"more overt sexuality, more exposed flesh"
March 4, 2012 8:25 AM   Subscribe

American illustrator Coles Phillips became famous in 1908 for his "Fade-Away Girl" magazine covers, which caught the eye and saved money on color printing. He was a leader in creating "more modern, active and athletic images of women" after the prim poise of the Gibson Girl era. His later work became more overtly sexual, making him one of the first artists whose beautifully designed ads were "torn out of magazines and swiped out of store windows to become pin-ups on college dormitory walls." Some were considered scandalous. He died in 1927. Two long pages of Coles Phillips images. Six pages. Bio. Tumblr tag. More ads.
posted by mediareport (33 comments total) 133 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sadly, I couldn't find the painting described here:

In 1924, Phillips caused a sensation with his ‘Miss Sunburn,’ a bathing beauty created for Unguetine sun tanning lotion.
posted by mediareport at 8:30 AM on March 4, 2012


Ooh, this may be part of it.
posted by mediareport at 8:37 AM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd rip that stuff out of a magazine and put it on my walls in heartbeat. Just killer design sense of the female form and colors.
posted by Skygazer at 8:42 AM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, so cool.
posted by The Whelk at 8:42 AM on March 4, 2012


Hmm... Would that have saved money on printing? I'm seeing big blocks of color that would have to be printed on white.
posted by Artw at 9:01 AM on March 4, 2012


It's explained in the bio link, Artw, though I can't vouch for the accuracy:

One element not often mentioned is that on many of his cover paintings, the novelty of the technique and the striking design qualities masked the fact that Life was getting by with single color or two-color covers in a day when full-color covers were de rigueur for the better magazines. So not only did Mitchell's circulation go up due to the Phillips covers, his printing costs went down!
posted by mediareport at 9:04 AM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


...and saved money on color printing.

Minor quibble with an otherwise exceptional post...
Full-sheet plates are made for four colors (in basic offset) regardless of color coverage. That's where the real cost is, not in how much ink is used. Additionally, with the exception of the mostly-white girl with chickens, all of your examples, in fact, have full-page ink coverage. In fact, the example used for the "saved money" link is probably the most "expensive", if you will, since that solid black is usually achieved using a 100% coverage of both black and one or more of the other cmyk inks, in order to achieve a dense, satisfying black. If the piece was actually printed on black stock (which I seriously doubt) the process would require an additional plate with which to apply an opaque white "flash" layer onto which the four offset colors would still be laid-down onto. Thus, you've actually increased the cost, by adding a fifth plate.

In commercial offset printing, unless something appears as a clean, pure white (i.e. the color of the paper stock), there will be ink coverage.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:04 AM on March 4, 2012


Thorzdad: What if the covers were printed with spot colour plates rather than CMYK?
posted by pharm at 9:09 AM on March 4, 2012


(I'm presuming that the saving was in the number of plates rather than the amount of ink.)
posted by pharm at 9:09 AM on March 4, 2012


My disappointment at these not being what I'd call "overtly sexual", even by not-so-modern standards, is more than offset by their sheer gorgeousness. I would like to pitch woo to this young lady.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:17 AM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Marvelous work. The unusual poses are so refreshing... I can't remember when I last saw graphic design that arresting. That magazine cover with the lineman... just incredible. Thanks for this.
posted by kinnakeet at 9:30 AM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


One element not often mentioned is that on many of his cover paintings, the novelty of the technique and the striking design qualities masked the fact that Life was getting by with single color or two-color covers in a day when full-color covers were de rigueur for the better magazines. So not only did Mitchell's circulation go up due to the Phillips covers, his printing costs went down!

I could see that working with black&white images with a single spot color applied, not sure any of the linked ones are that though. Still lovely, design-wise.
posted by Artw at 9:31 AM on March 4, 2012


Was modern CMYK printing technique sophisticated enough to produce quality magazine cover images in the 1910's 20's? I would have assumed not, and that it would have all been done with potentially many spot color plates, but don't have any actual knowledge on the subject.
posted by meinvt at 9:37 AM on March 4, 2012


Looks like he and Maxfield Parrish might have influenced each other.

Thanks for this, mediareport! I'd never heard of him or seen any of this work.
posted by kimota at 9:38 AM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wonderful, thanks for posting this. I think I'm pretty up on the illustrators of this era and someone pulls out somebody like this I'd never heard of. It really was a golden age for commercial art and illustration.
posted by marxchivist at 9:48 AM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Minor quibble with an otherwise exceptional post...

Woah, so much misinformation, I don't know where to start.

In commercial offset printing, unless something appears as a clean, pure white (i.e. the color of the paper stock), there will be ink coverage.

No, there is no ink on areas of the plate where there is no image. This is particularly true of spot color, that's the whole point, you make a color of ink and you don't mix it with any other color, maybe you reduce the density (a pale blue instead of 100% blue) but you generally don't mix colors (except maybe black). You're thinking of modern techniques for continuous tone work like used in photoshop, which uses GCR and UCR to split blacks into CMY tones. That technique did not exist back in that time, and does not apply at all to spot color.

Your "full-page ink coverage" doesn't exist unless the full page is an image. Look at this image, it has full bleed black, looks like it covers about 80% of the plate. But blue only covers about 15% of the plate.

In old spot color techniques, "rich black" (printing another color over black, for a blacker black) was uncommon except for purposes of trapping. When you're printing a huge press run like LIFE magazine, you use ink by the barrel and reduced ink on the page does result in huge cost savings. CMYK inks are also more expensive than most spot colors.

Black printing stock is almost unheard of, especially back in that time. Offset inks are rather transparent, even a white backing layer wouldn't put down enough pigment to print on. Usually black stock is used in a process that can lay down a thick, opaque layer like silk screening.

meinvt, yes, the printing techniques of that time were capable of full CMYK printing, but it was very rare in general. It required a skilled color separator to create the images. For example, just last week MeFi ran an article about a photographer for the NY Daily News, he produced in-camera color separations which ran on their offset presses on newsprint
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:00 AM on March 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


These are wonderful images worth studying. There is restraint and grace in the lines, concept and execution; a welcome respite from over-stimulation and craziness all around.
posted by mightshould at 10:16 AM on March 4, 2012


Marvelous post, a sumptuous visual feast. I love these images!

There are all these charming contrasts. Sensually posed and visually softened women and men in the midst of an industrial illustration of furniture, cars, wrench, oil can or whatever. It's an oddly alluring combination. I love seeing the furniture in such detail.

The swan diver seems to me to be the most risqué one of all.

Then there is the dazzling design, so elegant, lean and powerful, a Zen of Deco. The lean design element is contrasted by the luxury depicted.

The people pictured are idealized in many ways, their skin, beauty and limbs, the gestures but there is some detail that is stunningly realistic, an angle of a foot, the drape of the fabric, which gives a compelling, true-to-life depth.

One wow after another.
posted by nickyskye at 10:47 AM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


While their style is distinctly different and to each unique, his girls evoke the sense of Benito's Vogue girls in the 20s and the father of them all

In the sense that you can't help but respond to them and that they're all drawn by a master.
posted by infini at 10:52 AM on March 4, 2012


I wonder how many of the outfits and styles in Downton Abbey were inspired by this work. Mary practically seems like the model for several of these.
posted by maryr at 10:56 AM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


This image of the diver/swan is just gorgeous. What a representation of female strength and grace.
posted by jokeefe at 11:10 AM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Beautiful work I have never seen before. I have sent it on to several friends.
posted by mermayd at 11:31 AM on March 4, 2012


My god! She's made of chickens!
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:45 AM on March 4, 2012


I love everything about this. Almost every piece is amazing.
posted by empath at 12:01 PM on March 4, 2012


All right, the wife and I have been putting off decorating our house long enough... Somebody please tell me where to get mondo-size prints of all of these.

(I realize there is a store linked in the FPP. But a lot of these are just tiny. C'mon, Life magazine... Set up an online store already!)
posted by gern at 12:12 PM on March 4, 2012


Thank you for this post!
posted by stoneweaver at 12:42 PM on March 4, 2012


C'mon, Life magazine... Set up an online store already!

Not the same magazine. Henry Luce bought the name only, sold everything else. I have no idea who owns those assets now.
posted by empath at 12:51 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now you gave me the name, Coles Phillips, I've had a wonderful couple of hours Googling around for his delicious artworks. Thank you for the delightful Sunday afternoon.

His lyrical use of negative space, really is quite Zen. Love it when he does the Zen of Eros too.

Oooh, nifty design.

He also has some beautiful paintings of women, who would otherwise have been doing housekeeping but stopped to read.

This naughty Uh Oh one (named White Cat, Purple Paint) has such a twinkly, mischievous sense of humor, while eloquently spare. A "Clerical Error", ha! (That wouldn't be taken so lightly or humorously today.) And all of a sudden I realized how witty his images are, not merely brilliantly drawn or designed but playfully smart. Reading a bit more about him, he moved from Ohio to NYC, then, at 25, to New Rochelle (where there was quite an interesting artists-illustrators community), married his model and in his old age wrote, when his eyesight was failing. I couldn't help wanting to also read what he wrote and wondered if his writing were as witty as his paintings.
posted by nickyskye at 1:33 PM on March 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


beautiful post, beautiful work.
posted by coaster at 1:50 PM on March 4, 2012


That Flickr set is fantastic, nickyskye, thanks; many are more clear there than in the above links, with lots of gorgeous new ones.

I'm really glad folks are enjoying these; they're so incredibly striking.

Re: the cost-savings thing: Looking more carefully at even the most "simple" of the early fade-away girls makes it obvious that there are at least 3 or more colors being used in those paintings as well, so I can believe the bio link might have overstated the case about Phillips' work being significantly cheaper to produce.
posted by mediareport at 2:46 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wonderful post!
posted by CCBC at 3:23 PM on March 4, 2012


A correction. When I read his eyesight was failing, I assumed he lived to an old age. He didn't. He died at 47, of tuberculosis of the kidney. That seems particularly sad because, from the joie de vivre in his art, he seemed to thoroughly enjoy being alive and depicting life marvelously. It certainly makes me wonder what kind images he might have made in his older age.
posted by nickyskye at 9:14 AM on March 5, 2012


All those discussing unrealistic female bodies in comix should take a look at the swan diver, that's a superhero right there.

Oh also batgirl, heh heh
posted by Tom-B at 2:15 AM on March 10, 2012


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