Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

The Pulps! Art exhibit

Krysteana Scribner | The Free Press

Posted on December 09, 2014 in Arts & Culture
By Brian Gordon

The headlines for The Pulps! exhibit at the Portland Public Library sound more like horror movies than an art exhibit. Titles like, “They’re Lurking Behind Buildings” and “They Strike at you from the Darkness” make for an awesome exhibit that pops off the walls with color and crime.

Pulps, or pulp fiction were cheaply made designed paperback magazines that appealed to a broad swath of readers. The covers were meant to draw in the viewer to the exciting tales within. They were originally designed for the working class, as something they could afford. The pulp magazines were priced cheaply at less than a quarter during the height of the magazines popularity between 1930 and 1950.

The earlier pulps glorified war as they became popular during World War I. Other pulps depicted cowboys and Indians which were meant to intrigue Eastern readers who had never traveled out West and still imagined it to be a lawless land.

Rachael Weyand, the library programming manager, said the library likes to do a big illustration show this time of year.

“It’s a really good way to connect the written word and art,” said Weyand

Weyand also mentioned it’s a nice way to bring new people into the library to see what’s going on.

“These images are just so captivating you can see how they would draw people into the stories immediately. Everybody read them,” said Weyand.

The original oil paintings that would become the covers of the magazines hang in the library along with the original pulp fiction books. They are an interesting look at what Americans used to do for entertainment before television was invented. For a very small investment, people could forget their hardships in a pulp magazine.

“These were books that people read to escape the Depression era and I think that shows the strength of reading and the written word and how powerful that is,” said Weyand.

One of the pulp books cover screams, “The Murder Was a Pleasure! – The Bookie and the Blonde.” This painting depicts a crazed man with handcuffs hanging off his wrist holding a gun to a waitress’ back as he makes her pour poison into a policeman’s coffee cup. It’s an insane scenario, one that is cool to witness in a giant eighty year old painting.

The library has one section titled “Ladies in Terror,” which displays a whole slew of paintings of half-naked women trying to fend off fiends. Many of the covers depict rape and crime but in a ludicrous way.

“These paintings are a real snapshot to how people felt and thought in the 30s, 40s and 50s. The stories are so compelling yet also almost offending,” said Weyand.

As the books became more popular over the years, more competition amongst publishers meant racier covers. Weyand noted that some people would even tear off the cover of their pulps because they were embarrassed to be reading them in public.

Weyand believes it is neat to imagine the artist who used to create one of these large paintings every week, going through the hassle of getting a courier, sending it to the publisher, the publisher using the painting for a cover of a magazine and then throwing it out.

Weyand explained that not a lot of individuals saved the original paintings or pulp magazines.The few that survive today have been donated by Robert Lesser to the New Britain Museum in Connecticut. The Portland Public Library has about a third of that collection on display.

When first published, these magazines were not seen as art. Even today, they’re still considered a sort of lesser art, similar to how pop art was first marginalized. Also in common with pop art, pulp art uses very bright colors, creating striking images. They are both controversial forms of art. Some of the pulps are titled “Spicy Westerns,” a precursor to later pornographic magazines.

The Pulps exhibit is open every day except Sunday and until December 26 at the Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square. It’s free although a $5 donation is suggested.

It is a good way to pass an afternoon and lose yourself in the old pulp fiction.

“They’re just fun to look at, they’re nostalgic,” said Weyland.

Just don’t show up like the Hollywood Detective, “Drunk, Disorderly and Dead” or you may have to “Cover the Corpses Eyes.”

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