Kelli Vance: Context is Everything.

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Houston, Texas artist Kelli Vance studied at Texas universities and apparently chose to stick close to home, teaching at various schools since, including her own alma maters, the University of Houston and the Glassell School of Art at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts.

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Her brand of austere realism might recall any number of painters, though the specifics of Vance’s scenes and subjects make me scratch my head to think of accurate comparisons, scrolling through a mental list of various bad-girl/boy artists who like to play with conventions by juxtaposing provocative images in deceptively complacent looking settings. Some of these are pretty brave works depicting unsettling scenes, but with a kind of dark poetry about them that forces you to look…and just keep looking. And if that makes you uneasy, then I’m betting the artist would be pleased.

It’s interesting to consider how context is everything, though. Mystery/crime fiction enthusiasts are accustomed to — even expect — all kinds of murder and mayhem on treasured vintage pulp magazine and postwar paperback covers, treating them as kitschy novelties, often as not. But when those same things are depicted (nowhere near as gruesomely) in an entirely different context — in paintings hanging on a wall in a gallery or museum, for instance — they suddenly become that much more provocative and disturbing. Not drawing conclusions, mind you. I just find myself intrigued.

See more works in a following post…

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The Violent Ones.

The Violent Ones Illustration

I can’t tell you much about Fernando Lamas (married to Esther Williams, spoofed by Billy Crystal on old Saturday Night Live episodes…that Fernando Lamas?) much less about the two feature films he directed, which includes 1967’s The Violent Ones. The film’s grim piece of uncredited movie poster illustration above might look more at home as a duotone spot or spread in a sleazy men’s ‘adventure’ magazine from that same era, the film dealing with a southwestern lawman (Lamas) transporting three rape suspects to a safe trial with a lynch mob on their tail. It’s on Turner Classic Movies’ database, but that doesn’t guarantee it’s a classic. I’ve never seen it, and with no TCM anymore, I don’t imagine I’ll be seeing it soon.  Still, it had an interesting (albeit creepy) poster.

A Deadly Kiss.

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Let’s hope that kiss was really, really worth it, since the revolver digging into that fellow’s chest seems likely to bring this embrace to a very abrupt end. It’s a spot interior B&W illustration by pulp maestro Norman Saunders for a 1970 issue of Man’s Story magazine.

David Seeley

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What gets you? Spiders, creepy clowns, snakes? For me it’s 1) deep water/drowning and 2) heights, either of those likely to plague my rare nightmares, and both frighteningly popular scenes among crime pulp cover artists, vintage paperback cover illustrators and many of the B&W’s and duotones in the prewar pulps and postwar men’s adventure mags. So artist David Seeley’s terrifying depiction of a woman being shoved out of a highrise window has been giving me the chills since I first spotted it. (Kinda shivering right now.)

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Neither prudish nor particularly political, normally I just yawn when it comes to contemporary artists doing pinup style art. Seventy years ago? That was then, this is now. And many of the subjects in David Seeley’s work do seem to lose track of their clothes, except for some skimpy lacies. But they never seem to lose sight of their guns, and maybe that’s what caught my eye and why the work reminds me less of peekaboo paintings and more of familiar Robert McGinnis 1960’s series paperback covers and the popular styles seen in so many 1960’s/70’s illustrated film posters.

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Boston based artist David Seeley studied architecture and first worked as a successful architect until some serious soul-searching led him to pursue art full-time. In a modern day spin on many postwar illustrators’ shared NYC studio spaces, Seeley shares a virtual studio with fourteen other artists including the likes of Greg Manchess. Seeley’s technique is an intriguing blend of digital photo-composition merged with traditional oil painting on archival printouts, and he details his process at his site, www.daveseeley.com. Check it out…it’s pretty interesting even if you’re not an artist.

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Julie Nicolle’s “FanArt”.

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Only in her mid-30’s, French painter Julie Nicolle spent her post-university years working in the Paris business world, finally turning her back on commerce while still a twenty-something about to become a thirty-something. She set up her atelier in Orleans and began painting energetic, often distressed large format portraits, some of which she labels ‘FanArt’. See more work at the artist’s site, www.julienicolle.com.

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A 30’s-40’s Era Stylist: Mario Cooper

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President of the American Watercolor Society from 1959 through 1986, Mario Ruben Cooper (1905 – 1995) authored multiple how-to books on the challenging medium, and often worked in watercolor for his commercial illustration assignments, unlike so many contemporaries working in oils or gouache. Born in Mexico City, Cooper grew up In Los Angeles, later studying on the east coast at Columbia University and the Grand Central School of Art.

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His commercial career flourished through the 1930’s and early 1940’s with covers and interior story illustrations for Collier’s, Esquire and other glossies, which included multiple Agatha Christie mysteries and hard-boiled crime fiction thrillers. After WWII he taught at the Pratt Institute, then was assigned to document the history of American aviation for the military, many of his pieces from that era still in the Pentagon’s collection. Cooper is a Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame inductee.

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