May 14, 2022 10:40 pm

All about pinups. History, nonchalance and validity of these illustrations of scantily clad women with a mischievous attitude

During World War II, the pin up girl illustrations –women with little clothes and mischievous attitude– they were so popular that even American bombers carried one on the front of the fuselage. In bathing suits or military clothing, with shirts tied at the waist or skirts in the wind, and even in underwear, these sensual and at the same time naive images also adorned car workshops and tents.

“It was a time when women had more and showed less,” says Dian Hanson, editor of Taschen’s Sexy Arts collection, in The Art of Pin-up, a book that she compiled and that the publishing house has just launched with a historical account and chapters dedicated to the ten most outstanding authors of the genre, including Gil Elvgren, George Petty and the Peruvian Alberto Vargas. Although the term pin-up – “fixing with tacks” – was coined in 1941, the first creations of this type appeared around 1886 in French magazines, by Jules Chéret –known as the father of the modern poster–, and in 1895, in the United States. So, Charles Dana, a cartoonist from the magazine Life, created the Gibson Girl, a self-assured female who embodied the spirit of the new woman that was being born. Dana outlined her playing tennis or riding a horse or a bike.

The work of Art Frahm (1907–1981), in Taschen’s bookArt Frahm

They were the golden years of illustration. The bicycle had been the great female achievement – ​​a woman no longer needed a man to get from one place to another – and the fight for women’s suffrage in the US was underway. Dresses and corsets were replaced by more comfortable and also more revealing clothing, which highlighted, for example, the legs, previously hidden under layers of fabric. “By trying to earn a place in a world of men, women freed them to be looked at and appreciated in a more passionate way”Hanson writes.

Paradoxically, pin-ups, sexual symbols created from the male point of view –without pornographic connotation: her sex appeal is natural and her lingerie is usually exposed by accident– they are a representation of feminism, having encouraged women to free themselves from imposed norms. Currently, according to academics such as Maria Elena Buszek, from the University of Colorado, they are considered “a vindication of female sexuality.”

The image of these girls – who appeared in domestic situations, although always with a certain cheek – was used to recruit soldiers in the First World War, when the concept of propaganda, to exalt patriotism or attack the enemy, had been established. “Caramba. I wish I were a man, I would join the Navy”, said a pin-up dressed as a sailor. “Be a man and do it,” he concluded. Posters like that were nailed to the walls.

Throughout time, pin-ups have served different purposes. In World War II they raised the morale of the troops. “They reminded the men of what was waiting for them at home, the women they were fighting for, and that encouraged them to fight harder. But, covertly, they were provided as a sexual stimulus, since during World War I more combatants were lost to venereal disease than to bullets”, Hanson tells LA NACION magazine. “A pin-up could inspire masturbation, instead of a night in a brothel, and thus serve the War Department to keep men healthy,” he adds.

Although many models were anonymous, stars like Ava Gardner, Betty Grable, Hedy Lamarr, Rita Hayworth and Jane Russell posed for this type of illustration, also known as Glamor Art, Good Girl Art and Pretty Girl Art”. To get an idea of ​​the impact: Hollywood studios sent three million copies to their soldiers overseas of the typical poster of Grable in a bathing suit, with his back turned and his chin resting on one shoulder, looking back. And companies like Brown & Bigelow did the same with calendars designed by Rolf Armstrong, Gil Elvgren –considered the best pin-up artist ever–, Earl Moran and Zoë Mozert. Pin-ups adorned recruits’ lockers, and the walls and ceilings of military cabins, ships, and submarines.

Famous image of Betty Grable received by the soldiers
Famous image of Betty Grable received by the soldiersarchive

In Hanson’s opinion, the “longest lasting” effect of stamping drawings, in addition to posters and calendars, postcards and magazines, was to introduce the concept that “sex sells”. “The propaganda division of the United States department, called the Wartime Advertising Council, had learned that a pretty girl could sell a product to both men and women, and when it renamed itself the Advertising Council, after after the war, he continued to use pretty, scantily clad girls to earn money,” he stresses.

In the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page –nicknamed The Queen of Pin-ups– marked the transition from illustration to photography. Hugh Hefner, the legendary creator of the magazine Playboy, who was a fan of pin-ups and had worked as a caricaturist in Esquire, launched his famous magazine, in 1953. This included Marilyn’s nude photo with a red velvet background. The success was such that 52,000 copies were sold at once. Two years later, Monroe starred in The seventh year itch, in which Billy Wilder immortalized her with the vaporous scene of the dress on the ventilation of the New York subway, very much in the style of Art Frahm, an illustrator whose “ladies in distress” suffered the rigor of the wind and even ended up with panties in the floor.

With her signature bangs, explosive garter belt and 6-inch heels, Page was the first “bondage” model and the most photographed pin-up. “No star of this genre existed before her. Monroe had predecessors (in the cinema), Bettie, no,” said Olivia De Berardinis, one of Playboy’s renowned female cartoonists and Page’s portraitist, to whom she has dedicated different series, including a deck of cards.

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The first contact with the pin-up universe of Horacio Altuna, creator of Crazy Chavez Y The Montana Boy, and author of Voyeur, erotic comics for Playboy, it was “probably” through photos of Bettie Page, from the early 1950s. What are the challenges of making pin-up illustrations? “I like to draw human figures… Drawing attractive women has some challenge to find a type of beauty that pleases even other women. It is essential that these drawings correspond to the canon that we have about what a beautiful woman is”, she answers. And he declares himself an admirer of Gil Elvgren. “Classic and in very good taste, his works are not provocative, they have a point of naive, innocent picaresque”, he says.

Enoch Bolles (1883-1976) was a pioneer of Glamor Art
Enoch Bolles (1883-1976) was a pioneer of Glamor ArtEnoch Bollers

For Marcelo Sosa, cartoonist for Marvel Comics and Sqp Inc., an American publisher that publishes pin-ups, “The charm of pin-up girls lies not only in sensuality and seduction, but also in the strength and security that they emanate and, by the way, it is an image that dazzles by itself. ‘What I wear, how I behave, how I move, how I choose what I want, is summed up in the freedom of choice, in the attitude that, in this case, the calendar girls showed us. Bettie Page, Betty Boop, Jessica Rabbit, the photos and movie posters of our Coca Sarli are pin-ups”.

After a decline in the 1960s as sexual liberation introduced more uninhibited nudity, the pin-up genre, with its wasp waists, red lips, and voluptuous curves, has been rescued in comics, fashion, movies and tattoos. Today, the cult aesthetic of this style includes women like Dita Von Teese and Kate Perry.

While Altuna believes that the pin-up format is out of use and is something for the nostalgic, especially because of the erotic variety that the internet offers, Sosa, on the other hand, suggests that the validity of pin-ups “was always, perhaps a little more limited to certain sectors and groups in its origins”. And that today, “when women occupy their rightful place in society, the pin-up attitude and style is something more common: carelessness, freedom of choice of aesthetics, postures, which were beginning to be glimpsed in the beginnings of the genre, are culturally embedded.

According to the publisher Hanson, pin-up illustrations were previously seen as something “frivolous” -because they sought to entertain men- and not as art, “even though many originals were paintings that had a value in themselves.” Apparently, something has changed. “Because they belong to the category of illustration art, commissioned work, they are not the deep inspiration of the artist, but in the last 25 years they have lost their stigma and their value, in money and in appreciation, has increased. Now we can recognize the talent behind high-quality illustration and call it art.”

The Queen of Sergeant Kirk, by the Argentine Marcelo Sosa
The Queen of Sergeant Kirk, by the Argentine Marcelo Sosamarcelo sosa

It is something that is also noticeable in the edition of books such as The Art of Pin-up –”whose beautiful production definitely increases respect for this form of art and encourages people to buy and exhibit it without feeling like a philistine”– and in the different exhibitions that have been mounted in the 21st century.

The auctions are also part of a revaluation of the genre.Heritage Auctions, of Dallas, Texas, has sold almost 15,000 pieces of pin-up art and has achieved the highest prices, with a Gil Elvgren oil painting that fetched $286,800. Its continuous auctions are the best place for fans”, details Hanson, who is a follower of Enoch Bolles, one of the first pin-up illustrators. “He preceded what was called mayonnaise school (mayonnaise school), where artists used thick paints and quick strokes. His women seem molded in shiny porcelain, with perfectly smooth skin. They had doll faces, but they were kind of teasing, self-assured and independent. They were dressed in hard-to-identify shiny fabrics, often with a metallic sheen, and elaborately detailed shoes. Bolles suffered from mental illness and his illness progressed as his women became more burlesque, reflecting his inner demons. He was a fascinating artist.”

In addition to the three greats of American pin-up – Elvgren, Petty and Vargas – and Altuna, Sosa has been dazzled by Milo Manara, Brian Miroglio, Ignacio Noé, (Paolo) Serpieri, Hajime Sorayama, Dave Stevens and Kevin Taylor. And before the term was coined, “Alfons Mucha painted some incredible pin-ups.”

As he says, the female figure is “a beautiful and inexhaustible source of inspiration, I love drawing women! Everything can inspire you when it comes to creating and designing, but women, and particularly pin-ups, have a plus: they allow you to tell from design, gestures and expression”.

Meanwhile, the public, immersed in the era of screens and hypersexualization, the pin-ups -provocative, but not graphic-, remind them that suggesting is also an art.

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