PIN-UP: Pretty Girls in focus at Lorrie Saunders' ArtGallery
by Jeff Maisey
Veer Magazine 07/15/10

Sexy, sexy, sexy.

The art of pin-up girls made popular during the middle 20th century is the source of inspiration for Pretty Girls, a cutting-edge exhibit on display at Lorrie Saunders’ ArtGallery through August 21. The exhibition features the work of Norfolk graphic artist Jason Levesque and New York City-based painter/photographer Erik Jones.

The premise is “pretty” obvious, but some may wonder why we as a culture are drawn to scantily clad and nude women.

“Pretty girls make us buy magazines, hair dye, vacuums and sports cars,” said Levesque. “Pretty girls simply make my work more marketable. This question comes up a lot and usually puts the artist on the defensive. I used to feel that way too as if there was some need to validate a female dominated body of work.”

According to Saunders, this type of work is getting some traction on the west coast, but hasn’t developed much of a foothold on the east coast.

“Most of us are familiar with pinup art or the quintessential pinup-girl, especially WWII era Betty Grable, or the ubiquitous 1970’s Farrah Fawcett poster,” she said. ”Well this is not your grandfather’s pinup art – this is pinup for the 21st century. Young artists reviving and recreating the genre, and technology is the catalyst. Artists are using digital means (or a combination of digital and traditional) to create their work which is primarily consumed via the internet. It is incredibly interesting that technology has resurrected a 100 year old art form.”

It’s also a great opportunity for art lovers in Hampton Roads to see fabulous work by two nationally and internationally recognized artists/illustrators.

By day, Jason Levesque works as a graphic designer and illustrator at Grow, an award-winning Norfolk advertising agency that specializes in national corporate campaigns. Levesque is a dynamic self-taught digital artist. Known in the digital world as Stuntkid, he has created images and cover art for such magazines as LA Weekly, Boston’s Weekly Dig and PlayStation Magazine. He also illustrated covers for Marvel Comics, including “The Many Loves of the Amazing Spider-Man” (May 2010).

Levesque’s work has a distinctive comic book appeal. One of his most striking pieces is “Dismal.” The image, pictured above, immediately draws the viewer into a dark, swampy world made chilling by the expression of a frightened, deer-horned girl with blue lips. Fireflies buzz above the water.

“Fly Girl” is another attention grabbing illustration depicting a futuristic girl with some sort of bird helmet. Its sci-fi characteristic seems perfect for a graphic novel.

“I'm a total science nut,” he said. “I spend most of my days listening to audio books on evolutionary biology, anthropology and social science. This interest naturally influences my work and I often work in whatever theme I'm fascinated with at the time.”

Levesque’s images begin with a loose theme in his mind. He does a few sketches and looks for a female photograph to model his primary subject.

“From the photo I'll do a rough trace using a light board, then work in the other elements,” he said. “After inking the drawing, I'll scan it in and apply the coloring and texture in Photoshop.” 

Where the art of Jason Levesque is more computer-animated and illustrative, Erik Jones leans more towards a balance of futuristic realism and fine art. Most of his subjects are topless women, like “Doll,” pictured below.

“I like painting just the figure, not clothes,” said Jones. “When you add clothes it tends to tell a story and at this point in my career I just want to create something beautiful, as simple as that sounds. If my figures do have clothes it is very simple and typically just an ambiguous shape.

Erik Jones’ comic art is the exception. The front cover of Veer features a work originally created for the graphic comic book Hack/Slash. The idea behind this cover was structured chaos, putting a beautiful girl in a chaotic setting.

“It’s pretty much the essence of the book, this sexy bad ass girl killing killers,” Jones explained. “I also wanted to do something different, something you’re not use to seeing when you walk into a comic store. I wanted you to be able to take the final piece and hang it on the wall.”

The original art is one of the highlights at Lorrie Saunders Art Gallery. As modern as it looks, Jones used traditional materials, including Rives BFK paper (18"x24"), watercolor, Prismacolor pencil, acrylic paint, artist tape and water-based oils.

He described the process this way on his blog: “After the watercolor base is dry, I lay white prismacolor pencil down to create a wax build up on the paper surface. This makes the pencils blend much better. As you go down you can see that I just keep developing the drawing, laying down color and blending it. I blend with paper towels and a blending stump.”

“I found a picture in a magazine I wanted to use that as a reference for the skin color. I liked the browns and greens in it. I use photography a lot for inspiration.

“Now I have the figure pretty much done, so I begin the background. I wanted this cover to look crazy chaotic, but still be very appealing and easy to look at (I've been in this ridiculous fine art mode recently).

The paint is acrylic Behr house paint. I used a medal thing to get all the straight lines and I painted artist tape to give it even more texture.

“The last process is smoothing out the skin with water based oils.”

All of Erik Jones’ artwork starts from taking a photograph. He then creates a drawing and then colors it either by traditional mediums such as color pencil, acrylics and inks, or digitally, and sometimes using a combination of both.

The “Pretty Girls” exhibition at Lorrie Saunders’ Art Gallery in Norfolk nicely pairs these two artists’ works. They are complimentary, yet distinctive in style, medium and size.

“I like the cleanness and preciseness of Jason’s digital prints, very slick and sophisticated graphics,” said Saunders. “And, of course, who couldn’t appreciate the twist of these picture perfect beauties often in peril with a lovely but dangerous natural world?

I like that Erik’s works are incredibly realistic and detailed, yet at the same time, somewhat impressionistic. He definitely takes from the old, adds something new and in the process creates something both familiar and current.”

The exhibit is true to Saunders’ vision of bringing a gallery experience commonly viewed in Los Angeles, Washington, DC or New York City to Hampton Roads.

“We are always looking for cutting-edge art,” said Saunders. “We are also about exposure – introducing people to types of art that they may not be familiar with or may not have had an opportunity to see firsthand. Believe it or not, the edgier the art the better the response from the viewers. There’s definitely a hunger in Hampton Roads for great contemporary art. We want to be a catalyst for a robust contemporary art scene in the larger community.”

Mission accomplished with “Pretty Girls.”