Sunday, December 27, 2009

More Smilby on Bolles

During my visit with Francis "Smilby" Smith, I got to pore over his wonderful collection of illustrated books and rare periodicals. It was especially exciting to hold magazines in my hands I had seen only in books or as scans off the web. But there was one issue in particular I was disappointed to have missed...until I took a trip to the loo, and there she was hanging on the wall, staring right back at me with those piercing eyes. The situation was not without some irony. Francis was a staff artist for Playboy and one of his perks was a free lifetime subscription. There were decades of them stacked upstairs. Yet there wasn't a lone issue of Playboy to be found in his bathroom (and no, I wasn't looking). Francis was also a personal friend of Alberto Vargas, but it wasn't one of his girls who was confronting me. It was a Bolles girl and it was that one. The one who moved beyond the merely provocative and who had ventured deep into the territory of transgressivness. In her time she would be labeled as nothing short of pornographic; the argument would still be made by some yet today. Of course none of this was lost on Francis and here's what he had to say about her in Stolen Sweets:
...
"An exceptionally fine but curiously disturbing image that, facially at least, has more than a touch of Lolita about it. The conflicting images--modesty and a steady open gaze--combine with the setting--a sense of a forbidden something suddenly illuminated from the depths of a cavern--to give this cover a strangely charged eroticism."

I must admit that when first coming across this cover in Francis' book some years ago, I was unsure whether Bolles had painted her or not. Aside from being unsigned and appearing on an obscure 'smoosh' mag, it just seemed to be to be too much in all aspects. Too nude, too young and even too painterly. There were of course, several signature statements that eventually gave Bolles up as her creator, but why he put so much into a painting that may have paid him as little as $60 and could have gotten him tossed into the slammer is an equation I still haven't worked out.

11 comments:

Thomas Haller Buchanan said...

This has always been my favorite Bolles, before I knew it was a Bolles. If I recall correctly, this was one of the images that Playboy ran when it did an article about the so-called girlie pulps, which is the first time I learned about the genre.

So you're saying that the original painting was hanging in the john? Yow.

Jack R said...

Hi Thomas,
Sorry but it was merely the magazine, not the original painting. I need to go back and 'modulate' my message a bit. I think there are no remaining originals from Stolen Sweets :(
But as I recall this was one of the images in the Playboy article, which I think was an excerpt taken from the book (which was published by Playboy).
Best,
Jack

darwination said...

Thanks for the nice big cover scan, this image is gorgeous. The colors are a lot richer and you can see more detail than in the (lovely) page from Smilby's book, the painting really comes alive. She's really got a come hither thing going which I agree is startling for Bolles. There's a sense of privacy here, where a lot of Bolles' girls seem to be more openly on display or conscious of something like the camera's eye...

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Jack R said...

Well, thanks. I appreciate this because everyone once and a while I feel like I'm running out of steam. Not to fear, even if that becomes the case I've got lots of great visuals on hand that will keep the blog going.

Dominic Bugatto said...

Lovely piece.

50sme said...

I want to say thanks for the excellent posts and perfect images. I look forward to visiting. Please keep up the wonderful work!

Jack R said...

Well thank you, 50sme and glad to have you here.

Anonymous said...

What..! No Panties!! How did this one get past the eagle eyed 1920s censor? Glad it did though... 10/10 again Mr Bolles, where ever you are.

Jack R said...

These magazines were kept hidden under counters or in pool halls. If the censor found them, the dealer was headed to the slammer.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jack R,

Censorship is just our political masters telling us what to think and feel. But it does tell thinking people someting about the way they're being brainwashed, from the cradle to the grave. Some intelligent writer guy hit the nail on the head when he wrote in 1905...

'If a group of men marched down the road waving weapons of death, (soldiers with guns,) they would be greeted with patriotic cheers... If the same men were to march down the same road waving weapons of life, people would react in horror and have them arrested for public indecency.'

And a century later... Nothing has changed.

Alan