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Monday, May 5, 2014

Art Frahm

Tourists, Art Frahm

1950s glamorous beauties
By the time you're reading this, my wife and I may be sitting exhausted on a street curb in San Francisco not unlike Art Frahm's colorful friends above. We may be out of our minds, but we've chosen this year to take a cross-country driving tour, visiting our son and his family in Phoenix, then taking the "long way" back home to Ohio via L.A., San Francisco, maybe even Seattle. I don't know, but I'm guessing the American illustrator, Art Frahm, was far too busy (or had better sense) than to embark on such an exhausting excursion.

Often I chafe at those making any great distinction between artists (painters) and illustrators, but in Art's case, I'll tolerate any discussion of disparity. Art Frahm was no academic; had little or no formal training in art other than working as an assistant for Haddon Sundblom (the Coca-Cola Santa Claus artist); and often his technical skills were barely adequate for the job at hand.

Beautiful, glamorous, sexy, white ladies, usually not so well attired.
Frahm painted so many variations of
this scene he literally wore it out.
The San Francisco hobos (top) were not typical Art Frahm art, though he did paint the surprisingly well-dressed group on several occasions as they popped up here and there on their rail journey around the country. Frahm painted beautiful ladies...beautiful, glamorous, white ladies, beautiful, glamorous, sexy "ladies," frequently in stressful situations. Often such situations had their root cause in cheap elastic (as in around the top of their undergarments, if you get my drift).

Someone (maybe me) once said that if Norman Rockwell had been a pervert, he would have faced stiff competition from Frahm. Frahm's specialty was pin-up calendar "art" (the quotation marks are an outright necessity is this case). Though I was never aware of the artist's name, I can remember seeing his work on such calendars. Usually they hung on the wall of grimy auto repair establishments, during the 1950s and 60s as I was a growing boy having a certain fascination with such profound depictions of feminine beauty. Frahm was one of a "talented" group of maybe a half-dozen other such American illustrators producing a steady, monthly supply of such enticing beauty. Though not necessarily among the best, Frahm's sense of humor often made up for his lack of technical proficiency.

Safety Wins, 1961, Art Frahm
Slip Tease, Art Frahm
Of course, Frahm's female depictions were not limited to distressed ladies discreetly concealing their ankles from public view. Pinup calendar publishers were also fond of scantily (though discreetly) clad bathing beauties on the beach (bottom, left) as well as the ever-popular, demurely-posed nude figure (right), though Frahm painted surprisingly few of the latter. While the high-brow esthetes of New York's SoHo were starving themselves trying to make names for themselves by abstractly expressing themselves, Frahm was doing quite well, thank you, with his (more or less) naked ladies. Yet Frahm's figures, while possibly in poor taste at times, never descended to a level of explicitly lewd graphic sex. Moreover, one of the more fascinating aspects of Frahm's loosely defined art is the fact that the same artist who painted the "distressed' pet owner in Slip Tease (above, right) also came up with the downright wholesome parade of adolescent school children seen in Safety Wins (above). Frahm may not have been the best or most versatile artist/illustrator to ever cash in on risqué monthly depictions, but he was certainly not stuck in a rut.

Not Rockwell, but not
typical Frahm either.
You can't beat the combination
of sex and patriotism
Rose, 1940s, Art Frahm (no Rosie the Riveter).
Art Frahm was born in 1907, and grew up in Chicago. He died in 1981. A few years ago his work would have been decried as "sexist." Today, it's little more than dated, somewhat amusing evidence of the continuing social changes we see daily and our level of moral outrage regarding nudity, sex, and more specifically, the female anatomy. What would have been deemed little short of obscene, even pornographic during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s when Frahm was so prolifically producing such pictures, today, while not likely to turn up on a calendar in a church basement, hardly raise an eyebrow, and certainly falls far short of present-day erotica. Unfortunately, porn just ain't what it used to be.

Puppy Bath, 1940s, Art Frahm.
Even when painting little girls, the artist loved short skirts and bare legs.


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