By Kara Mae Harris
art used to be primarily the concern of middle aged men and subculturists.
The men remembered when, as pubescent boys, they would sneak covert
glances at the covers of girlie magazines to catch a first glimpse
of female flesh. Although the girl was only a painting, she was
somehow more real than their own sisters and classmates. Years later,
these men gathered those old magazines and smiled fondly at the
memories, continuing the search for that one missing issue of Wink.
subculturists, in contrast, were young enough to be the children
of the aforementioned. This co-ed group looked back on a lifetime
they had never known. The artwork of Elvgren and Vargas seemed
innocent enoughcool and kitschy, fun to read about and collectand
they enjoyed seeing pin-up art splattered across the pages of
their favorite magazine, Nuclear, or something like that.
we all woke up one day to see Kamel ads featuring smiling
cigarette girls straight out of the pages of those old magazines.
Altoids, SKYY Vodka and Chuppa Chups lollipops
hung up billboards featuring women who would have been scandalous
"back then," but now elicit only an appreciative smile.
As the old girlie magazines disappeared from attics and used bookstores,
publishing houses like Taschen cranked out beautiful volumes of
reprinted art for those who couldn't find the real thing.
Image: Don Rust
The dawn of the
21st century finds us in the midst of a pop culture pin-up
craze, which may or may not be a good thing for pin-up
art as a whole, but is definitely a good thing for artist
Donald "Rusty" Rust. He was there for the first
pin-up fad, he's going strong for its second wind, and
his art shows a consistency, timelessness and skill that
won't be effected by any passing trend.
welcomed the return of pin-ups," says Rust, who turns 70
next year. "I had accumulated a lot of model photos over
the years, so I am now able to use them. Fortunately, fans and
collectors still appreciate the vintage style, which I often do
today." Rust occasionally creates advertisements or CD covers,
and says he is often asked permission to use his pin-ups on trading
cards, pocket knives, calendars, postcards and other products.
a handful of living artists enjoy the same level of notoriety as
Rust, but his acclaim is well-earned. Born in 1932, Rust has been
painting since he was very young. He has produced more than 14,000
paintings: landscapes, portraits, illustrations, and of course,
pin-ups. Although he enjoys the return of pin-up art, he currently
works on a lot of landscapes as well. The beauty of women makes
good art ("Men will always love girls," he says), but
the beauty of nature is just as inspiring. "Being able to do
a variety of subject matter keeps me from going insane."
1955, when he moved from his home state of Pennsylvania to Florida,
Rust got to meet several of his greatest influences, including
Thornton Utz, All Buell, Gil Elvgren and Scott Pike.
all worked in Sarasota, so we all communicated on a regular basis,"
Rust remembers. "That was like a college education for pin-up
may not have achieved the name recognition of some of those artists,
but Rust has received critical acclaim within pin-up collecting
circles, and his work is part of many prestigious collections,
including The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, The Ringling
Museum of the Circus and The Norman Rockwell Museum. In addition,
his paintings of famous clowns, such as Emmett Kelly, Sr. and
Lou Jacobs, as well as portraits of Norman and Emily Rockwell,
have immortalized both their subjects and their creator.
all of his subjects are prominent figures, however. When looking
for inspiration for a pin-up, Rust often traveled only as far as
the girl next door.
Image: Don Rust
all my models during the earlier years were neighbors and friends,"
he comments. "The blonde next door posed for a Coke®
ad. The girl down the street posed as an artist, another was a
rollerskater, and so on."
many renowned artists, Rust also paints not for his ego, but for
the love of the craft.
not really looking for personal recognition," he says. "One
man shows, personal appearances, and similar events don't excite
me. I would hope my work is recognized for whatever merits it
may have. I try to be as creative as possible, which in a way
reflects a little bit of me. No matter what the subject, I try
to handle it effectively."
The father of five children and manager of his own successful
art career for nearly half a century, Donald Rust has hardly grown
weary in his golden years. Rather, he continues creating beauty
for the sake of it, selling his work at humble prices, and responding
to feedback, which he enjoys immensely.
that respect, computers and the Internet have been a valuable resource.
Although he does not use Photoshop or other computer programs
to create or modify his art, he relies on the Internet marketplace
as a vehicle for exposure, sales, and connecting with fans of his
work. Word of mouth covers the rest.
lies ahead for the current pin-up vogue remains to be seen. It
could become trite or forgotten as the next advertising trend
moves in, or it could endure as a major artistic movement. Either
way, society's newfound love of pin-up art has given Rust a new
world of recognition.
do I get an opportunity to express my thanks and appreciation
to the many who have influenced me over the years," he says,
not realizing that every painting is a thanks in itself, revealing
all of his influences and his own artistic touch. The works of
artists like Donald Rust, Peter Driben and Alberto Vargas will
survive any passing trend, and true talent never goes out of style.
Mae Harris is a 20-year-old Baltimoron with a passion for pin-up
and burlesque. She is a partner in the online magazine Retrokitten
and runs her own Website devoted to exotic dancer Lili St. Cyr
article originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2001 issue of ATOMIC