New MCC on Main Exhibit “Out Of This World”!
Whether it was a spicy mystery or a weird tale, “Planet Pulp” was an intriguing show that practically took you back in time into a world of extraterrestrial life.
The unique and lively exhibition took place on Friday, September 19 at MCC on Main in the Dehn Gallery and merely focused on science fiction which included a collection of over 180 paintings and pulp paperbacks by a collector named Robert Lesser, a native from New York City.
His popular collections was donated to the New Britain Museum of American Arts and they mostly incorporate westerns, mysteries, detectives, and yes, for all those X-File fans there were definitely some UFO action involved within these abstract paintings.
Jane Rainwater, a professor of 2-D Design and the curator of “Planet Pulp” adores science fiction.
“I wanted to get this science fiction stuff,” Ms. Rainwater explains, “it’s all from science fiction titles that inspired me to put on this show and name the exhibit ‘Planet Pulp.’”
The show is a loan from the museum and illustrations are by Frank Paul, Hannes Bok, Frederick Blakeslee, Malcom Smith, Robert Fuqua, Virgil Finlay, Jogn Drew, Dick Caulkins, Rudolph Berlarski, Raphael DeSoto, Hubert Rogers, and John St. Allen. Pulp Paperback publishers were Ziff-Davis among many other Chicago and New York publishing companies.
Pulps actually started out in the late nineteenth century and were once a popular magazine sold to the middle class who couldn’t afford glossier prints such as Cosmopolitan or Harper’s magazines. These magazines were called pulps because the paper was very much like newsprint—cheap and easy for printing. They were an inexpensive magazine filled with inspirational stories (written by various publishers) made available for children and adults to read in order to find some escape through the tough times they were going through.
Two schools of illustrators in Chicago and New York came together with various publishing houses to create these revealing pulp covers. Most of the paintings displayed in the exhibition were done in the late thirties and two mediums that were used were oil on panel or canvas and gouache, which is an opaque water color that dries up pretty fast.
In one of the paintings called “Wonder Stories”, illustrated by Frank Paul, Ms. Rainwater briefly explains how he uses the medium called gouache in his portrait.
“See how flat it is? It’s a very flat surface and you could put the white over it because it was opaque where regular watercolor is very transparent. The color is very stable on the painting than the book—you view or compare them both and a lot would be lost in translation because the books are slowly fading,” she said.
The medium gouache is rarely ever used in this day and age because artists’ now use acrylic.
“I like to use it on my students because it can be very difficult to handle and I want them to understand what painting is about,” says Rainwater.
Gouache was actually valued in advertising because the medium made the paintings look flat, stable, and appealing.
Although the colors of the portraits stood out brilliantly, colorful, and fluorescent, by the early 1950s the pulps eventually died out. A lot of the publishers and artists’ were advertising and they did this as an extra moonlighting work, but after World War II people weren’t looking for an escape anymore. Times were dandy and full of life and these people were more interested in society and celebrities rather than escaping through art.
Pulps left a powerful and enduring influence as their stories generated new literacy genres. Pulp art had sparked countless imaginations and would continue to do so by influencing future decades of film, advertising, industrial design, comics, and art.