Monday, July 27, 2009

Walk on Stilts Day?!

Yes, it is. Really! Once again, we have a perfectly topical example by Bolles on hand to help us in acknowledging this most inexplicable of celebrations. And what a great example she is. I love the bows and how the tails drape behind her. She's having no trouble at all negotiating the stilts even with those pumps. Our Bolles girl is certainly no klutz.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

True Inspiration!

The classic illustration blog Today's Inspiration celebrated its 1,000th post yesterday. It's probably safe to assume most of you are well familiar with TI (I get more feeds from it than any other site on the internet). Started four years ago by the commercial illustrator Leif Peng, TI is a wide ranging survey on illustration that balances entertainment with erudition. And of course it is chock full of fabulous scans of great art. Leif's most recent series of posts has been on the manifold genius of Al Parker, but for me (and I suspect many other followers) it is his entries on the many the long forgotten talents that are most inspirational. With passion and conviction, Leif reminds us again and again that there was a time--not that long ago--when illustration was a vibrant, influential field teeming with talent and imagination.

I also owe Leif a personal note of gratitude. Two years ago my Enoch Bolles flickr site was 'erased' by an anonymous sysadmin because the scans I posted weren't mine. Leif was sympathetic to my cause and graciously provided me space in TI to write about Enoch Bolles and present some of his art. The enthusiastic feedback I got inspired me in turn to make the leap to create my own blog (shoutout to the Dawl for making it look so good), and Leif''s support has also spawned several other illustration blogs. So let's all raise our glasses to toast Leif and let him know we are looking forward to the next one thousand posts on TI.
P.S.: Leif has posted his top 10 most downloaded images. Can you guess the theme? PINUPS!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Upped-skirts, Downed Panties and Other Pinup Clichés

There's a very amusing post at Illustration Art on the physics of pinup illustration. Unfortunately it made light of a subject worthy of more gravitas. So today debuts the first in a series of occasional lectures on the topic of pinup clichés. We must begin by acknowledging that a pinup is de natura iure itself a cliché, and so our endeavour will focus on the various subspecies made so popular by the leading pinup practitioners. Among them a special shout out (shout at?) must go to Art Frahm. He was the first to document the weird phenomenon of the opposing forces of updraft and gravity well, originating approximately at the girl's kneecaps with the result of a simultaneous upskirt and panty drop. In most cases Frahm embellishes the composition by the addition of the so-called lucky leerer and inexplicably celery, as first observed by the pop-culture commentator James Lileks. On our right we feature a rare example of a Frahm front flank updraft, which seems to have aroused as much enthusiasm (at least in the postman whose appointed rounds have come to a screeching halt) as would be expected from the more common rear orientation. The final element is the orientation of girl's face. For the sake of the composition but forsaking logic, her embarrassment is directed to the viewers of the painting rather than the lucky leerer, despite the fact that we are out of the site-line of the naughty bits.

Gil Elvgren is another of the upskirt devotees and he painted several examples early in his career, which began in the late 1930s. Clearly seen in these examples is his singular contribution to the genre; namely the pursed lips variation to the more general expression of abashment endemic to the pinup world. Elvgren used this expression only occasionally in his earliest work but by the 1970s (see example on right), the "Limpet"--as some disparagingly refer to it--became the standard of the Elvgren girl. Judge for yourself whether the term is apt.

The previous setups are variations on the more generic Klutz as depicted here by K.O. Munson. In most examples the girl is shown suffering from a moment of athletic ineptitude but other examples entirely forgo the pretense of a setup. We are led to belief the girl simply lacks the basic motor skills required for bipedalism.
So where does Enoch Bolles fit in this discussion. It must be acknowledged that Bolles resorted to, if not created, many of the standard setups including the upskirt, the snagged skirt, the klutz, the girl astride beach toy, the girl with terrier, dressed in a tea towel, sleepy time girl, hairpin pose as well as many others. Yet there is a telling difference to the Bolles girl and that is her remarkable lack of self-consciousness. Caught in a situation that would shame others, she registers no embarrassment at all. Take a look at these examples and you'll see her unique temperament. True, our Spicy Stories girl may simply be unaware of her condition but you can't say the same for the girl on the cover of this 1937 issue of Film Fun. Miss Bo Peep blithely deals with her prediciment where the Driben girl registers obvious annoyance.

The final two covers are even more emblematic of the Bolles difference. Here we see standard setups for the upskirt and klutz. Most pinup girls would have been mortified but the Bolles girls are having a good time, and I hope you have too. Class dismissed.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The $ Game

Yesterday Heritage auctions sold off another wing from the warehouse of works from the Martignetti collection. The prices for the Bolles paintings on the auction block as well as some of his other pinups were in a word, astonishing. The previous record for Bolles at auction was a bit over 38 grand at an Illustration House auction held several years ago. It was the painting was for this cover of Breezy Stories published in 1937 (for some reason a lot of paintings from 1937 have survived) and when you look at the magazine cover (gotta love that nameplate) it's easy to see why bidders were so motivated.

But the prices realized yesterday put Bolles in a whole new ballgame. His top item was the Slipping Beauty cover for the February, 1935 issue of Film Fun. There's no doubt that it is a special Bolles but I was shocked to see that when the mallet fell the winning bid topped $65,000! It went more than the Petty's, the Vargas pinups for Playboy and even a really nice Elvgren (though two other Elvgren's went for an incomprehensible 200 grand!!). Unless pinup collecting has suddenly become a hobby of Goldman Sachs traders, it is hard to fathom this recent surge of interest. On one hand I'm pleased to see works of Enoch Bolles gaining wider recognition and interest (you can see a video of a couple of the paintings and other nice examples from Martignetti's collection at the Heritage auction web site) but on the other hand it bodes poorly for many collectors who might hope someday to own their own original. A few people have given me a bit of grief for contributing to this trend, but I sincerely doubt that anything I've written about Bolles has had an impact on this. I hope not, at least not until after I get my hands on that one particular Bolles original I pray is still out there sitting in somebody's closet, begging for a new home.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Skin Game

I've just been reading a recent post in an art blog (to remain anonymous) which I typically enjoy, but not today. The post is on the topic of skin. High praise is accorded to classic artists and illustrators who dutifully chart every scar, mole, blemish and age spot. But when the example turns to pin-up artists the tone of the goes red. It is true, pin-up artists invariably make skin tones pure and rosy, glowing without the slightest taint of imperfection that the blogger and his pantheon of followers hold so praiseworthy. Not surprisingly the entire genre of pin-up received repeated lashings from the tip of a wet Windsor & Newton Kolinsky Sable brush. One comment in particular zeroed in on our man Bolles with a particularly snooty aside (comparing his girls to Gumby!) and as you might anticipate, that set me off. But first, a personal disclosure. Generally speaking I am not a pin-up fan. There are yards of it that I find insipid, misogynistic, poorly rendered or just plain dumb (think Art Frahm). But there is the good stuff and of course there is Enoch Bolles, who we all know by now was much more than just a pin-up artist. Plus it is simply unfair to compare salon artists with commercial illustrators who in the case of Bolles had the responsibility of eight mouths to feed while the economy was sunk in deep depression. Even back in his day there was a snobbery about what was called art-art versus commercial art. The debate was so serious that the guys who ran the big billboard companies would occasionally go to the absurd extreme of pasting up reproductions of classical paintings on outdoor billboards. Others claimed the art in their ads was the equivalent of fine art and so they were doing the public a service (Ha!).

Miriam Hopkins, by Enoch Bolles circa 1935. Unpublished as far as I know. As much as I admire Bolles' treatment of her skin, it's the amazing attention to her hair that really jumps out. This example should put to rest the notion that Bolles was merely a 'cartoonist'.

But back to Bolles. Skin-or at least skin color-was something he obsessed over all his life. He did not resort to tube colors or other quick fixes and in fact was continually tinkering with how to get it just right. He was trained in classic methods of painting by Robert Henri and other instructors at the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design and was a keen observer of classic artists (one of these days I'll get around to posting his commentary on the techniques he thinks were used to paint the Mona Lisa). To give you an idea of Bolles' passion for getting "picture making" right, I've transcribed portions of two among the dozens of letters he exchanged with his daughter, Liza, who was a talented artist in her own right. Their correspondence involved a discussion of both theory and technique and they also exchanged study paintings. It's worth pointing out that Enoch was writing these letters from a mental hospital where he had spent nearly three decades! If there is any evidence against him "dying a mad-man" as as been claimed, then this is it. His writing reveals him to be engaged both intellectually and culturally. He was widely read and knowledgeable about an amazing range of subjects. But best of all the letters revealed his keen sense of humor and kindliness. The reality having to endure life in a hospital that housed over 7,000 patients did not rob Bolles of his humanity or sap his spirit.

Note: these are exerpts out of much longer letters. You'll notice that Enoch uses a sort of short-hand to describe certain techniques.

Enoch to daughter Liza, September, 1965 (subject: on painting a mango)

In your tilts with paints have you discovered that doing that tantalizing surface, or human skin, or an egg, depends upon a delicate progressive graying of the color from the third lighted hue on down? Lesson: mix orangy color of mango, red and yellow-this paled with white is your #2 circle with tiny bit of white in centre, #1. (Note: there is an illustration in the letter that corresponds to these numbers). To #2 mixture (orange and white) add very slightest amount of color (orange, red and yellow) and imperceptible amount of graying (blue) which will be #3, these three being your highlight. Now to #3 add small amount of color (orange) and gray slightly with blue and you have #4, the first halation from highlight. Add more color and slightly more blue #5, second halation. To this add enough color to be the true color of mango, gray slightly, #6. From here down in narrowing courses, enough in number to meet shadow, continue to add color plus red, more and more red as tone darkens and gray these with blue or black. This is not complicated after you have tried, made your mis-mixtures, finally got color and form. Of course mangos, vary in color but win your knowledge with one color of orange or light orange. If you haven't already mastered this you will be surprised by the illusion of color and form right up to the tiny brightest spot which is so important. You'll need red sable water color brush [illustrated in the letter] and of course, small flat red sable oil brushes. You will need many goes to get right mixtures and smooth blending but then you'll have a fascinating toy that most or many, painters don't have. Think of it this way; #6 is the color of mango-all above that is a sort of light-cap spreading over lighter than the true color part. Below #6 is easier, local color going down into redder hues properly grayed.

Enoch to Liza, 1968 (They had been mailing an oil portrait painted by Liza back and forth)

Our girls' neck is too dark, too red in front. Don't try for sterno-mastoid here, it would confuse you. Be led by the treatment of the copy I sent you. General color of light on front of neck, grayed red with tiny addition of yellow to match appearance but not quite brightness of face. Then match my spots of pink on cheeks and carry almost full length of cheek. Not pure pink. No made with parent color which I think was vermilion with little yellow added. Grayed of course by mixing vermilion with hue next above it and tiny bit of black. Be careful to match my grayed pink.

Now with the tiny reflected light. It is dependent upon the so-called third line which separates it from darkest lighted part of face as you see-in flesh this third line is usually made with red, black, very little which. The reflected light is usually red (more orange) bit of black, much lighter as you see, yet it can be the color of the reflecting light, whatever that may be. In modeling a garment, which the third line can be blue, almost pure, an illusion in bright lighting. Look at this old Leyendecker Post cover, double lighted, warm, cool. You will see third line running between the lights everywhere.