Now that I'm wading into my 40s, one of my favorite pastimes is to drone on and on about how much better everything was when I was a kid. It's incredibly fun pointing out how much cooler and smarter we all were, how we had way better music, film, television and art (and how no one went gender-Nazi on the children)—especially in the 1970s. Sure, it's the old-lady-glossing-over-the-past cliché, and I don't give a wit because I'm certain I'm right even if, okay, a few amazing modern things still crop up every now and again (read: the Banana Bunker).
The generations that have come after my own Gen X (the one that never started a single war—on women or foreigners—and never sent pictures of genitals to others in middle school) can argue with me all they want, and while they may gain an inch of ground here or there, the one area in which I will always win any generational argument is album-cover art.
Everyone who's older than 40 and younger than 80 knows that album art (the 12 inches of cardboard that encased your plastic recording disk) reigned from the late 1960s through the early '80s, and they will happily talk you into a coma reminiscing about their favorite covers. Album art during this period was so creative, in fact, it could actually end up defining a music group, such as John Pasche's 1970 illustration of lips and tongue for the Rolling Stones and Andy Warhol's Velvet Underground banana; it could even win the artist a Grammy (see Supertramp's Breakfast In America).
"Girls, Girls, Girls" at JoAnne Artman Gallery, www.joanneartmangallery.com. Open Wed-Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Through May 31.
Album-cover art made a huge impression on our culture. So, when I walked into "Girls, Girls, Girls" the JoAnne Artman Gallery's exhibit of new work by Belgium-born painter Anja Van Herle, I was instantly toppled by high-gloss, monolithic models sporting bubble shades, Rocky Horror red lips and slick-lined hair styles. I was also sure I'd seen them before, and after I rattled my brain, it finally came to me: Alberto Vargas' album cover for the Cars' Candy-O (1979), which featured an incredibly shapely chick in a see-through black leotard sprawled across the top of a Ferrari. Hot, hot, hot.
Van Herle's women, while probably less loose than Miss Candy-O, are often quite as provocative, even if they aren't much like the regular Vargas pinup girls; they're kind of what might result if Miss Candy-O and Patrick Nagel birthed a sassy classy, headstrong daughter. Comparisons aside, Van Herle has created an iconic, lusty line of images that both connects to the rock/pop/punk styles of bygone eras and emerges modern and untouched by the treads of time, which means it already possesses cultural resonance.
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What makes this series so impressive can also be attributed to the artist's technique: Though the images look airbrushed, they are actually created by incredibly fine brush strokes. Content-wise, each woman shares similar features—most are raven-haired, all are thin and perfect with average-sized breasts—so it's their accouterments that truly distinguish them. Many have '60s-era mod or bob haircuts; the makeup is decidedly '80s; and garments such as a leopard-print, French-cut, one-piece bathing suit firmly anchor us in that glam decade. There are touches of comedy, as in Fun, Fun, Fun In the California Sun, in which a girl lowers her enormous sunglasses to reveal the dreaded raccoon burn, and of eroticism, as depicted in Loved by You and Mrs. Kisses, both images of a woman whose neck is covered in female lipstick prints. Miss Daisy gives us a more vintage flapper gal, except her very short go-go dress and monster-sized daisy-head background toss her forward into the Twiggy era. Then there's a piece completely unlike the others, and it's definitely the most stunning: Monarchy of Butterflies, in which a wild-haired girl wearing silver-striped stockings sits in a portal while dozens of glittery gray butterflies spill into the air around her.
Other pieces move into extreme close-up, such as the full-faced Zip It (featuring a cloth zipper opening over the eyes of the model), and are ready-made for some rock & rollers to snap up for their next album cover. After all, while Van Herle probably takes her art very seriously, we can't help but admit it's super-fun for the rest of us. Is there a difference between mass marketing and mass appeal? Absolutely, and here's hoping she gets both.
This review appeared in print as "Hot, Hot, Hot! Anja Van Herle's 'Girls, Girls, Girls' makes us want to rock."