Monday, 7 March 2011

Starkers with Straker

I do like the simple graphic covers for these 1967 editions of The Artist magazine that were given to me a few years ago.  They look quite contemporary, with their lower case titles and the sans-serif typeface, although I suppose all that’s really saying is that a lot of current design trends have been influenced by work from this era.

The magazines aren’t the most exciting or stimulating to look at, but I was intrigued by these adverts in the back pages which seem to offer something indeed very exciting and very stimulating to look at (if you like that kind of thing).

(courtesy The Artist magazine volume 74, 1967)

I love the wording in these ads.  I’m not sure what ‘affective perception’ is, nor quite how one does actually ‘kindle aesthetic experiences that merge a feeling of tomorrow with the pattern of the past’ but it does all sound rather impressive, only to be somewhat let down by the rather more basic line drawing.  Take a look at it in close-up.  There seems to be a good deal of emphasis on a nude female’s rather ample behind and a slightly strange hand gesture from the portly gent in the foreground.  I can only imagine what he’s saying…. “Hey, look what I’ve found, it’s a microcosm of the forces which play upon the mind and emotions of the creative person!  And she does have a lovely arse…”

It seems that Jean Straker (1913-1984) - Jean as in Jean Paul Gaultier, not Jean Shrimpton - was quite a figure in photography circles in the ‘50s and ‘60s, well-known for his prolific depictions of the female nude.  During the Second World War he was a conscientious objector and had a photographic career recording hospital operations (eww), but in 1951 he founded the Visual Arts Club in Soho, where he offered members the chance to participate in anatomical observations of a very different nature in the form of nude photography sessions.  (Presumably it was just the models who were nude.)  His work featured in a (then) notorious book, ‘Nudes Of Jean Straker’ (does what it says on the tin) published in 1958, and whilst he was insistent that his work was pure art and not pornographic, he had trouble convincing the authorities.  Many of his prints were in fact confiscated and he was prosecuted in 1962 under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act.  He naturally argued that his photographs were of ‘artistic value’ but, unlike Penguin Books winning the case over Lady Chatterley’s Lover for it being considered to be of ‘literary merit’, he lost.  Jean went on to campaign for freedom of expression and freedom from censorship in the arts.

One of the most interesting things I discovered about Jean’s work is that he was rather imaginative with his compositions.  His subjects can be seen wrapped in theatrical masks, amongst strange branch-like structures laden with tinsel; in one he pictures his model on a set that includes various items of ironmongery and a bed frame, whilst she wears a skirt made of chicken wire (so not strictly nude, then…)  But my favourite is ‘Nude Study 1963’ where you could be forgiven for thinking that the model is not nude at all.  She is ‘clothed’ in some kind of projection of black with white dots, which make it look as if she is wearing a dark, patterned cat-suit, creating shapes on her body and shadows around her.  The effect is strikingly modern.  (Do look it up - it's on various sites - but I don't wish to reproduce it here due concerns about copyright). Also, rather refreshingly, his prints were not, ahem, touched up. We are reminded too that this was an era before cosmetic surgery.  For all the surrealism of the sets, his subjects were very much real.


  1. Great fun - and interesting too! Now, I must go and kindle some aesthetic experiences...

  2. Thanks, Kitty - I'm sure it was all very different from our life drawing experiences...!


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