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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Duane Bryers

Meet Hilda, Duane Bryers' contribution to the classical nude.
After weeks upon weeks of taking art "oh so seriously," it's fun to take a break and have fun with art. There's lots of playgrounds in the art world allowing us to "lighten up" and "play around" with the art we love. We can make fun of it, toy with it, exaggerate it, even abuse it all in good natured, more or less, wholesome fun. I can't think of a more delightful type of art to enjoy in this manner than what we've come to call "pinup art." As an art form, it was never meant to be taken seriously, even though it's a more or less authentic branch of classic figural painting. In fact, in many cases, this so-called "classic" content was little more than the pinup art of its time, disguised in mythological pretense rather than decorating calendars. For some very reputable painters of the past, such female nudity was something of their stock-in-trade, putting bread on the table and bringing home the bacon for their BLTs when high-flown portraits, landscapes, and still-lifes weren't exactly flying off the wall. Duane Bryers was an illustrator in many ways much like these professional painters of the past. In fact, his lovely feminine beauties had much more in common with those of Rubens, Rembrandt, Fragonard, Renoir, Manet, and others than they did with the popular, scantily clad calendar art of the 1960s and the following years when he was in his prime. Bryers, you see, had Hilda.

A remarkable art career of seventy-five years, fifty of them with Hilda.
Hilda was the delightful stepdaughter of Bryers vivid imagination. She was born fully grown and voluptuously overdeveloped around 1960. Bryers himself was born in 1911 on a farm on the upper peninsula of Michigan with his three brothers and two sisters. When Duane was twelve his family move to a small village in northern Minnesota. He began drawing comic strips at the age of five and by the time he was twenty-five he had in mind to become a mural painter, starting with a mural just over a hundred feet in length by ten-feet tall commissioned by the Minnesota State School Board. Today it's considered a Minnesota historic masterpiece. Except for a stint in the U.S. Army Air Corps during WW II, Bryers spent the next twenty-five years honing his skills while working as an illustrator, specializing in western art.

Despite her generous proportions, perhaps even because of them, Hilda is a happy, single, independent young lady who, despite being some fifty years old, still looks as good as ever.
One of Bryers' early Hilda calendars.
Hilda came along as an attempt on Bryers' part to stand apart from the dozens of outstanding pinup artists working in the calendar illustration genre in the 1960s. Hilda was not your typical pinup. Although she was a ravishing redhead, she was also close to a hundred pounds overweight (as compared to her calendar sisters), and imbued with a comic, spirit of self-acceptance and self-confidence that was as remarkable then as it is now. She was adventuresome, somewhat hapless, and fun-loving, all of which ac-counts for the fact that, despite the advent of fervent feminism in the latter part of the 20th century, Hilda has not lost her touch. Brown and Bigelow are reusing some of Bryers' Hilda art on calendars today. They have plenty to pick from. Bryers has created some 250 images of Hilda, sometimes using live models, but just as often strictly from his lively imagination. Some of the Hilda paintings done without a model Bryers considers his best work. Bryers, himself, is the heart and soul of Hilda.

Hilda does it all--sexy without being sexual.
Quite apart from Hilda, Duane Bryers was a product of New York's Art Students League and a veteran cartoonist, having created the nationally syndicated comic strip called Corky during and after the war. Bryers exhibited his western art at major invitations shows starting in 1978. His first solo exhibition came in 1980 at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. In 1974, Bryers co-authored with his wife a hilarious western novel, The Bunkhouse Boys of The Lazy Daisy Ranch, which he lavishly illustrated.

I love the cow. Artists always have critics.
Hilda, like her creator, has both a literary and a creative side. She appears to work in gauche as did Bryers. All the Hilda originals are painted on twelve by sixteen inch illustration board, a stack that would be close to three feet thick if all were in a single pile. The majority of Bryers' work is owned by his publisher, though Bryers continued to retain about sixty Hilda originals which he left to his daughters upon his death at his Tucson home in May, of 2012, just a month shy of his 101st birthday.

Bryers painted Hilda from around 1960 until the mid-1990s.
Hilda glassware from the 1960s. There were also Hilda
playing cards.


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