More About Gina Higgins’ American Noir…

G Higgins 9

(See preceding post)

An admitted fan of what I choose to call ‘noir culture’, I’ve long been enamored with not only the classics of American film noir cinema, but noir-ish themes in everything from crime fiction novels to postwar paperback cover illustrations, neo-noir comics to noir-ish narrative style fashion photography. I suspect that in this, California artist Gina Higgins and I may share some interests (or in her case, influences). But take note: There’s more evidence of Hitchcock and David Lynch at work here than Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer.

G Higgins 8

Yes, the work is inspired by, evokes or perhaps even celebrates the iconography, cultural cues and tropes of traditional Film Noir, but seems more rooted in the look and feel of hepcat Rat-Pack era nightlife with all of its undercurrent of danger and dark sensuality. The over-used and often mis-appropriated symbols of so-called noir culture (or lets call them what they sometimes are: Clichés) are missing here. Her paintings are remarkably free of fat-fendered cars, wide-brimmed fedoras, snub-nose revolvers and revealing glimpses of stocking tops, the go-to memes many artists and photographers reach for when they want to telegraph something vaguely ‘noir’. This is the American Noir of 77 Sunset Strip, Frank Kane’s Johnny Liddel, pre-Camelot nightspots where dark romance might be found, and garish neon lights may only illuminate lusts unleashed, or unfulfilled.

G Higgins 1

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Check out more of Gina Higgins’ work at americannoirpaintings.com, where you’ll also find Giclee prints of her paintings and a handsome looking artist’s monograph book. I already ordered mine, though I’m guessing it’s a POD book, so I won’t receive it till late this month.

“American Noir”…Gina Higgins work really is precisely that.

G Higgins Artist Book

American Noir Paintings Dot Com

https://americannoirpaintings.com

Or…

camilla christensen emma stern nielsen ev unwerth vs magazine

Just a couple of pals en route to the airport, off on a weekend romp.

Or…sneaking out of their rat-trap tenement after that sleazy landlord offered some suggestions on how they might make good on the three months’ back rent.

Or…hightailing it outa there with their grips stuffed full of loot from last night’s heist, their loudmouthed gangster-wannabe boy-toys sleeping the ‘big sleep’ back upstairs.

Or, just models Camilla Christensen and Emma Stern Nielsen, shot by Ellen von Unwerth for Vs Magazine.

The Dame Was Trouble

The Dame Was Trouble

I like to juggle two books at once: A ‘main read’ kept at home for long sessions in the evening and on the weekend, but also another kept in my briefcase or in the car to nibble away at with on-the-go morning coffee stops, waiting for appointments during the workday or even occasional (and indulgent) on-the-way-home coffee stops. And though I don’t really read all that many anthologies and story collections, the fact is they’re ideal for the portable reads, a better alternative, perhaps to all-too-frequently disappointing Kindle ‘commuter’ reads.

An anthology in the car right now is The Dame Was Trouble – A Collection Of The Best Female Crime Writers Of Canada from Coffin Hop Press, edited by Sarah L. Johnson with Halli Liburn and Cat MacDonald. I read about this book at shekillslit.com and looked for it right away. It’s a handsome trade paperback, just shy of 400 pages with stories from sixteen Canadian women writers, including NYT best-selling author Kelly Armstrong, who kicks the anthology off with an absolutely delightful period private eye tale done with a twist, “Indispensible”, which reminded me of Linda L. Richards’ Kitty Panghorne series (see a previous post here about her novel Death Was The Other Woman). Hermine Robinson’s “A Cure For The Common Girl” was a terrific and trashy Calgary-set contemporary ‘ex-urban’ noir. What’s your pleasure? This anthology has lethal ladies from law enforcement as well as the law-breakers, dangerous dames both young and old, straight and not, and in Canadian settings as well as locales that could be…well, anywhere. I’ve only completed four stories so far, looking forward to a fifth in the early-AM coffee-to-go darkness en route to work tomorrow, but the first fourth of the book sure has been a treat. Check it out.

The Pop Culture Rembrandt

Pop Culture Rembrandt

Check out the Crime Reads.com essay by J. Kingston Pierce: “Robert McGinnis: A Life In Paperback Art”, honoring the prolific American illustrator on his 93rd birthday this Sunday, February 3rd. The article’s tag notes, 93 Years & Thousands of Paintings from a “Pop Culture Rembrandt” and Pierce’s essay does a fine job of sharing McGinnis story and his place among the masters of postwar paperback, magazine and commercial illustration.

Robert McGinnis - Lesbian Covers

Perhaps more than any other artist from that era, Robert McGinnis’ work is almost inseparable from the identities of a number of popular paperback crime and adventure series. Consider at least the well-known ones: Brett Halliday’s Mike Shayne, various Carter Brown series, Richard S. Prather’s Shell Scott series, John D. MacDonald’s novels including the Travis McGee series, M. E. Chaber’s Milo March Mysteries, Edward S. Aarons’ Sam Durrel spy series, and Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason books as well as his A.A. Fair Donald Lam & Bertha Cool mysteries. Almost disappoints me that McGinnis only did two covers for one of my own private eye series favorites, Frank Kane’s Johnny Liddel mysteries. But along with these, there were countless stand-alone titles, from crime to romance, westerns to espionage and more. McGinnis only did a few of the postwar paperback era’s lesbian themed books, and took what may be an unfair bad rap for his illustration for Beebo Brinker, but we should remember that illustrator’s often had no more than a brief editor’s blurb to go by, and often didn’t get to read the book itself…if budgets or deadlines would have allowed them to anyway.

Never Kill A Client 1963

McGinnis’ style evolved with the times, becoming increasingly abstract, vignetted and decorative, rooted less in fully rendered interior/exterior scenes. By the time photography and all-typographic styles began to dominate the paperback market’s covers, the artist had moved successfully into film posters and other assignments (likely more lucrative) while pursuing his own fine art work, predominantly western art. The excellent book Tapestry- The Paintings Of Robert E. McGinnis edited by Arnie and Cathy Fenner does a wonderful job of juxtaposing selected McGinnis commercial illustrations with non-commercial paintings, seeing both in a fine art context.

kill now pay later 1960

For many, Robert McGinnis’ striking nude (or nearly so) vixens and elongated, preening sixties-chic coquettes are what he’ll be remembered for. Myself, I’m drawn to the more flesh-n-blood figures, my all-time favorite the seated woman in a simple green dress and long brown gloves from the cover of Never Kill A Client, a 1963 edition of a Mike Shayne mystery (above), and an illustration I keep handy since it so closely resembles my own imaginary character, the ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’. Some real favorites are shown here in this post, including the fetching femme fatale perched on a private eye’s desk from Kill Now, Pay Later (1960), or the bar room pianist tickling the ivories where McGinnis’ trademark longer-than-long legs draw his attention from Murder Me For Nickels. The iciness of the subdued colors in a very risqué for the time, Exit For Dying (1956) may just be the single sexiest piece of cover art I’ve ever seen. But I’ll always love the comparatively prosaic and fully-rendered scene of the redhead alighting from the backseat on Day Keene’s Too Hot To Hold from 1959.

Murder Me For Nickels

I’m never comfortable with labeling one artist, author, musician or any other creative as ‘the best’. There are masters and there are followers and many at levels of skill, talent and popularity in between. For me, there are several artists from those golden and ‘silver’ ages of paperback, pulp and glossy magazine illustration that comprise the top tier. McGinnis, of course would be there, not only as a superior figurative artist but also as a master designer, possibly demonstrating more stylistic diversity than any of his peers and contemporaries. And of course, those contemporaries are, for the most part, retired or deceased now. Bittersweet, but maybe that’s for the better, so they don’t have to reckon with an Adobe-ruled Illustrator/Photoshop world.

Robert McGinnis Exit Dying 1956

Do follow the link below to J. Kingston Pierce’s “Robert McGinnis: A Life In Paperback Art” essay and gorge on the many reproductions. It’s a far more eloquent tribute than anything I could muster up. Still, a heart-felt happy 93rd birthday to the ‘”Pop Culture Rembrandt”, Robert McGinnis.

Too Hot To Hold 1959

https://crimereads.com/robert-mcginnis-a-life-in-paperback-art/

 

Cinema Stills

cinema still 1

Steven Meisel, surely one of the masters when it comes to narrative style fashion photography, shooting Daria Werbowy for Vogue Italia 2003. I think the feature was titled “Cinema Stills”. Make up your own story…

cinema stills 2cinema stills 3cinema stills 4daria werbowy vogue italia 2003 steven meisel

Paul Roberts

fickle heart

Shown above is UK painter Paul Roberts’ Fickle Heart. Born to artist parents in 1948, Roberts grew up in Wales, studied art and started his fine arts career, then took a break from painting in the 1970’s while a member of the rock band Sniff ‘n The Tears.

From the mid-1970’s through the 1990’s or thereabouts, Roberts work was primarily figurative hyper-realism, often depicting quirky, provocative and often disturbing scenes, sometimes reminiscent of 1950’s/60’s crime films. Later work in the 90’s through 2000’s began to exhibit a more expressive brush, less reliance on photo-realistic representations, and sometimes puzzling subjects, though examples of work on the artist’s own website through 2008 show him returning to the realistic narrative approach.

the bodyguard

I’ve read comparisons to such diverse painters as American neo-expressionist Eric Fischl and Scottish artist Jack Vettriano, neither of which I’d agree with at all, considering any similarities coincidental and only a perfunctory reaction to contemporary urban/suburban settings on one hand (Fischl), and men who may be gangsters in white dress shirts paired with women in vintage lingerie and stockings on the other (Vettriano). But then, a one-time fine arts major is not an art scholar or critic, so what the hell do I know? If anything, those earlier Roberts paintings, which are the ones that often reappear on pop art, pinup and noir culture sites and blogs (like this one, I suppose) seem to glean their imagery from edgy fashion editorials like those shot by Helmut Newton, Ellen von Unwerth and others. But ultimately, who cares? They’re thought-provoking work, beautifully rendered, all of them.

Shown here are:

  • Fickle Heart (above)
  • The Bodyguard (above)

And below:

  • Bodyguard 2
  • Telephone
  • The Operator
  • Sleeping
  • Tied Up

bodyguard 2telephonethe operator 2sleepingtied up

More of Paul Roberts paintings follow in a subsequent post…

 

Blue Estate

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So-Cal Neo-Noir comics fun with really, really bad guys and delightfully dangerous femmes fatales: The Blue Estate series concept and story was developed by Kosta Yanev, with the issues scripted by Andrew Osborne. Art direction and covers by artist Viktor Kalvachev with interior art by Toby Cypress. Don’t know why someone didn’t just buy the rights to this thing and make a movie already…like most comics, it’s pre-storyboarded and ready to go.

blue estateblue estate 8

Vixens, Vamps & Vipers

vixens vamps & vipers

I adore 1930’s – 50’s crime comics and even some costumed superheroes from that period…well, one at least: Batman. But it was a boys’ club, after all, and it takes some digging to uncover the era’s ‘stiletto gumshoes’, with not a lot to show for the search. Mike Madrid has done a lot of the digging for us, in his first book The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy And The History Of Comic Book Heroines, then Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Lost Heroines Of Golden Age Comics.

supergirls & divas

A year later, Madrid decided to give the villainesses their due, and rightly so, since it may be that crime and villainy were just about the only way mid-twentieth century women in comics could assert themselves, after all. Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Villainesses Of Golden Age Comics is a handsome 250+ page book from Exterminating Angel Press and should be a must-read for fans of vintage comics, and in particular, anyone interested in women’s roles in mid-20th century pop culture. The book reproduces 22 different 1940’s-50’s comic stories along with well researched but very readable background information on the characters themselves, their superhero/crime fighter opponents, and the writers and artists who brought them to life. Notable female villains like Madame Doom, Veda The Cobra Woman And Skull Lady are here, but more prosaic crooks and femmes fatales were the most fun for me. For example, National Comics’ 1943 Idaho, who reminds me of a wisecracking Barbara Stanwyck in a 1930’s screwball comedy or crime caper. As the book states, these characters “both transcend and become ensnared in a web of cultural stereotypes”. Female superheroes and women crime fighters from the capes & tights variety (and demure little skirts, in most cases) to the plucky girl reporters, private eyes and DA’s were few enough. Perhaps the only way for female characters to be allowed to fully assert themselves alongside or against the era’s goody two shoes heroes was as villainesses, and there are some memorable ones in this book that’ll surely send you poking around online and digging in vintage comics bins for more.

madame doom

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