Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bolles and the Grandmother Cell

It happened again. Just last week. I was on vacation in San Francisco, strolling down a very crowded Fisherman's Warf when that familiar tickle started crawling around inside my head. I'm not sure what part of the brain it originates from but there must be a group of neurons that have been assigned the job of spotting all things Bolles. Years ago a psychologist (Barlow, 1972, Gross, 2002) described the phenomenon as the Grandmother cell; a single neuron or group of neurons (Quiroga, 2008) that only fire when your grandmother, and only your grandmother, emters your visual field. The theory has been contested (e.g., Bowers, 2010)  but in one manner or another I am convinced that by training or habit I've managed to hard-wire a batch of brain cells to work just for Bolles. I wasn't even in this art gallery where this Bolles inspired piece (not an original, alas) was hanging, just passing by outside. But somehow before I knew why (Libet, 1985) I had backtracked a few steps and there she was. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this has happened before. Several years ago in the middle of Stockholm my spidey sense for Bolles starting tingling and there was another repurposed Bolles girl. Now if I could only fine-tune those brain cells so they would only home in on the real thing and not copies!

Barlow H.B.,(1972). Single units and sensation: a neuron doctrine for perceptual
psychology. Perception, 1, 371-394.
Bowers, J. (2010). More on grandmother cells and the biological implausibility of PDP models of cognition: A reply to Plaut and McClelland (2010) and Quian Quiroga and Kreiman (2010). Psychological Review, 117, 300-306.
   Gross C.G. (2002). Genealogy of the "Grandmother Cell". Neuroscientist, 8(5):512–518.
    Libet, B.(1985). Unconscious cerebral initiative and the role of conscious will in voluntary action. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 8: 529–566.
   Quiroga, R. et al (2008) Sparse but not ‘Grandmother-cell’ coding in the medial temporal lobe. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(3).



Monday, March 23, 2015

March 23: National Puppy Day!

No, don't get the wrong idea!  Bolles loved animals.  Although if frequency of appearance means anything he was nearly as fond of using turtles for props as puppies.  All this got me to thinking and so I took an informal survey of animal appearances on his covers.  Keep in mind that there are over 560.

What animal do you think won this Enoch's personal popularity contest?


Bird: 5
Puppy/dog: 4
Horse: 2
Fish: 2
Snake: 2
Polar Bear: 2 (one deceased)
Turtle: 2
Monkey: 2
Insect: 2
Lion: 1
Elephant: 1
Stingray: 1
Crocodile: 1
Shark: 1 (technically not a fish)
Squirrel: 1 (non pinup)
Rabbit: 1

That our fine feathered friends came in first should be no surprise. Bolles was a life-long bird watcher. Many of Bolles' letters are filled with his careful observations of bird behavior and migration. Continuing with this theme the next cover art survey will deal with a more serious matter, namely how much cigarette smoking went on, so stay tuned.  And also coming soon, a post about a real Bolles girl, a famous Hollywood starlet of the 1930s Bolles used for inspiration and who is still going strong at 102. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

World Bartender Day: February 24

Is she shaking up a Tornado or a Hurricane?  Either way our Bolls girl is displaying some serious mixology chops, though you're probably not focusing on her skills with the Boston shaker. This punchy cover hails from 1934, the year Bolles returned to Spicy Stories after it had undergone a change in ownership. 
Cast your eyes more closely on that shock of lilac crinoline. Doesn't it look like our man Enoch has hidden a message in it, not that I've had any luck decoding it. I'm reminded of the longstanding rumor that if you fold the covers of some pulp magazine just so, they end up revealing something extra. Not that Bolles' covers aren't already extra special.

Monday, February 2, 2015

World Ukulele Day

Some sweet strumming courtesy of our man Enoch. Both of these images were completed in 1931, a year which was not his strongest for Film Fun. It was during a period when Bolles' wife was slowly recovering from a serious illness and he was also dealing hard times brought on by the depression, casting far and wide for additional work.  But he struck gold with the alluring image of Sally Eilers for the movie Bad Girl. 
Yet as successful as this image was (it was used in the promotion campaign and even blown up to billboard size) it was perhaps his last assignment for Fox Pictures, a studio he was associated with beginning in 1923.  Unfortunately Bolles didn't get plucked by other studios, perhaps because so many had already pulled up stakes and moved to California.  If only Enoch had strung along with them!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Time and Again

It's a fact of life that illustrators busy with looming deadlines sometimes resort to "borrowing" from the work of their peers, be it general inspiration, a certain detail, a pose or the whole piece.  Bolles himself was routinely swiped by other artists of his time and still is today, but I have yet to find a solid example where he swiped from another artist.  Granted, he often worked from photos and in some cases changed nary a thing, but he must have had some personal code about lifting ideas from artists, or at least other artists. 
Take a closer look above at this original from 1925--the only surviving painting I'm aware of among the 23 covers he completed for Judge magazine--and you immediately notice that time-telling detail.  And then we fast forward to 1937 and we see another Bolles girl checking if she's late for an appointment.  Bolles would revisit a number of themes  throughout his career. There was a time when I pondered just how he could possibly keep track of it all, considering he painted at least 663 magazine covers (and counting). He certainly could have benefitted from some system to keep from overgrazing the same territory, if nothing else.  But it doesn't appear he kept a ledger of his work and he certainly didn't keep many of his paintings around in his studio, although these two are still around.  My own theory is that it was all in his head. Bolles had an amazing memory, which included a rather freakish ability to recall (or perhaps calculate) the last time a date and day coincided in the calendar (and if you're curious, the last time December 3 fell on a Tuesday was just last year, but prior to that you'd have to go back to 2002).
But I digress. The fun thing about these examples is that you get to see Bolles' reinterpreting an idea in the context of the era and through his evolving style.  And if you want a closer look the Judge painting is going up for sale this weekend at Freeman's auction house.  And with that I'll bid her adieu.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Nancy Caroll, born 11/19/1903 by Bolles

Proudly on display we have one of the very few portrait covers done by Bolles, completed in 1931.  The signature is much larger than any done for Film Fun but the art director (or type setter) apparently felt no compunction about laying a line of type right over it, and indignity Enoch suffered several times during his career. 

If you've seen examples of the so-called 'specially posed' Film Fun covers Bolles completed for Film Fun in the late 20's, you might not think he could do a decent likeness (the cover of Lupe Velez was the glaring exception in this series, and you can read more about that cover here), but he nails this one.  I only wish there were more, and my guess is they took Enoch a lot longer, and so he focused on his pinup covers.  Speaking of pinup, stay tuned because I'll be soon be posting an interview with Dian Hanson, author of the amazing, The Art of Pinup. She's devoted an entire chapter to Bolles. 

Friday, October 31, 2014