Saturday, January 2, 2010

Popular in the 60's, Gil Elvgren

Gil Evgren was an American illustrator who did what was called the 'cheesecake" style of illustration. I am including his work here because he was popular in the 60's and before, but more because I want to show his work on my blog. This seemed to be a good place to do it. His command of the figure was excellent and his rhythmic and stylish drawing is similar in a way to the Heinrich Kleys I showed the other day. There is a good series of posts going on over at the underpaintings blog that you should go see here. There is a web site devoted to his art called where I found these images. You can go there and see a whole lot more.

I hope you are not scandalized by these somewhat risque images, however I AM willing to live with it if you are. Think of them as figure painting and look for the qualities of fine art in them and I think you will get my point. These are very well done. The expert on Gil Elvgren is Louis K. Meisel his extensive site is here. Born in 1914, Elvgren was a phenomenally successful illustrator and probably the finest "pinup" artist who ever lived. He worked for all the major magazines of the mid twentieth century such as the Saturday Evening Post and for the biggest advertising clients, like Coca Cola. He was best known, however, for the pinup art he did for Brown and Bigelow, a Minnesota company best known for their calenders.

His art is in the tradition of Howard Chandler Christie and Charles Dana Gibson ( I know, I know, I will blog about them some day too) and is pretty tame by today's standards. I don't think it was really out of the mainstream then either.

I will break out some of the qualities of the piece above. First of all it is irresistibly good natured. There is none of the cynicism or graphic nastiness of pornography. The story is absurd, this teacher, has jumped up on her desk chair to avoid an attacking gift frog, in the process revealing her legs and some sort of primitive lingerie apparatus from the pre Peggie Lipton era. The teacher's body is in a nice pose, with the body as a big "S" curve, using the head turned to look at the oncoming amphibian, completing the "S".

The whole picture is up in a high key with the only dark notes clustered around the exposed drumstick area. The green skirt, the black tops on her nylons and the dark cast shadow on the blackboard to her right, all draw your attention to the punchline. The cowgirl up top has the same device, the only big dark in the painting, the leather chaps, provide strong contrast behind the legs and accidental pink lingerie display and exposure mishap vignette.

Notice how simplified all of the lights are. Early in this blog, many months ago I railed against overmodeling, or dirtying up your lights. Here is a great example of the results that can be had by keeping your reserve over on the light side of the figure. The thighs, the white shirt and her face are all kept simple and clean. Elvgren used photo references to do his art, as do most, or maybe all illustrators, but he knew how to get a fine art look, rather than just copying the values dumbly. Anybody can use a photo, not having the photo use you is the hard part.

Notice the warm shadows on her legs, between the upper leg bicylindrical section, on the side of the face and in her hair. You see a consistent unifying value and color temperature. Warm paintings are usually preferred to cold ones. Life is warm, death is er............cold. A painters trick for bringing a portrait or a figure to life is to heat it up, particularly in the shadows. It is a convention but it works.

The two apples hint at other figurative characteristics.

Believe it or not, tomorrow I will return and further analyze this painting. I want to draw some lines on it in photoshop and discuss Elvgrens use of form, see you then.


jeff said...

Now that's a interesting take on the Frog and Princess tale...

I love this period of illustration.
Another great one for this kind of thing was Andrew Loomis. Although I don't think he was doing things this suggestive.

billspaintingmn said...

Thanks for this one Stape.
It interests me greatly, as I have been a fan of Elvgren always.
Elvgren & Rockwell knew there stuff, and served it up to "us" hungry consumers like fast food!

innisart said...

Love the analysis: can't wait to read more tomorrow!

Mary Bullock said...

Stape - when do we get to see the night landscape that you painted for Christmas this year?

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't think this frog is going to get kissed.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There were so many fine illustrators in my grandparents generation.Going deep into those is for different blogs though I think. Maybe I should throw out an index to some of those.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, I will try to make it good.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have a business reason why I can't post it yet. I will get back to you though I will post it eventually.