Coca-Cola Pop Art Gallery: John Clem Clarke

During the second half of the twentieth century, popular culture and the mass media gained a huge significance in American culture. Pop art that was a sign of the times: a product, a tribute to art history and critique of the social situation.
In the sixties, the New York art scene was very diverse, with people coming from different places, backgrounds and art disciplines & movements. The young John Clem Clarke was always fascinated art & advertising. He moved to New York, started painting and quickly made a name in the NYC pop art scene. Art about art is a continuous thread through Clarke’s work. His series re-working the Old Masters, such as Velasquez’s “Las Meninas” and Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” are popular icons of the late 60’s.
Clarke’s works, a mix of photo-realism and comic style with a pop art imagery. hang today in major museums as NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art & Whitney Museum of American Art, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, LA’s County Museum and Washington’s Hirshhorn Museum.

Clarke works in the pop art tradition of Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, Roy Liechtenstein & Tom Wesselmann, drawn on the graphic vocabularies of commercial modernity: “I play back and forth using unique objects and a mass-produced presentation style. You might say that ideas I express are a lot more complex than the apparently simple style I use to express them”.
Speed is vital to the freshness of John Clem Clarke’s works, and animation is the key to his style. Every line is alive, no edge is ever straight. The large size of his artworks plays an important role in the transformation of Clarke’s illustration-based style into high art.
Working on big size canvasses, his work is quite technical. The last years he uses a computer for the design phase, but before he had to work out all specific details as a sketch, use an overhead projector to project this sketches on a canvas, drew the projected image and finally paint it.” His way of working is very similar to the work of illustrators of comics or how graphic designers work today in Photoshop. Clarke: “My first layer was always the black outline. Then I painted a colored layer underneath using the line drawing as an overlay. This is the same technique Disney cartoonists used years ago. Of course, when I was developing it as my own way of working, I didn’t know that. For the actual painting, I use large stencils. I lay them onto the canvas and sponge the paint on. This way there are no brush strokes. Sometimes, I overlay the stencils so that you get the sort of effect you see when a picture isn’t printed quite right -just a little offset. I like that irregular edge”. Just like the works by Andy Warhol or Jean-Michelle Basquiat, John Clem Clarke’s oeuvre is complete with imperfections: “Instead of painting out my “mistakes”, I let them stay on the canvas as alternative solutions to the painting and to show the thought process in making a painting. It bothers me when things look too good. I like to paint and paint and paint, until I get it wrong.”

On weekends, Clarke still roams around flea and antiques markets, looking for vintage retro objects, advertising material and photographs he can use as a point of departure for his artworks. The great ads from the fifties and early sixties are a big source of inspiration: “I try to make the paintings seem as commercially produced as possible. People grew up looking at commercial illustration and print advertising, so they are comfortable with it as a visual style. I make art in a way that people find it immediately accessible”.
Clarke found his future as an artist in his past through the subject matter, themes and styles of forties, fifties & sixties. But Clarke’s works also speak of the present, the moment he creates them, by his vision & the personal touch of his brushstroke.

In the 1910s, the Coca-Cola Company ran an ad of a gorgeous woman drinking a Coke. The copy read: “Nothing is so suggestive of Coca-Cola’s own pure deliciousness as the picture of a beautiful, sweet, wholesome, womanly woman.”
Associating itself with an ideal American girl, Coca-Cola made its appeal to the public. Clarke takes this advertising concept one step further and combines the “Coca-Cola girl” billboard with the all American theme of a police car chase. His painting “Police Behind Cola Billboard” is so filmesque, that we actually wonder what will happen next…

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.

Coca-Cola Halloween – Trick or Treat?

Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. 2,000 years ago, Celts believed that on the night before their new year (November 1), the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred and the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. During the Samhain celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins.

In Ireland, where Halloween originated, bonfires are lit as they were in the days of the Celts, and all over the country, children get dressed up in costumes and spend the evening “trick-or-treating” in their neighborhoods. After trick-or-treating, most people attend parties with neighbors and friends. At the parties, many games are played, including “snap-apple,” a game in which an apple on a string is tied to a doorframe or tree and players attempt to bite the hanging apple.

Today, Halloween, is still celebrated today in countries around the globe. In Mexico, Latin America, and Spain, All Souls’ Day, the third day of the three-day Hallowmas observance, is the most important part of the celebration for many people. In the UK and several other European countries, the US and Canada, Halloween, which was once a frightening and superstitious time of year, is celebrated with fun for all ages.

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