Gil Elvgren, Top Image-Maker & Pin-Up Glamour Master

Born in 1914 in St. Paul, Minnesota, Gil Elvgren was a master painter and one of America’s first and best loved pin-up artists. He is possibly the foremost painter of sensuality through using models who possess a ‘girl-next-door’ quality. His heroines are often caught in humorous situations that cause their skirts to rise and our eyes to follow. His paintings are an excellent proof of the phrase, “A picture is worth one thousand words.”

Elvgren commenced studies at the Minneapolis Art Institute, and later studied (and even taught) at the Chicago Academy of Art. His parents first encouraged him to study architecture, but shortly after starting his studies he decided to pursue art instead. Some of Gil’s fellow students were Al Buell, Andrew Loomis, Coby Whitmore, Robert Skemp and Ben Stahl. Many of his academy friends would later also work for Coca Cola.

Elvgren graduated from the Academy during the depression at the age of twenty-two. Elvgren first job was one for one of the major US advertising agencies, Stevens and Gross. One of their most exciting clients was Coca-Cola. Elvgren contributed to several Coca-Cola ads. No artist working for Coke could sign his work, but Elvgren’s hand & style remain very recognizable.

Elvgren’s work also mirrors the sheer, nostalgic revery that the breathtaking illustrations of Haddon Sundblom’s “Coca-Cola” Santa’s evoke. No wonder, as Elvgren quickly became a protégé of the legendary Sundblom. The old master taught his star pupil the lush brush stroke technique that makes Elvgren’s girls such glowing wonders.

Elvgren conveys the ideal of real life, fun, beauty and sensuality in every of his paintings. Never sexual, always sensual, their style is the epitome of the age of elegance in which he lived.
He spent extreme amounts of time posing the models for the pre-painting photograph. Elvgren always looked for models with vitality and personality, and chose young girls who were new to the modeling business. He felt the ideal pin-up was a 15 year old face on a 20 year old body. In some cases, he combined the body of one girl and the face of another to achieve the desired result.

In 1937, Gil began painting calendar pin-ups for Louis Dow, one of America’s leading publishing companies. These artworks are easily recognizable because they are signed with a printed version of Elvgren’s name, as opposed to his later cursive signature. Dow paintings were often published first in one format, then painted over with different clothes and situations.

Around 1944, Gil was approached by Brown and Bigelow, a firm that still dominates the field in producing calendars and advertising specialties. They offered him $1000 per pin-up, which was substantially more than Dow was paying him. Elvgren signed on with B&B. Gil’s Brown and Bigelow images all contain his cursive signature. Elvgren painted twenty calendar girls each year, ranging from the girl next door letting her dog out, to brave rodeo heroines & water skiing action girls.

Besides a successful career in advertising, Gil Elvgren also did a lot of magazine illustrations. His pretty girls also appeared on many billboards, the same image sometimes modified a bit to sell more than one type of product.

According to Elvgren author & art collector Louis Meisel: “Between the mid-1930s and early 70s, Elvgren produced over 500 paintings of beautiful girls and women. As the decades progressed, the paintings just kept getting better and better. Elvgren continually surpassed himself, always improving in composition, ideas, color and technique.”

The beautiful Elvgren girls are never portrayed as a femme fatale. They are stylized ideals in which the realities and essentials of female form and expression are heightened and exalted artistically. Their charms are revealed in that fleeting instant when she’s been caught unaware in what might be a surprising, sometimes even embarrassing situation. She is intruded upon as she takes a bath. Her skirts get caught in elevator doors, hung up on faucets, and entangled with dog leashes. The elements conspire in divesting her of her clothing. The Elvgren girls, pictured in a variety of fun and clever contexts, are life-affirmative art of the highest order.

Elvgren died in 1980, at the age of 66. Lately, there’s a resurgent interest in his work and prints of his pictures are still bestsellers. Today, Elvgren is recognized as one of the top image makers & glamour artists of the 20th century.

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Steve Penley’s Coke Art – Bold, Impassioned & Vivid

In 2008, Coca-Cola Company celebrates the artistic contributions of famed Georgia artist, Steve Penley, by presenting an exhibition of his work at the New World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta. On loan from public and private collectors, the exhibit features Penley’s most significant Coca-Cola inspired pieces, including several new paintings created for the attraction.

The Penley collection follows the year-long exhibition of Andy Warhol paintings on loan from the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and will be the first time a collection of Penley’s Coca-Cola themed work of this scale will be presented to the public.

Best known for his iconic portraits, Steve Penley is one of America’s most popular southern artists. His signature painting style incorporates bold color, strong brush strokes and vivid imagery.

“Like Warhol, Penley finds inspiration in everyday iconic images that are familiar and accessible to everyone,” said Ted Ryan, The Coca-Cola Company, Archives Collection Manager. “His work reflects a sense of optimism and positivity that makes Coca-Cola an ideal muse for his art.”

The collection is accompanied by tags handwritten by Penley featuring the back-story behind each piece.

“I love to paint historical subjects, and Coke is such a part of history that it naturally fits into my genre”.

“The colors of Coke are so well know that it is fun to experiment with new colors and see these familiar images in a new way”.

“I love to dig in to the rich dark color of the Coke in the traditional bell shaped glass. The light sparkles and shines with the reflections of the ice”.

“The Coke bottles lines and curves are fun to explore and throw color on. The bottle is a piece of art itself so it is an easy subject”.

On display through May 2009, the Penley collection at The World of Coca-Cola features more than 15 pieces, including video footage of the artist at work in his studio.

You can find more info on the blog of Phil Mooney, historian/archivist for The Coca-Cola Company for the last 30 years: http://www.coca-colaconversations.com/my_weblog/2008/05/our-new-steve-p.html

    Other useful links:

The World of Coca-Cola http://www.woccatlanta.com

Steve Penley’s website http://www.stevepenley.com

Special thanks to The Coca-Cola Archives Dept.

Andy Warhol Exhibit

A traveling exhibition of select Andy Warhol artwork is now on display in the Pop Culture Gallery at the new World of Coca-Cola, Atlanta, US. See the world’s most recognized beverage as interpreted by the pope of Pop Art. The paintings, pencil sketches and screenprints (all about Coca-Cola except for a self-portrait) are on loan from the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh (up to May 2008).
“Warhol took art and he made art available to the everyday man and everybody understood it,” tells Ted Ryan, the exhibit’s curator for Coca-Cola. “Everybody owns a piece of Coke, or a piece of Marilyn, at least in the imagination.”
World of Coca-Cola: 121 Baker St., Atlanta, USA.
Website: www.woccatlanta.com

All images and artworks are property of The Andy Warhol Foundation © All rights reserved.