Well, with the gallery closed and all of us secured at home, and me and Susan in Sagaponack, I have decided to amuse myself and hopefully some of my readers.
The BIG words herein are Harvey Weinstein, ME/TOO, Casting Couch, ILLUSTRATION and Greg Hildebrandt.
About 22 or so years ago, not long after my book “The Great American Pin-up” was published, and about the time my Gil Elvgren Book came out, I had the pleasure of a visit at the gallery by an artist I felt was one of if not THE finest Illustrators of that time, as one of the Brothers Hildebrandt…GREG.
The pin-up artists of the 30’s to 70’s had been a segment of those artists called illustrators who maintained the skills, development and interest in realist representation throughout the years culminating in, and through the great American art movement Abstract Expressionism, which had then totally obliterated and discarded realist painting. In the years following that mid-century period, realist painting DID return to great strength and interest in the high art world, with POP art and New Realism and ultimately Photorealism, but the art of illustration succumbed to the CAMERA. Interestingly, though, the undenied use of the camera at the same time contributed to a movement which became the finest painting in realism to ever exist, THAT Photorealism.
While I grew up enamored with and being involved with the AbEx artists, and then the Pop artists some of whom I actually represented in my SoHo gallery, and until they died. I opened my gallery on Madison Avenue in late 60’s to represent the artists I THEN named as the Photorealists. But, while NOT representing, showing or selling their work, I did begin collecting the art of the artists who got my attention on calendars and in magazines when I was just 12 to 14 years old, in the early 50’s These were and are the pin-up painters. In the early 80’s however I did decide that they deserved, historically, as an American genre to be seen in a serious gallery. I had no worries about “Art” pubic opinion just as I didn’t with the Photorealists, who were by now an accepted American movement. I was showing art which people LIKED TO LOOK at as opposed to their current motivations at present which involve investment so-called status and prestige.
Recently while discussing the planned crowning achievement of my classical music support and presentation second career, the presentation of all 5 Rachmaninoff piano concertos in ONE evening at Lincoln center, I was told by a fellow Rachmaninoff lover that he had read in a book on classical composers that this master’s work was for the philistines! I had heard the same comments a couple of times over the years about Photorealism. And what did that mean? That it was for the common man..and women, uneducated, unsophisticated and simply interested in a pleasurable visual or auditory experience, through eye and ear, which WAS the motivation for human beings through thousands of years. Anyway, I have proceeded and will continue to show, present, exhibit, document and support these two genres, Pin-up illustration and Photorealism, and the more romantic of the classical composers.
OK, now back to Greg Hildebrandt. When we first met back in the 90’s, he exclaimed how much he liked and cared about the pin-up painters of the mid century, and always wanted to create his own versions and vision in his work. I asked him why he never had. He simply stated, “No one ever commissioned me to do one!” While somewhat astounded, I responded, “That is the difference between an illustrator and an artist! An illustrator paints what some else wants him to paint, and an artist paints what HE wants to”. With few exceptions, in my opinion, that is why most illustrators and illustrations do fall short of being real or good art. Most of the pin-up artists fulfilled commissions for calendar, match books, blotter, and magazines, based on what publishers and manufacturers wanted. Gil Elvgren, the greatest of all time could not be told what or how to paint. He accepted from Brown and Bigelow (the worlds largest calendar publisher), a commission to paint 15 images a year of his choosing…period. Technically, skillfully and with imagination he painted the most beautiful sexy, but chaste, all American girls ever created. My book on him illustrated about 98% of his paintings, 500 or so. His only equal at the time, painting for Esquire and then Playboy magazines was Peruvian artist Alberto Vargas. But, Vargas as great as he was with the anatomy of beautiful girls, was essentially a watercolor cartoonist.
During that first meeting with Greg, and after hearing his comment, I said, that while I would not commission nor suggest or tell him what to paint, that IF he were to make 20 or so 21st century pin-ups straight out of HIS own head and imagination, I would give him a one man show at my well respected gallery in SoHo. He did, I did, and as a result, he became without equal the finest and leading pin-up painter of the new century. Not only was he the most technically skilled and imaginative of any 21st century artist in the genre, but he actually made paintings that were a totally new experience in what we know of pin-up, in that he combined the classic pin-up with another mid 20th century illustration form known then as PULP. Pulp artists illustrated low end and adventure, crime, war, and mystery magazine covers and stories. I think I own the very best of his efforts in pin-up pulp….The Ledge!
As mentioned above, the Pin-up artists of the mid 20th Century lead by Gil Elvgren painted the sexy but chaste, kind of naive pretty young girls that the WWII soldiers and sailor envisioned coming home to, marrying and having families with.
The attraction of Elvgren’s Girls was that they were always getting into HUMOROUS situations with skirts lifting to show a glimpse of panties or garters. Gil’s son actually told me that at dinner many evenings the family discussed and came up with amusing situation suggestions for him.
Art Frahm, another of these artists and friends with Elvgren came up with a series where the girl, always with hands full was embarrassed with her panties falling down, and in all cases in one guise or another the artist, Art, was in the picture grinning at the situation.
What makes Greg’s late 90s paintings so special and notable and separates him from almost all other late, derivative, and technically lacking current illustrators, besides his incredible imagination and technical abilities is the SOCIAL commentary. His use of “Pulp” considerations in story telling illustration, makes a serious commentary of social situations of OUR current times. The girls are now women who ARE sexy, but NOT chaste. They seem to be in control, but in reality, he points out that they are really very vulnerable. Their situations, in opposition to Elvgren’s, are not humorous but threatened. One very interesting aspect and unique invention in this series is obvious in the following images wherein there is the indication of an “observer”, participant, or in the case of the “CASTING COUCH”, bringing to mind a Weinstein or Cosby character, me/too abuser. See it and 5 others following. ALL women vulnerable to director/producer, artist, photographer or potential John.
A really interesting series concept and very indicative and predictive of the current situation where Cosby and Weinstein are the perpetrators and true criminals suggested and predicted 20 years ago by this artist, Greg Hildebrandt!
While I am only dealing in the earliest 20 to 30 of these images, which I inspired and prompted him to launch into and be the great pin-up/pulp artist of our time, he has produced a massive amount of artworks and products showing his work. For those interested, one can acquire his ORIGINAL drawings through paintings for anywhere from $50 on up through the hundreds, low thousands to tens of thousands. And all of his images on thousands of products from FOUR dollars on up.