Sharp Sybaritic” Retrofuturistic Deco Realism: Some Preliminary Notes on the 1980s Airbrush Art

Ursu­la-Helen Kas­saveti

Abstract: Orig­i­nat­ing in the late 19th cen­tu­ry, the air­brush spray gun was wide­ly used in the mid-20th cen­tu­ry as a pho­to retouch tool in adver­tis­ing, while it con­tributed to the intro­duc­tion of Pho­to­re­al­ism in the ear­ly 1970s. The “LA scene” of the same decade pop­u­lar­ized air­brush art through mas­ter­ful illus­tra­tions. Using a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent rep­re­sen­ta­tions, the 1980s air­brush art became the dis­tinc­tive post­mod­ern pop­u­lar style of the decade, espe­cial­ly through the pub­li­ca­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of posters and post­cards, as well as in adver­tis­ing. Although the 1990s saw its decline, in the late 2000s the 1980s air­brush art seems to be resur­gent thanks to the Inter­net, pro­vid­ing an escapist nar­ra­tive for the post-2007-2008 finan­cial cri­sis land­scape.

Resume: Apparu à l’origine vers la fin du XIXe siè­cle, l’aérographe a été large­ment util­isé au milieu du XXe siè­cle comme un out­il de retouche pho­to dans la pub­lic­ité, tout en con­tribuant à l’ intro­duc­tion du Pho­toréal­isme au début des années 1970. Dans la même décen­nie, la “scène L.A.” a pop­u­lar­isé l’art de l’ aéro­gra­phie au tra­vers d’ illus­tra­tions magis­trales qui ont déployé divers thèmes artis­tiques. À l’ aide d’ une var­iété de représen­ta­tions dif­férentes, l’ art aéro­graphe des années 1980 est devenu le style pop­u­laire post­mod­erne dis­tinc­tif de la décen­nie. Notam­ment, on le recon­naît dans la pub­li­ca­tion et la dis­tri­b­u­tion d’ affich­es ou de cartes postales, ain­si que dans la pub­lic­ité. Bien que les années 1990 aient été témoins de son déclin, l’ art de l’ aéro­gra­phie des années 1980 sem­ble main­tenant resur­gir de l’ oubli grâce à Inter­net, four­nissant un lieu d’ éva­sion dans le paysage de crise finan­cière post-2007-2008.


Table of Con­tents | Arti­cle doi: 10.17742/IMAGE.OI.10.2.4 | PDF

Short­ly after the glob­al finan­cial cri­sis of 2007-2008 and the Euro­pean debt cri­sis of 2008, many of us start­ed to look back to the decades of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, con­firm­ing, to some extent, Svet­lana Boym’s asser­tion that, “nos­tal­gia inevitably reap­pears as a defense mech­a­nism in a time of accel­er­at­ed rhythms of life and his­tor­i­cal upheavals” (Boym 2001 14). Try­ing to dis­tance our­selves from those hard­er times, many of us head­ed towards a bet­ter “home,” even if the lat­ter was only avail­able in the dig­i­tal world. New online social plat­forms became the hotspot for nos­tal­gia allow­ing users to dig through and col­late pho­to­graph­ic rem­nants of past aes­thet­ic move­ments, and re-shape an image of a shinier past, part real and part imag­ined.

Dur­ing these years of finan­cial insta­bil­i­ty and hard­ship in the first and sub­se­quent decade of the 21st cen­tu­ry, visu­al imagery from the pop­u­lar cul­ture and cin­e­ma of the 1980s espe­cial­ly resur­faced on the inter­net thanks to micro-blog­ging plat­forms like Tum­blr and online social net­works that focus on images like Pin­ter­est (Munteanu). Through a vast net­work of user accounts (most anony­mous), Tum­blr and Pin­ter­est uploaded thou­sands of scans of books, post­cards, and details from posters, which togeth­er present a clear and fas­ci­nat­ing record of air­brush art from the 1980s.1 New pub­li­ca­tions in art his­to­ry were also encour­ag­ing a renewed inter­est in the longer his­to­ry of air­brush art: Nor­man Hathaway’s Over­spray: Rid­ing High with the Kings of Air­brush (2008), for exam­ple, shed light on the life of impor­tant air­brush artists main­ly from the 1970s (Charles E. White III, Peter Palom­bi, David Williard­son, and Peter Lloyd), and deep­ened air­brush enthu­si­asts’ under­stand­ing of their influ­en­tial work.

How­ev­er, the long sto­ry of air­brush art could begin even ear­li­er in the late 1960s with the use of a spray gun, which resem­bled the pro­por­tions of a foun­tain pen and had been used in the USA since 1888 (Van Hamersveld 16). This inven­tion, attrib­uted to Charles Bur­dick, could spray “pig­ments onto a sur­face with­out ever touch­ing the sur­face itself” (Van Hamersveld 16). While air­brush­ing with gouache or acrylic paints, artists used mask­ing paper to cre­ate dif­fer­ent shapes, shad­ows, or col­or effects. As Bill Jonas, a for­mer edi­tor of Air­brush Action mag­a­zine, argued, the air­brush was ide­al “for ren­der­ing sub­tle gra­da­tions (i.e., flesh tones) and shad­ows, and metal­lic sur­faces” (8) and for emu­lat­ing “mist, light, smoke, vapor … and beau­ti­ful blend­ings with the slight­est pull of a trig­ger” (Ten­nant 9).

From its first use in the 1880s up until the 1980s, air­brush­ing has been applied in var­i­ous artis­tic fields: fine art, adver­tis­ing illus­tra­tion, self-pro­mo­tion­al art, archi­tec­tur­al design, and tech­ni­cal illus­tra­tion. How­ev­er, it was in the late 1970s and the 1980s that air­brush became a promi­nent, pop­u­lar style, par­tic­u­lar­ly in illus­tra­tion and where it became inter­wo­ven with the pop­u­lar cul­ture of the era. Its imagery con­sist­ed pri­mar­i­ly of vari­a­tions on dif­fer­ent themes: female por­traits, trop­i­cal land­scapes, cars, fruits, var­i­ous con­sumer goods, and archi­tec­tur­al inte­ri­or design. Such imagery was inter­tex­tu­al, as it tend­ed to adopt and blend dec­o­ra­tive ele­ments from ear­li­er aes­thet­ic move­ments Art Deco, Pho­to­re­al­ism, Mem­phis style, and retro­fu­tur­ism. The air­brush art of the 1980s was pro­duced by artists from var­i­ous coun­tries (the USA, UK, Italy, and Japan) as a post­mod­ern form of expres­sion; but it should not, at the same time, be con­sid­ered as a uni­fied artis­tic move­ment, as there were many dif­fer­ent foci and styles locat­ed around the world.

The glob­al pop­u­lar­i­ty of 1980s air­brush art in many ways hinged on the cir­cu­la­tion of prints and posters as an impor­tant ele­ment of inte­ri­or dec­o­ra­tion. Describ­ing some of the dec­o­ra­tions of 1980s homes, Wayne Hem­ing­way remarks that:

Any chrome and tech room isn’t com­plete with­out an Athena print. Athena in the 1970s and ear­ly 1980s brought afford­able prints to us all. No house was com­plete with­out a red-lipped beau­ty suck­ing sug­ges­tive­ly on a cher­ry, or a racy siren mor­ph­ing into the bon­net of a red sports car. Prints of exot­ic cock­tails on the win­dow ledge of a glam­orous hotel room look­ing onto Hong Kong Har­bour, or images of Parisi­enne ladies with wide-brimmed hats and high heels, ful­filled dreams of for­eign trav­el…. (26)

The pur­pose of this arti­cle is to pro­vide a short his­tor­i­cal overview of the kind of air­brush art described by Hem­ing­way and to iden­ti­fy its char­ac­ter­is­tic ele­ments and influ­ences. My research was car­ried out by review­ing exist­ing pub­li­ca­tions on Amer­i­can, Euro­pean, and Japan­ese air­brush art and its artists from the fif­teen-year peri­od (1977-1992) that wit­nessed the emer­gence, style, and appli­ca­tions of air­brush art as a dom­i­nant aes­thet­ic. I also made use of a series of post­cards, posters, and LPs fea­tur­ing air­brush art, which were col­lect­ed by three Greek col­lec­tors. These archival objects pro­vid­ed me with vivid par­a­digms of 1980s air­brush art. It should be not­ed, how­ev­er, that it was extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to locate and make con­tact with oth­er artists, and to pre­serve the respec­tive rights to pub­lish their illus­tra­tion in a paper. So, inevitably, this article’s focus has been nar­rowed to a par­tic­u­lar set of artists and art­works; but the hope is that the ground it cov­ers will be expand­ed by those who have been grant­ed access a wider range of archives. The arti­cle explores the dif­fu­sion and pop­u­lar­i­ty air­brush art achieved through the cir­cu­la­tion of prints by com­pa­nies like Athena Inter­na­tion­al, which renewed and influ­enced the visu­al imagery of this pop­u­lar style through their icon­ic and vibrant retro­fu­tur­is­tic posters (such as Long Dis­tance Kiss by South-African illus­tra­tor Syd Brak—one of the most promi­nent 1980s air­brush illus­tra­tors). In con­clu­sion, I the­o­rize the reemer­gence of air­brush art in the 21st cen­tu­ry, draw­ing on Mikhail Bakhtin’s con­cept of “chrono­tope” to argue that—amid the vast image col­lec­tion that com­pris­es the Internet—nostalgic and escapist pre­sen­ta­tions of air­brush art in the post-2007-2008 land­scape oper­ate as a chrono­topic habi­tat of 1980s pros­per­i­ty.

Airbrushing as a Technique: From the 1920s to Photorealism

At the begin­ning, air­brush was an aux­il­iary tool for artists and pho­tog­ra­phers; it was only lat­er that it grad­u­al­ly trans­formed into a key ele­ment in the pro­duc­tion of a real­is­tic visu­al style. In the 20th cen­tu­ry and, espe­cial­ly, dur­ing the roar­ing 1920s decade, the air­brush was heav­i­ly used as a pho­to-retouch­ing tool. Accord­ing to Van Hamersveld, the pre­mier air­brush illus­tra­tion “appeared in the New York Director’s Annu­al in 1928” and was cre­at­ed by Samuel Otis (42). In Europe, and par­tic­u­lar­ly in France, the inter­est in the “pochoir (sten­cil) print­ing process” result­ed in var­i­ous exper­i­ments with air­brush­ing in the fash­ion illus­tra­tions of the women’s mag­a­zines of the era, such as Le Gazette du Bon Ton, and in adver­tise­ments illus­trat­ed by artists such as A. M. Cas­san­dre and Jean Car­lu (Robin­son 22-23). As Alis­tair Dun­can observes, dur­ing this peri­od of grow­ing improve­ments in man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques and the con­se­quent abun­dance of con­sumer goods, adver­tis­ing came to play a cru­cial role in devel­op­ing con­sumer habits. In this con­text, min­i­mal­ist posters set out on “colonnes d’affiche” in Paris with their “sharp lin­ear com­po­si­tions, float­ing on flat areas of back­ground col­or quick­ly drew the eye” of poten­tial cus­tomers (Dun­can 150). Mean­while, Bauhaus artists like Lás­zló Moholy-Nagy used the tool to “soft­en the dif­fer­ences between the var­i­ous ele­ments of a pho­tomon­tage” (Van Hamersveld 24; see also Kaplan 128-29 and Har­iu 2-3). In suc­ceed­ing decades, fash­ion and men’s mag­a­zines, like Play­boy or Esquire, start­ed fea­tur­ing air­brush illus­tra­tions by pop­u­lar artists, such as pin-up illus­tra­tor George Pet­ty and fash­ion illus­tra­tor Alber­to Var­gas.

After fac­ing a short decline dur­ing the 1950s (except­ing its fre­quent use by Push Pin Stu­dios led by graph­ic design­ers Sey­mour Chwast, Mil­ton Glaser, and Edward Sorel), the air­brush began to be used again in Rock ’n’ Roll posters and was legit­imized as a tool and tech­nique in the fol­low­ing decade, the era of Pho­to­re­al­ism. After going through a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent artic­u­la­tions, such as “Super-Real, Sharp-Focus, Rad­i­cal Real, Hyper­re­al (in France), Roman­tic Real and Mag­ic Real,” Pho­to­re­al­ism was at last coined in 1968 by the Amer­i­can col­lec­tor Louis K. Meisel (Meisel, Pho­to­re­al­ism 12).2 The term was first used to describe the re-emer­gence of Real­ism in paint­ing, asso­ci­at­ed with the “Twen­ty-Two Real­ists” exhi­bi­tion at the Whit­ney Muse­um in Jan­u­ary 1970, and artists that used the cam­era and oth­er mechan­i­cal or semi-mechan­i­cal means to trans­fer visu­al infor­ma­tion to the can­vas along­side a new­ly refined tech­ni­cal capac­i­ty to give the fin­ished work a pho­to­graph­ic appear­ance.

The labo­ri­ous tech­niques adopt­ed by Pho­to­re­al­ist artists, such as Chuck Close, Audrey Flack, Ben Schonzeit, and Don Eddy, depend­ed upon two tools: the clas­si­cal bris­tle brush and the air­brush. The lat­ter was used for smooth­ing blend­ed sur­faces, but also, as pho­to­re­al­ist artist Chuck Close con­tends, for “rea­sons that involve [the artists’] philo­soph­i­cal and con­cep­tu­al approach­es to paint­ing,” which he iden­ti­fies as, “imper­son­al­i­ty, sys­tem, sur­face” (Close qtd. in Meisel, Pho­to­re­al­ism 15).3 Accord­ing to art his­to­ri­an Fred­er­ick Hartt, air­brush was used by every­one, who cre­at­ed art­works in the “sharp sybarit­ic real­ist” vein, a term which was first coined by Span­ish sur­re­al­ist painter Sal­vador Dali (Hartt 948-49; Dali 4-5).

The re-emer­gence of the air­brush tech­nique in the 1970s thus secured the pop­u­lar­i­ty of the medi­um for the 1980s, and the endur­ing influ­ence of new artis­tic trends asso­ci­at­ed with real­is­tic and labo­ri­ous rep­re­sen­ta­tions. It was also in the 80s that this style began to be adopt­ed by illus­tra­tors or adver­tis­ers, who explored its new pos­si­bil­i­ties and estab­lished its inter­tex­tu­al char­ac­ter by appro­pri­at­ing ele­ments from even old­er styles and aes­thet­ic move­ments.

Shaping the 1980s Airbrush Art Style: Influences and Themes

Explor­ing the for­mal char­ac­ter­is­tics of the 1980s air­brush art, we come across a mod­ern revival of the old­er styles that were the first to influ­ence air­brush art. In a decade that saw the rise of post­mod­ern aes­thet­ics in Europe and the USA, the 1980s air­brush art is also rec­og­niz­able as a style that shares spe­cif­ic post­mod­ern attrib­ut­es (Siegel 2).4 Air­brush art pro­duces a high­ly aes­theti­cized, nos­tal­gic art lan­guage that is curi­ous­ly devoid of “gen­uine his­toric­i­ty” , and, at the same time, uses this method of pas­tiche in a man­ner that “sub­verts dom­i­nant dis­cours­es” by cre­ative­ly merg­ing of dif­fer­ent artis­tic styles and pop­u­lar cul­ture ele­ments in a way that chal­lenges the once char­ac­ter­is­tic dichoto­my between “high­brow” and “low­brow” cul­ture (Jame­son 17-19; Hutcheon 46), such as in the case of Amer­i­can illus­tra­tor Patrick Nagel.

In addi­tion to Hyperrealism’s pho­to­graph­ic ren­der­ing of paint­ed real­i­ty, the influ­ence of Art Deco was cen­tral and for­ma­tive for the look of 1980s air­brush art, pro­vid­ing it with many of its most com­mon motifs. Art Deco, as the “last tru­ly sump­tu­ous style, a legit­i­mate and high­ly fer­tile chap­ter in the his­to­ry of applied art,” evolved its basic iconog­ra­phy from avant-garde paint­ing (Cubism, Futur­ism, etc.) and a series of ver­nac­u­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics (such as zigza­gs, chevrons, flow­ers, high fash­ion) dur­ing the 1920s in Europe and in the 1930s in the USA, when the splen­dor of machin­ery and aero­dy­nam­ic designs affect­ed its var­i­ous forms (Dun­can 7). After its decline, Art Deco was revived many times lat­er, as “an artis­tic amal­gam” (Dun­can 8). Accord­ing to Nan­cy McClel­land, Art Deco not only proved to be a “use­ful lan­guage” for the Pop Art of the late 1960s, revolv­ing around “the flat col­ors and hard-edged shapes of the Deco graph­ics,” but also achieved rebirth in dif­fer­ent fash­ion trends and film in the 1970s (McClel­land 251-53; Guf­fey, Retro: The Cul­ture of Revival 86).5 Art Deco’s revival had been one of the deci­sive fac­tors in shap­ing the pop­u­lar­i­ty of air­brush art in the 1970s in the USA, and specif­i­cal­ly in Los Ange­les. Amer­i­can air­brush art was incred­i­bly pop­u­lar: “It was everywhere—magazines, album cov­ers, high up on bill­boards; on cloth­ing, as fine art, and in the film”; and its aes­thet­ics were based on the imagery of “met­al, plas­tic and stream­line” which were reflect­ed in the mod­ern Amer­i­can city (Sal­is­bury 7 and 10). Influ­enced by the pre-war nos­tal­gic images cre­at­ed by Push Pin Stu­dios, the LA scene’s air­brush artists, such as Peter Palom­bi, Charles White III, and Dave Williard­son, deployed Art Deco or Trop­i­cal Deco motifs in their air­brush art, cre­at­ing stun­ning visu­al exam­ples of imag­i­nary and almost non-tem­po­ral still-life com­po­si­tions and por­traits.

The dawn of the 1980s saw yet anoth­er revival of the Art Deco style in Europe: the sem­i­nal design col­lec­tive Mem­phis, based in Milan and led by Ettore Sottsass, was inspired by old­er Art Deco aes­thet­ics, blend­ing them with pop­u­lar Milanese cul­ture, the tra­di­tions of the Ori­ent, and ele­ments of Stream­line Mod­erne (Horn 20). At the same time, the rich Euro­pean style was assim­i­lat­ed into the Amer­i­can cul­ture, result­ing in the birth of Trop­i­cal Deco archi­tec­ture in Mia­mi, Flori­da, which “evolved out of a soft­er palette and had a dif­fer­ent vision from ‘Big City’ or ‘Indus­tri­al Deco’” (Capit­man; Cer­winske 11). For Cer­winske, Trop­i­cal Deco was “an archi­tec­ture designed to evoke feel­ings of delight” and its soft pas­tels, stream­lined aes­thet­ics, glass block win­dows, curved angles, and geo­met­ric com­po­si­tions were some of the most fre­quent­ly recur­ring themes of the 1980s air­brush art (12).

In this regard, the 1980s air­brush art could be seen as a nat­ur­al exten­sion of its 1970s ver­sion. Apart from tech­ni­cal illus­tra­tion, which stuck to the small­est rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al ele­ments, a heavy Deco influ­ence can be traced in the atten­tion giv­en to the slight­est details of the 1980s air­brush art, and is evi­dent in both still-life illus­tra­tions and por­traits from the era. These still-life com­po­si­tions revolve around recur­ring themes, such as food and bev­er­ages (col­or­ful and shiny cock­tails, sun­daes, and so on) (Image 1), deco build­ings, palm trees, and vas­es with flow­ers. The same atten­tion to detail, how­ev­er, is evi­dent in air­brush por­trai­ture. Mal Wat­son, a British air­brush artist, pro­duced a series of female por­traits or “ladies,” such as Ori­en­tal Lady, Chic Lady, and Mid­night Lady, which depict­ed var­i­ous femmes fatales in dif­fer­ent urban land­scapes. Echo­ing Art Deco and Japon­isme, those female por­traits were clad in high 1930s fash­ion, drank cock­tails, wore sexy heels, and had New York’s Chrysler build­ing or the San Fran­cis­co bridge as back­grounds (Image 2). They deploy var­i­ous dec­o­ra­tive Art Deco motifs (i.e., the glam­orous female sit­ters that could be seen in old­er fash­ion illus­tra­tions), using clear out­lines, cool col­ors, while atten­tion is giv­en to the real­is­tic depic­tion of a cen­tral female fig­ure. Some­times, in addi­tion to its pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the “roar­ing 1920s,” air­brush art would also revolve around rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the 1930s, in which Art Deco style or Stream­line Mod­erne ele­ments were promi­nent.

Image 1: Long Drinks by Lau­ra Rigo © Arti Gra­fiche Ricor­di – Milano. Post­card.
Image 2: Chic Lady by Mal Wat­son © Athena Inter­na­tion­al Lon­don. Post­card.

Pier­rots were also a recur­rent theme. As Dun­can observes, fash­ion illus­tra­tors from the 1920s, such as Georges Bar­bi­er, Georges Lep­ape, and André Édouard Mar­ty, “mixed 18th-cen­tu­ry pier­rots, columbines, pow­dered girls and crino­lines with the depic­tion of young women” clad in haute cou­ture fash­ion, and, there­fore, were the first to pop­u­lar­ize the pier­rot motif. Pier­rot-inspired por­traits from Euro­pean illus­tra­tors, like Lui­gi Patrig­nani, show the cre­ative accu­mu­la­tion of Art Deco motifs in the 1980s post­mod­ern air­brush art (Image 3). Sad Pier­rot by Patrig­nani presents the view­er with a ten­sion between clear and blurred lines trac­ing the out­line of the figure’s face and cloth­ing. These lines merge in a tense pho­to-real­is­tic style that is as vivid as it appears to be emp­ty, devoid of under­ly­ing or “hid­den” con­cepts.

Image 3: Pier­rot by Lui­gi Patrig­nani © Arti Gra­fiche Ricor­di – Milano. Post­card.

It should be not­ed that retro­fu­tur­ism also occu­pied a priv­i­leged space in the air­brush art of the 1980s. Guf­fey and Lemay argue that retro­fu­tur­ism in the cul­ture of the 20th cen­tu­ry iden­ti­fies the future as a “style,” infused with “nos­tal­gia, irony, and time-bend­ing dis­lo­ca­tion” (434). Retro­fu­tur­ist imagery offers futur­is­tic visions artic­u­lat­ed in a retro style, cre­at­ing a back-and-forth dia­logue between the past and the future, as in the exem­plary work of Japan­ese artists Hajime Soraya­ma and Pater Sato.6 Shoot­ing Wide by Brak is an exem­plary illus­tra­tion in this vein (Image 4). Fea­tur­ing cool and warm col­ors, three iden­ti­cal punk­ish female sit­ters with a gun in their hand appear in move­ment, man­i­fest­ing their sen­su­al­i­ty. The artist faith­ful­ly records their facial fea­tures (hair, eyes, etc.) and mas­ters the tex­tile form of their cloth­ing in bright sequins and oth­er tex­tures. They appear against a hor­i­zon­tal, non-real­is­tic, and futur­is­tic back­ground made of neon lights. They seem to be shoot­ing towards a prospec­tive era, some­where in the near future.

Image 4: Shoot­ing Wide by Syd Brak © Athena Inter­na­tion­al Lon­don. Postcard.g

Nos­tal­gia for oth­er decades, such as the 1950s and the 1960s, can be traced in the air­brush works of artists like Mar­tin Alton, who delved into imagery of 1950s pop­u­lar stars, din­ers, juke­box­es, ads, and so on. In the 1980s, Alton pro­duced a series of por­traits depict­ing 1950s film and music stars like Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, Mar­lon Bran­do, Elvis Pres­ley, and James Dean. These por­traits, which focus in on the slight­est detail, also include a minia­tur­ized full-body sketch of the star against a plain back­ground placed at the bot­tom of the com­po­si­tion. The Pres­ley por­trait looks like a fad­ed pho­to­graph, employ­ing cool pas­tel tones, while Elvis’s mel­low gaze reveals a yearn­ing for old­er and bet­ter days (Image 5).

Image 5: Elvis by Mar­tin Alton © Athena Inter­na­tion­al Lon­don. Post­card.

A final point should be made about the sim­i­lar­i­ties between air­brush works that results from recur­ring sub­jects and themes and copy­cat pro­duc­tions that try to imi­tate the suc­cess or pop­u­lar­i­ty of oth­er artists. While this rep­e­ti­tion and redu­pli­ca­tion is trou­bling from the stand­point of orig­i­nal­i­ty and authen­tic­i­ty, it expands the notion of air­brush art’s inter­tex­tu­al­i­ty that rein­forces the mean­ing of the expe­ri­ence, rather than under­min­ing the aura of the work’s authen­tic­i­ty. In the case of Bar­ry Lepard’s Reflec­tions (Athena Inter­na­tion­al) and Patrignani’s New York Reflec­tions (Paper­club, Arti Gra­fiche Ricor­di), the eye area in each por­trait con­sti­tutes for both illus­tra­tions the focal point—covered by either a mir­ror hat or huge sunglasses—that ini­ti­ates an inter­play between light and shade. The reflect­ed images in each illus­tra­tion indi­cate New York as the sitter’s most like­ly loca­tion. The main sub­ject of such illus­tra­tions is life in the mod­ern metrop­o­lis, seen not from dif­fer­ent, but com­ple­men­tary, per­spec­tives.

Image 6: Reflec­tions by Bar­ry Lep­ard © Athena Inter­na­tion­al Lon­don. Post­card.
Image 7: New York Reflec­tions by Lui­gi Patrig­nani © Arti Gra­fiche Ricor­di – Milano. Post­card.

Achieving Popularity: Airbrush Art on Postcards, Posters, Album Covers, and Stationary

Despite the fact that the air­brush style shared some high-brow char­ac­ter­is­tics with Pho­to­re­al­ism and that some air­brush artists exhib­it­ed their work at art gal­leries, air­brush art was nonethe­less con­sid­ered a pop­u­lar medi­um and mode of artis­tic expres­sion tied to the cir­cu­la­tion of prints, posters, and post­cards, fea­tur­ing still life, por­traits, and land­scapes. As every­day com­modi­ties, these iter­a­tions of air­brush art bore the twin char­ac­ter­is­tics of most pop­u­lar graph­ic design arti­facts: they were mass repro­duced and there­fore afford­able (Jobling and Crow­ley 1 and 3).

The Amer­i­can sta­tion­ary com­pa­ny Paper Moon Graph­ics became one of the first sta­tion­ary com­pa­nies to pub­lish post­cards with var­i­ous art­works by 1970s air­brush artists like Peter Palom­bi. How­ev­er, it was graph­ic design­er and illus­tra­tor Patrick Nagel, who gave promi­nence to the poster as an artis­tic form. As Ele­na G. Mil­lie observes, “Nagel’s posters have been in the fore­front of the con­tem­po­rary trend to move adver­tis­ing art away from the prod­uct to oth­er images; they also have an inde­pen­dent exis­tence … tend­ing to oblit­er­ate the line between the fine and applied arts” (6-9). Nagel’s line was imag­i­na­tive­ly adopt­ed by sta­tionery com­pa­nies, such as Arti Gra­fiche Ricor­di from Milano in Italy, Verk­erke from the Nether­lands, and Athena Inter­na­tion­al from the Unit­ed King­dom.7 The lat­ter two released a series of print­ed posters and post­cards of air­brush art, which dec­o­rat­ed hun­dreds of teenage bed­rooms as well as var­i­ous shops, cafe­te­rias, and clubs in the 1980s.

Some of these prints and posters oper­at­ed as a synec­doche for air­brush art per se. The South-African illus­tra­tor Brak, for exam­ple, admired the pin-ups by Alber­to Var­gas and the Palm Beach style and blend­ed pop­u­lar cul­ture, icon­ic fash­ion ele­ments, and nos­tal­gia in many of his famous air­brush illus­tra­tions.8 When Brak arrived in Lon­don, Punk was a dom­i­nant aes­thet­ic trend, but, accord­ing to the illus­tra­tor, “it lacked style,” as it was “slight­ly dirty and unfin­ished” (Email com­mu­ni­ca­tion). So, he re-imag­ined and re-designed the Punk look in “a fash­ion­able Milanese way” (Email com­mu­ni­ca­tion).9 Seen in this light, the sto­ry behind the release of Long Dis­tance Kiss in print—one of the most icon­ic Athena posters cre­at­ed by Brak—was, in fact, a nar­ra­tive of what was hap­pen­ing in the pop­u­lar cul­ture of the era (Image 8). As Brak recalls:

A com­pa­ny called Athena pro­duced and sold art prints derived from famous artists like Mon­et, Degas etc. This was a lim­it­ed mar­ket and they were in finan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties. They approached me to pro­duce a series of posters, which would appeal to a wider mar­ket. I sus­pect­ed that any expan­sion would come from a younger mar­ket so this took my inter­est back to the punk look. The task I set myself was to pro­duce aspi­ra­tional images for teenagers. I con­ceived emo­tion­al mes­sages but using a punk approach to iden­ti­fy with the teenag­er. As I said I found the Punk look slight­ly dirty and unfin­ished. I, there­fore, imag­ined the Punk look applied in a fash­ion­able Milanese way. The result was the “Kiss” series of which “The Long Dis­tance Kiss” became the world’s best­selling poster for two years run­ning and revived the for­tunes of Athena. The suc­cess of this look led to The New Roman­tics era. (Email com­mu­ni­ca­tion) 10

Image 8: Long Dis­tance Kiss © Syd Brak, 1982. Poster.

Long Dis­tance Kiss took every­one by sur­prise, as it actu­al­ly rep­re­sent­ed a depar­ture from the clas­sic air­brush style and an ini­ti­a­tion into the stun­ning world of fash­ion, music, and youth. It fea­tures an inter­change of hard­er and soft­er lines, bright and shiny reds in the pho­to­re­al­is­tic vein. It exem­pli­fies Brak’s choice of depict­ing heads in pro­file, while atten­tion is drawn to the melt­ing tele­phone, a medi­um of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and, appar­ent­ly, a love con­fes­sion. Brak’s female por­traits may resem­ble the high fash­ion queens of the 1920s in terms of grace and style, but they also appeared as an extra­or­di­nary exam­ple of the suc­cess­ful inte­gra­tion of old­er and new­er visu­al codes. It should be stressed that fash­ion illus­tra­tion was also enjoy­ing its hey­day at this time, with artists like Anto­nio Lopez and Nagel, whose art was pub­lished in Play­boy mag­a­zine, alleged­ly defin­ing the female por­trait of the decade (see Caran­i­cas).11 Brak’s air­brush works, includ­ing the well-known Long Dis­tance Kiss and Lost Love, are designed with the same tech­nique: hyper-exposed faces emerge from the illustration’s back­ground and are con­fined to some basic facial fea­tures. The bright reds on the lips or cheeks of the sit­ters of Brak’s designs pro­vide a youth­ful tone, while their eyes stand in for the total absence of hair, ears, neck, and body. In the mean­time, no time and space are sug­gest­ed, forms float in an imag­i­nary “time space,” which can par­tial­ly be indi­cat­ed thanks to the vibrant fash­ion details that echo the trends and the sub­cul­tures of the decade.

With­in a con­stant inter­tex­tu­al play, the air­brush art of the 1980s was not only informed by old­er styles, but also kept in view what was actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing in pop­u­lar and youth cul­ture through the nego­ti­a­tion of its var­i­ous mean­ings and their visu­al­iza­tion (Barnard 83-85). Being inspired by the sub­cul­tures and fash­ion trends of the 1980s, the Kiss became a synec­doche for the dreamy and col­or­ful air­brush style that fol­lowed its release, as well as the type of the female fig­ure it fea­tured, fol­low­ing the tra­di­tion of the 1980s grand female por­traits cre­at­ed by oth­er graph­ic design­ers and illus­tra­tors like Nagel.

Brak’s influ­ence on the con­tem­po­rary air­brush art of the 1980s could be traced in the work of dif­fer­ent air­brush artists. His female pro­to­type, as rep­re­sent­ed in Long Dis­tance Kiss, was wide­ly repro­duced in Verkerke’s sta­tionery imagery, while his air­brush works were also released by the Dutch pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny, which focused its atten­tion also on air­brush art through dif­fer­ent artists, such as the Ger­man part­ners Gil­da Belin and Fred-Jür­gen Rogn­er. The pas­tel palette of their Palm Beach land­scapes and inte­ri­ors and their female min­i­mal por­traits with bold pink blush have been on mag­a­zine cov­ers, as well as post­cards, posters, and teenager’s bags. Dur­ing that time, Verk­erke also pro­duced sta­tionery prod­ucts and bags, which fea­tured the work of Belin-Rogn­er and Alton’s homage to air­brush por­traits of 1950s film and music stars, which had pre­vi­ous­ly been fea­tured on Athena post­cards. The illus­tra­tor “Ger­ry the Cat” also con­ceived air­brush works in the man­ner of Brak, which were released as stick­ers, or were fea­tured on note­books and var­i­ous acces­sories.

The air­brush art of the 1980s played a vital role in the var­i­ous fields of visu­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion, includ­ing adver­tis­ing, illus­tra­tion, and graph­ic design both in the USA and Europe. Even in the era when pop­u­lar music was main­ly pro­mot­ed by MTV, the first tele­vi­sion chan­nel ever to broad­cast music video-clips, the album art of the vinyl record jack­ets still con­tributed to the sales of an LP. Record cov­ers became cul­tur­al “arte­facts,” offer­ing con­sumers “an attrac­tive site and sight, where the look of authen­tic­i­ty is actu­al­ly more cru­cial to the col­lec­tor than the effec­tive authen­tic­i­ty of the object” (Roy 126). As Steve Jones and Mar­tin Sor­gen observe, “gen­res of pop­u­lar music are not entire­ly musi­cal but also visu­al, and … music lis­ten­ers typ­i­cal­ly bring with them a good knowl­edge of visu­al styles” (84). These visu­al styles are often asso­ci­at­ed with oth­er mer­chan­dis­ing (t-shirts, bags, posters, and so on) fea­tur­ing graph­ic design(s) repli­cat­ed across a num­ber of prod­ucts.

Many pop­u­lar record sleeves of the 1980s were designed by air­brush artists, some of whom tried to repro­duce the Brak pro­to­type and fea­tured char­ac­ter­is­tic female air­brush fig­ures.12 One such exam­ple stems from Cana­da: Lime, the HI-NRJ duet and hus­band-and-wife project, had their record sleeves designed by Graf­fi­ti Stu­dio of Mon­tre­al in the char­ac­ter­is­tic air­brush style, begin­ning with their Lime II (1982) and con­tin­u­ing with Lime III (1983). Their record sleeves for Sen­su­al Sen­sa­tion LP (1984) and onwards fea­ture art­work that is rem­i­nis­cent of Brak’s air­brush por­traits: bathed in the band’s trade­mark col­or (lime), a female fig­ure is posi­tioned oppo­site a cold cock­tail, one of the recur­ring themes of 1980s air­brush art (Image 9). Employ­ing clear out­lines with mar­velous radi­a­tions and hues in green, this jack­et illus­tra­tion pro­duces a simul­ta­ne­ous­ly trop­i­cal and post­mod­ern sen­sa­tion.13

Image 9: Record Sleeve for Lime’s Sen­su­al Sen­sa­tion LP, 1984 © Graf­fi­ti Stu­dio of Mon­tre­al.

A Long Decline, a Fresh Revival

I now want to the­o­rize the reemer­gence of the 1980s air­brush art in the present, using Bakhtin’s con­cept of the “chrono­tope” (from “chronos” for time and “topos” for space). As Bakhtin notes, the term was first employed in the con­text of Einstein’s The­o­ry of Rel­a­tiv­i­ty; his “Forms of Time and the Chrono­tope in the Nov­el,” how­ev­er, seeks to rede­ploy it as a con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of the merg­ing of space and time “artis­ti­cal­ly expressed in lit­er­a­ture” (Bakhtin 84). It is in the “chrono­tope,” Bakhtin says, that time “thick­ens” and becomes “artis­ti­cal­ly vis­i­ble” (Bakhtin 84). Here, space responds to “move­ments of time, plot and his­to­ry” and, in so doing, becomes, charged with his­toric­i­ty (Bakhtin 84). In this sense, time inter­weaves with space (and vice ver­sa) and allows us to under­stand the way his­to­ry is rep­re­sent­ed by a text and the way images of both ele­ments are artic­u­lat­ed and relat­ed to one anoth­er.

As “no arti­fact of cul­ture [includ­ing air­brush art] ever exists out­side of par­tic­u­lar moments in his­tor­i­cal time and space” (Haynes 104), the notion of chrono­tope could be use­ful as a “metaphor of soci­ety and one of the prin­ci­pal gen­er­a­tors of artis­tic mean­ings in both lit­er­a­ture and paint­ing” (Best 291). In this light, air­brush art could be inter­pret­ed as a “chrono­tope” of the 1980s’ pop­u­lar cul­ture and art emerged through the decade of the Wall Street Boom, the New Con­ser­vatism of the US Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan, and con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion (see Phillips-Fein; Batch­e­lor and Stod­dard 3; and Thomp­son 15) of hard goods, fash­ion, etc. Fil­tered through a nos­tal­gic, Art-Deco lens and pro­duc­ing images of retro­fu­tu­ri­ty punc­tu­at­ed by trop­i­cal inter­vals, the air­brush chrono­tope, implic­it­ly or explic­it­ly, could be also a ref­er­ence to the 1980s metrop­o­lis “high life” and con­sumer lux­u­ries, as well as lav­ish glam­or.

Through­out the 1990s, the air­brush art that had pre­vi­ous­ly flour­ished in adver­tis­ing, the posters and post­cards of Athena and Verk­erke pub­lish­ing com­pa­nies, and on vinyl jack­ets start­ed to show signs of for­mal decline: the rep­e­ti­tion of styles and themes and the recy­cling of ideas, which result­ed in the emer­gence of schlock aes­thet­ics and soul­less copies of old­er suc­cess­ful art­works. In this regard, the 1980s air­brush art was instant­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the notion of kitsch and out­dat­ed­ness, as the new devel­op­ments in the 1990s graph­ic design, espe­cial­ly due to the emer­gence of the dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy, posed the out­lines of a fun­da­men­tal change in the poster itself (Guf­fey, Posters: A Glob­al His­to­ry 231). Against that back­ground, dig­i­tal design tend­ed to con­cen­trate atten­tion on new forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, dis­course, and aes­thet­ics, while rais­ing ques­tions about crafti­ness, form and con­tent.

At the end of the first decade of the 21st cen­tu­ry and at the begin­ning of the fol­low­ing, the 1980s air­brush art resur­faced thanks to the Inter­net: Athena or Verk­erke posters with air­brush illus­tra­tion are now, for exam­ple, reg­u­lar­ly sold in vir­tu­al mar­ket­places, such as eBay or Etsy. The rise of micro-blog­ging sites (like Tum­blr) and image/pho­to-shar­ing appli­ca­tions designed to cre­ate visu­al col­lec­tions (like Pin­ter­est) allowed users to upload scanned images of rare air­brush-illus­tra­tion books, paper cuts, and post­cards. As a result, users began cre­at­ing and curat­ing image col­lec­tions under head­ings like “air­brush,” “80s art,” “hyper­re­al­ism,” or “syd brak,” mak­ing air­brush art wide­ly avail­able on the World Wide Web. Using these plat­forms, users tried to orga­nize their mem­o­ries and to iden­ti­fy and share their nos­tal­gia for the themes of the 1980s air­brush art and the mem­o­ries they asso­ci­at­ed with them.

Such activ­i­ties bear a spe­cif­ic sig­nif­i­cance, that of cre­at­ing a state of off moder­ni­ty. Over­com­ing the tra­di­tion of the “post­mod­ern con­di­tion” and its discontents—the death of the sub­ject and what Jean-François Lyotard iden­ti­fied as “increduli­ty towards metanarratives”—the off-mod­ern is instead con­cerned with wor­ship of these same ruins (on the “post­mod­ern con­di­tion,” see Lyotard xxiv). As Boym argues, off-moder­ni­ty is revealed “in the form of a para­dox­i­cal ruinophil­ia,” allow­ing us to “frame utopi­an projects as dialec­ti­cal ruins,” which are then to be incor­po­rat­ed back into the here and now (36). How could these scanned air­brush art­works be sim­ply regard­ed as pure “ruin” or nos­tal­gia? This would be a rather naive approach. Cleary they bear the trace of utopi­an long­ing as well.

With­out any doubt, the man­i­fold char­ac­ter of the 1980s air­brush art with its own rep­re­sen­ta­tions, rhetoric, and its con­stant inter­tex­tu­al inter­play evokes com­plex feel­ings of nos­tal­gia that rep­re­sent “the past with a sad­ness that is blend­ed with a small mea­sure of pleasure”—a yearn­ing, in oth­er words, for the past decades (the 1930s, the 1950s) and the era dur­ing which air­brush flour­ished the most (the 1980s) (Guf­fey, Retro: The Cul­ture of Revival 19). How­ev­er, this type of utopi­an nos­tal­gia emerged not only due to the inter­ac­tiv­i­ty between the users and the Inter­net through the afore­men­tioned plat­forms. One cru­cial fac­tor should also be locat­ed in the finan­cial cri­sis of 2007-2008 in the USA and in Europe, whose dev­as­tat­ing effects led to the rein­ven­tion of new sur­vival tac­tics and the rise of vin­tage mar­kets (Cas­sidy and Ben­nett). As Ele­na Oli­ete-Aldea argues,

With the finan­cial crash that burst the peri­od of eco­nom­ic abun­dance, replac­ing the opti­mistic belief of a lin­ear pro­gres­sion of his­to­ry for the bet­ter by the idea of his­to­ry as decline, lead­ing to frag­ment­ed soci­eties and iden­ti­ties, with indi­vid­u­als lack­ing auton­o­my and spon­ta­neous expres­siv­i­ty. With not only an uncer­tain future, but an unsta­ble present, 21st cen­tu­ry soci­eties affect­ed by the eco­nom­ic cri­sis tend to look back nos­tal­gi­cal­ly to the past. (351)

With­in this frame­work, the 1980s air­brush art offers a clear vision of a lux­u­ri­ous “escapist” world, where air­brush crafts­man­ship under­mines the alien­ation of post­mod­ern dig­i­tal ameni­ties. Air­brush illus­tra­tions, like oth­er pop­u­lar art forms, thus bear a kind of utopi­an sen­si­bil­i­ty: what­ev­er the cri­sis one is expe­ri­enc­ing in the out­side world, one’s bed­room, adorned again with his posters, could become a safe har­bor for the dreams the young and old alike. 14 These air­brush female por­traits or land­scapes call one like a Siren to escape into the near future or the long-for­got­ten past with an explo­sion of pig­ments.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Syd Brak for his inter­view and the insight he gave me on air­brush art, to the anony­mous review­ers for help­ing me clar­i­fy impor­tant issues on the article’s struc­ture, and to the edi­tors of Imag­i­na­tions Jour­nal for their sup­port. Also, thanks to Kon­stan­ti­nos Vas­sileiou for our dis­cus­sions and his valu­able com­ments on an ear­ly draft. My sin­cere thanks to P. K., I. M. and E. K. for let­ting me have access to their col­lec­tions, and to Joseph and Vas­sili.

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Notes

  1. Tum­blr accounts, such as “palm and laser” (http://​pal​mand​laser​.tum​blr​.com), upload scanned images from 1980s books on inte­ri­or design and illus­tra­tion like Restau­rant Design (1987), and Bath­room Design (1985).↩︎

  2. The term “Pho­to­re­al­ism” describes this wide cor­pus of works, but, accord­ing to Meisel, does not con­sti­tute a “move­ment” (Meisel, Pho­to­re­al­ism 20). Works includ­ed in this canon must have been exhib­it­ed by 1972.↩︎

  3. Imper­son­al­i­ty” refers to the nature of the pho­to­graph­ic mate­r­i­al used to cre­ate a paint­ing; “sys­tem” relates to the series of tech­niques used to ren­der a pho­to­re­al­ist art­work; and “sur­face” is asso­ci­at­ed with the thin sur­face of pho­to­re­al­ist paint­ings due to the fre­quent use of the air­brush (see Meisel, Pho­to­re­al­ism Since 1980 8-10).↩︎

  4. As Bon­nie Clear­wa­ter argues, the year 1979 could be con­sid­ered as “water­shed,” as it coin­cid­ed with the return of paint­ing, which was con­sid­ered dead in the USA in the late 1960s, and opened a crit­i­cal dia­logue about the def­i­n­i­tion of post­mod­ernism at the begin­ning of the next decade (Clear­wa­ter 7). Dur­ing this time, New York still oper­at­ed as the “arbiter of con­tem­po­rary art his­to­ry” and cen­tered on neo-expres­sion­ism, post-struc­tural­ism and Neo-Geo, or, the New Geom­e­try (Clear­wa­ter 7). This main­ly “Euro­pean, and pre­dom­i­nant­ly painter­ly, upsurge” was evi­dent in var­i­ous exhi­bi­tions around the world (Nairne 17).↩︎

  5. Bar­bara Hulanicki’s “Biba” was an Eng­lish fash­ion store, which was based in Lon­don dur­ing the 1960s until the mid-sev­en­ties. It mixed some major Art Deco and Art Nou­veau influ­ences on cloth­ing, acces­sories, and 1930s-inspired objects. Films such as Bon­nie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) invoked the pop­u­lar cul­ture of the 1930s, includ­ing mass enter­tain­ment (i.e., radio shows) and fash­ion trends. In the 1970s, The Boyfriend (Ken Rus­sell, 1971) and Cabaret (Bob Fos­se, 1972) fur­ther explored the Deco iconog­ra­phy and paid dues to its dis­tinc­tive imagery. The 1980s Deco revival can also be traced in films such as Liq­uid Sky (Sla­va Tsuk­er­man, 1982) and Un Sapore di Pau­ra (Pathos) (Pic­cio Raf­fani­ni, 1987).↩︎

  6. After work­ing as an illus­tra­tor in adver­tis­ing and inde­pen­dent­ly, and after his pre­vi­ous inter­est in pin-ups or erot­ic art, Japan­ese artist Hajime Soraya­ma drew the first of his “Robot” series in 1978; his Sexy Robots were pub­lished in 1983. Defin­ing him­self as a “super-real­ist” illus­tra­tor, he also cre­at­ed retro-futur­is­tic imagery with female and male robots—even their “robot” pets—in erot­ic pos­es, set in an uniden­ti­fied future. Sorayama’s robots go beyond the mar­vels of the 1980s tech­nol­o­gy; they rep­re­sent “the true icons of the mil­len­ni­um that is now draw­ing to a close, pro­duced by the mat­ing of the insa­tiable con­sumer-world with the cyber­world that is over­tak­ing us” (Air­brush in Japan I 4). In fact, they become a cyn­i­cal com­ment on the over­whelm­ing pow­er of con­sumerism and tech­nol­o­gy and their effects on every­day humans, as rep­re­sent­ed in his MASKS series. It is also with­in this con­text, and with a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of inter­ests in air­brush art (fash­ion illus­tra­tion, and erot­ic art for Play­boy), Japan­ese air­brush artist Pater Sato evolved a unique style, which com­bined the bril­liant fem­i­nin­i­ty of Syd Brak’s por­traits with futur­is­tic details.↩︎

  7. Arti Gra­fiche Ricor­di pub­lished air­brush posters and post­cards from Ital­ian air­brush artists and illus­tra­tors, such as Lui­gi Patrig­nani, Lau­ra Rigo, and M. San­tam­bro­gio. They recy­cled the same air­brush themes and rep­re­sent­ed a series of roman­tic female por­traits and pier­rots as well as abstract com­po­si­tions with Coca-Cola tins, red hearts, and ice creams. The com­pa­ny was pop­u­lar in Europe, and, par­tic­u­lar­ly, in Greece where its posters could be seen hang­ing in record shops, cafe­te­rias and bars, as doc­u­ment­ed in the short-lived Greek direct-to-video film pro­duc­tion (1985-1990), which was asso­ci­at­ed with kitsch aes­thet­ics and employed often air­brush posters as a set­tings decor and in Greek tele­vi­sion shows or series (such as To Retire / The Pent­house (1990-1992, MEGA Chan­nel or O Kanon­ieris ke I Vendet­ta / The Strik­er and the Star­let (1991, ANT1).↩︎

  8. Oth­er air­brush works by Brak fur­ther devel­op his visu­al “jar­gon.” He deploys and dis­plays ele­ments of the Trop­i­cal Deco vocab­u­lary in his air­brush work Cal­i­for­nia Dreams, which fea­tures three girls in jeans rid­ing their bicy­cles through a trop­i­cal land­scape with tall palm trees. In addi­tion to his use of bright col­ors, Brak also worked with dark­er hues, as, for exam­ple, in his 1984 piece, which fea­tures a woman in black cloth­ing and a hel­met etched with “Min­istry of Love” (in homage to George Orwell’s dystopi­an nov­el 1984).↩︎

  9. Accord­ing to Simona Reinach, it was in the late 1960s that Milano became the new dri­ving force behind Ital­ian fash­ion with design­ers, such as Elio Fioruc­ci. In the begin­ning of the 1970s, the city had already emerged as the inter­na­tion­al cap­i­tal of fash­ion, where fash­ion design­ers, artists and pho­tog­ra­phers “con­tributed to con­sol­i­dat­ing the rela­tion­ship between the intel­lec­tu­al world, the art world, and fash­ion” (242).↩︎

  10. See also Webb (8-9). The New Roman­tics stemmed out of the so-called The Blitz Kids, post-punk habitués of The Blitz Club in Lon­don, where they used to social­ize and com­pete in eccen­tric cloth­ing. Their style ranged from medieval to post­mod­ern mix-and-match aes­thet­ics with a cor­re­spond­ing make-up style—especially the blush­er on their cheek­bones, tak­en straight out of Long Dis­tance Kiss.↩︎

  11. Brak’s por­traits appear to be some­thing more than the respec­tive ver­sions of Nagel and Lopez. His por­traits are min­i­mal­is­tic, usu­al­ly set on a monochromatic—usually white—background. His pic­to­r­i­al device is clear­ly the air­brush, which allows him to use col­ors just like he were using trans­par­ent, but bril­liant and bold, water col­ors. Female sit­ters are clad in sparkling pail­lettes, faces are sharp with tiny dec­o­ra­tive ele­ments, which shine like met­al. In the same vein, Brak’s work Wired for Sound appears to use more visu­al infor­ma­tion, dense and col­or­ful, as if his pre­vi­ous mod­els final­ly emerge from light. With a total con­trol of the mas­ter­ing of the sitter’s heads, he uses basic col­ors again, such as red and blue, and inter­sects roman­ti­cism with tech­nol­o­gy, music and rever­ie, using two almost twin mod­els with punk­ish hair, day­dream­ing in sound.↩︎

  12. The “pio­neers” of the L.A. West Coast air­brush style, such as Peter Palom­bi or Charles White III, also engaged with record sleeve design, infus­ing it with their par­tic­u­lar aes­thet­ics. Palom­bi had designed sleeves for Eddie Harris’s Is It In (Atlantic, 1974) and Michel Polnareff’s self-titled LP (Atlantic, 1975). Charles White III did design for Sam­my Davis’s When The Feel­ing Hits You (Reprise Records, 1965) and The Trammps’ famous Dis­co Infer­no (Atlantic, 1976). Three decades lat­er, Brak’s Long Dis­tance Kiss and Wired to Sound were fea­tured on Jupiter Black (ft. Fred Ven­tu­ra), Hold Me (2007) and Alba (ft. Fred Ven­tu­ra), With­out You (2011).↩︎

  13. Lime’s oth­er LPs, such as A Brand New Day (1988) and Car­o­line (1991), fea­ture more pho­to­re­al­is­tic female tor­sos, using trade­mark lime-col­ored details asso­ci­at­ed with the band. Over the years, the Brak pro­to­type has been trans­formed, espe­cial­ly when it was visu­al­ly recre­at­ed for Ita­lo Dis­co jack­et illus­tra­tions. Although made with air­brush, they poor­ly repli­cate the old­er arche­types in an attempt to recre­ate their exot­ic or retro­fu­tur­is­tic aura that char­ac­ter­ized the cov­er of Trop­i­cal Clas­sics… at its Best! (Uni­disc, 1989), which fea­tures a dense cov­er with a Brak female on an orange back­ground. How­ev­er, the most char­ac­ter­is­tic exam­ple of the mis­treat­ment of Brak’s aes­thet­ics was the record sleeve of Ita­lo Dis­co act LaLa. Their 12’’ sin­gle John­ny John­ny (Acad­e­my, 1986) is based on Brak’s Elec­tric Kiss. The illus­tra­tor, how­ev­er, seems to have erased the basic details, but the main form, a female giv­ing a pas­sion­ate kiss, still remains and has been re-masked by oth­er media.↩︎

  14. I use the term, utopi­an, in the man­ner pro­posed by Richard Dyer and applied to forms of pop­u­lar enter­tain­ment: “Two of the tak­en-for-grant­ed descrip­tions of enter­tain­ment, as ‘escape’ and as ‘wish-ful­fil­ment,’ point to its cen­tral thrust, name­ly, utopi­anism. Enter­tain­ment offers the image of ‘some­thing bet­ter’ to escape into, or some­thing we want deeply that our day-to-day lives don’t pro­vide. Alter­na­tives, hopes, wishes—these are the stuff of utopia, the sense that things could be bet­ter, that some­thing oth­er than what is can be imag­ined and maybe real­ized” (Dyer 20).↩︎