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January 15, 2004

Elvgren--Ahead of His Time?


As you know, Gil Elvgren is today considered primarily as a notable figure among American pin-up artists of the 1940s and 1950s. However, recent shocking developments suggest that his importance to 20th century art far transcends the narrow genre of the pin-up. The recent discovery of a number of his paintings from a brief early foray into fine art has deeply unsettled the theories of art historians who have been allowed to view his revolutionary work.

For example, Glenn D. Lowry, director of the New York Museum of Modern Art remarked after visiting the Elvgren paintings: “Holy s**t!” Jeremy Strick of Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art could only manage: “Heavy, dude.”

A few of these blockbuster images are being reproduced for the first time publicly on this blog.

By the late 1930s, Elvgren (1914-1980) had established a budding career as an illustrator and calendar artist. However, it appears that his artistic ambitions weren’t satisfied by this type of work, and, in a dramatic move he gave up illustration for six months at the height of the Depression and focused on easel paintings. Apparently he first decided to come to grips with the advanced art of the 20th century, and painted works in the style of a variety of artists, including Braque and Kandinsky.

G. Elvgren, Hommages to Braque and Kandinsky, 1938

However, he soon left such derivative works behind and struck out boldly in the direction he felt sure that art would (eventually) evolve. Skipping past such landmark styles as Abstract Expressionism, Elvgren landed, astonishingly, on styles that anticipate such later masters as Frank Stella and Gerhardt Richter.

G. Elvgren, Untitled #23 and #64, 1938

Apparently he even abandoned painting altogether near the end of this sabbatical, noting in his journal that:

Painting is Eurocentric and foregrounds the masculine cult of genius. Moreover, the celebrity of artists like Picasso and the high prices paid for certain works of art suggest that art is becoming nothing more than a commodity. I predict that someday a literary theorist named Roland Barthes will declare the “death of the author” and will emphasize that the reader, not the author, creates meaning. Likewise, the only way forward that I can see for the visual arts will be to turn to modes of expression that will be more ephemeral and conceptual.

How far this visionary genius might have advanced the visual arts is, regrettably, unknown. A heavy snowstorm in 1938 caused the roof of his attic studio to collapse, giving him a severe concussion. When he was released from the hospital, he immediately returned to pin-up illustration and refused to have anything to do with fine art for the remainder of his life, except to occasionally paint portraits of motorboats for his drinking buddies. He apparently destroyed most of his paintings from 1938, but fortunately overlooked several that he had stored in the basement of a neighbor (whose recent death put them on the market.)

How could a young pin-up artist and illustrator have so accurately seen the future of the visual arts? Your guess is as good as mine, but theories from ESP to flying saucers have been proposed. We’ll try to keep you up to date on this remarkable affair.

Remember: the truth is out there.



posted by Friedrich at January 15, 2004


Who knew? And why were they keeping it from us? Damn that fine-art establishment.

LOL, that's really well-done, the Richter especially. I picture FvB slaving over a hot Photoshop, cutting and trimming and outlining and pasting ... And suffering, I'm sure.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 15, 2004 5:00 PM

Ah well, Picabia painted softporn pictures based on clippings out of magazines. It probably could have happened the other way around.

Posted by: ijsbrand on January 16, 2004 2:28 AM

...these images are extraordinary! may i again (banging gavel onto desk) decree this site one of the finest on the whole damn wacky web?!!


Posted by: jon walz on January 16, 2004 2:05 PM

April is 3 1/2 months away FvB.

Posted by: cks on January 16, 2004 3:21 PM

Nice try goofy!

Posted by: Steve on June 19, 2004 8:14 PM

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