking about art as a career."
Jagger is the one who sings about "what a drag it is getting old," but Gartner, 32, might not agree with those lyrics. He has been promoted three times since joining SI as a layout artist in December 1987, but in many respects he is still the same wide-eyed teenager at the concert with the cherubic face and the tendency to be amazed by the colorful world around him. Everything Gartner sees—be it MTV, The Flintstones, old record album covers or a sign he spots on his way to the YMCA—can be fodder for his work. "There's something everywhere, if you pay attention," he says.
Gartner honed his talent at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, from which he graduated in 1986. Today he oversees many aspects of the visual presentation of the magazine, from the choosing of type and creation of graphics to the organization of photos and the hiring of illustrators. Gartner is also in charge of many of our special issues—most recently the NFL Classic in September and last month's college basketball preview. "He's like the perennial teenager," says Steve Hoffman, SI's director of design/new media. "He really knows sports, but he seems to get most of his messages in life through the Rolling Stones."
Away from the office Gartner has also completed a few adult tasks in the last few years. He got married on Valentine's Day 1993 to Mary-Jane Oltarzewski, a graduate of New York Law School. In September the couple bought a home in Milltown, N.J., and since then they have made the house, built in the 1940s, into a repository of things old and colorful. Included in the decor are framed FORTUNE magazine covers from the '30s; authentic Oakland As uniforms from 1973, '74 and '77; and an original 1979 Andy Warhol print. "It was important to me to get a house with character," Gartner says. "To be able to put up with the chipped paint or scratched-up floor, you have to really appreciate the charm."
And should he feel an especially deep yearning for inspiration, Gartner can always pay a quick visit to his favorite record store—Cheap Thrills, near the Rutgers campus—where he can peruse the tall stacks of old albums for inspiration. "It reminds me of where I came from," Gartner says. "It also helps me stay young at heart."