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When past meets present: Retro Memorabilia Art might feature images of the past, but its influence in fine art is all in the present.


Retro memorabilia is an art form that knows no bounds. Portraits of Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe inspire a sense of nostalgia, as do renderings of vintage cereal boxes, cartoon characters and seascapes that instill a sense of innocence and harken back to simpler times.

"Retro memorabilia can be any work of art that harkens back to a golden age," says artist Bernice Gross o Bernice Gross Art in Berkeley, Calif. "It can be vintage, or it can capture a memory from a previous era."

The genre also elicits a voice of familiarity, adds artist Patrick O'Brien of O'Brien Fine Art in Lutherville, Md. "For a work to be considered retro memorabilia, it has to speak to someone of a time and a sensibility with a nostalgic sense," he says. "The work has to capture the good and the quirkiness of the past. These images have value as emotional pieces."

Collectors young and old are attracted to nostalgic works, notes C. Christie Craig of C3 Group, LLC. "We are at the intersection of art, music and icons," she says. "Everything old is new again. We are seeing [an interest from] baby boomers, echo boomers and even the younger generations."

Craig, Gross, O'Brien and others are pleased to see their works gaining wider appeal. "I have been enamored with works of the '40s and '50s for many years," Gross confesses. "My furniture reflects that era, so does my pottery, jewelry and tablecloths. I feel a bit like I've been ahead of my time. I used to print T-shirts with this sort of imagery; now I am seeing greeting cards with similar works. People are finally getting it."

As a painter, Gross is dedicated to creating bright, figurative works that recall a simpler time. "I capture the humor, awkwardness and charm of common family milestones, such as childhood birthday parties, kids making a snowman, weddings, bar mitzvahs, trips to the beach and New Years' celebrations," she observes.

Gross bases her quirky, nostalgic paintings on found photographs and commercial images from the '40s, '50s and '60s. Her paintings incorporate collaged elements, such as textured archival paper, fragments of antique lace tablecloths and doilies as well as vintage jewelry and rhinestones to recall the bold colors and embellished clothing of mid-century suburban life. "People buy paintings that they enjoy," she notes. "Buyers see my work and tell me it brings back memories and the good feelings of childhood."

O'Brien has found success with a series of paintings called "My Town." The collection features retro coastal towns and has received a tremendous response in a relatively short time, the artist reports.

O'Brien publishes open-edition lithographs of various beach towns. "Many are old-time images inspired by classic travel posters," he explains. "I weather the image to add to the vintage feel. Since my art is sold on the eastern seaboard, it appeals to everyone who has spent summers on the shore. Fashioned after the retro travel posters in the early '90s, they have rich texture and weathering to look and feel as if they are washed by salty air and spray."

To date, his published imagery includes seaside renderings of Hilton Head, S.C., Annapolis, Md., and Asbury Park, Cape May and Ocean City, N.J. O'Brien has also created a series of lighthouses, including works titled "The Dewey Beach Lighthouse" and "Fenwick Island Lighthouse."

O'Brien will also create imagery of specific beach towns upon request. Editions of the works are limited to 100 pieces, which also makes these universal images more appealing.

"People work 51 weeks a year so that they can spend one week on vacation," O'Brien says. "These images trigger a memory that they can hold on to. My pieces speak to a number of people who have memories of a specific beach town where they visited or grew up."


The Pacific Ocean and Southern Californian lifestyle inspire imagery by painter Steve Barton, who owns Barton Studios in Oceanside, Calif. Barton says he paints to capture more than just the viewer's gaze in his works. "The images are times remembered and days to come; they stop time and soften your heart," he says. "They draw you in and say, 'Come, sit, relax."

Barton and his family often spend time searching out new tropical settings and flowers with vivid colors. They scour the beachfront for villas, cabins and archways that capture the heart and speak to life on the beach.

Re-creating pop culture icons is the focus of Robert "Drizzle" Holton's Drizzle art. His paintings are digitally printed onto stretched canvas, then hand-painted using the artist's signature "drizzle" technique.

"The final paintings are bright, colorful, fun and often very meaningful to viewers who find their own unique links to the friendly imagery," Holton says.


Paintings of the Mr. Bubble box as well as vintage cereal boxes are very well-received, according to Holton. "My collectors like to remember images and ads from their youth," he says. "I think we all like to remember the past, perhaps when life wasn't so hectic."

To date, Holton has created 30 images for Heineken USA, among other businesses. His art was recently featured at Coca-Cola's "World of Coca-Cola" attraction in Atlanta. Holton's Coca-Cola painting is also a new feature in the Pop Culture Gallery where visitors can explore the many ways that Coca-Cola has become an icon in popular culture. Visitors can see how fellow artists such as Andy Warhol and Norman Rockwell expressed their creativity through Coca-Cola. Feedback on Holton's work has been so positive that he added a "Collectors' Stories" link to his Web site.

Paintings of movie stars and famous performers are moving well at C3 Group LLC in Beverly Hills and Gorsky Fine Art in Houston. Vladimir Gorsky's paintings include psychedelic portraits of world-famous icons and entertainers of the 20th century, including The Beatles, Marion Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and others. Gorsky paints distinct series of celebrity portraits that often include 25 to 50 original artworks of the same celebrity. The next original he will unveil is a painting of Audrey Hepburn. His hand-painted original works range from $2,400 to $30,000.


C3 Group markets and sells licensed art and merchandise of Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, Dean Martin and others. Works in C3 Group's collection are created by renowned studio artist Tom Zotos and Craig. Offerings include collectors-edition lithographs and limited-edition giclees. The most notable piece in the collection to date is Zotos' "Meeting Adjourned," a tribute to Frank Sinatra that received rave reviews when unveiled at Artexpo Las Vegas last fall.

The company is currently preparing to launch an exclusive collection of art and music products from the Sinatra Estate in spring 2008. "We have never-before-seen licensed art products directly from the Frank Sinatra Archives that won't be available anywhere else," Craig says. "We are also about to release a Sinatra collection that will be available in Z Galleries starting this month."

Linda Jones Enterprises (LJE) in Irvine, Calif., is having great success marketing endearing cartoon characters. LJE is home to the art of legendary film director and creator Chuck Jones.

Jones' masterpieces include Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Pepe Le Pew, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. The business was established in 1977 by Linda Jones, the daughter of Chuck Jones. LJE also publishes and represents the original and edition works of cinema artist John Alvin, character artist Dick Duerrstein, Emmy award-winning animator, director and producer Bob Kurtz and painter Andrea Alvin.


"For us, retro memorabilia is so much more than just evoking fond memories of the past; it's the timelessness of the characters created by Chuck Jones or the universal emotions evoked by the movie posters created by John Alvin," says Craig Kausen, president and CEO of Linda Jones Enterprises. "This is a sign of their genius to have not only tapped into the zeitgeist but to have also reached into the future that now defines their contemporaneousness."


At present, the company is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Chuck Jones' cartoon "What's Opera, Doc?" The company is now in its 30th year of publishing and representing the art of Chuck Jones. "Art released this year to celebrate both anniversaries--including the Chuck Jones art book 'Stroke of Genius'--have been met with great success by galleries and collectors around the globe," Kausen reports.

Kausen notes that LJE collectors are among the broadest in the art business. "[They range] from 20 years old up to 70 and older, from all economic and social strata--construction workers, teachers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, people in the creative arts, such as dancers, conductors, actors and writers. Very few people living today have not been touched in some way by the art and artistry of Chuck Jones and John Alvin. It is their essential timelessness--an ability to create an instant classic--that resonates with collectors of fine art."

Vintage printing techniques as well as imagery define the products of $2 Art Group, Ltd. in Chicago. S2's fine-art lithographs are crafted on the same flatbed presses used in the legendary ateliers of Paris. It is believed that only seven of these presses remain in the world; S2 owns five of them.

"Unlike contemporary computer-generated reproductions, lithographs crafted on these presses contain pure color and subtle variations in texture that rival the nuances of painting," says Keith Tomaszewsky, senior vice president of the company. "S2 publishes a specific collection called 'Re Collection,' which is a group of high-quality re-creations of vintage posters. 'Re Collection' has a variety of images, including classic movie posters, images by Toulouse-Lautrec and classic advertisements. There is something for everyone."

Images in Re Collection also include fine-art ads for Dubonnet and Pierrot Absinthe; movie posters of Al Jolson's "The Jazz Singer" and "Casablanca" as well as car-racing posters that include the Monaco Grand Prix 1930 and the Gran Premio D'Talia (XII).


* Barton Studios, 760-439-6212,

* C3 Group LLC, 310-247-4477,

* Drizzle Art, 714-343-3043,

* Gorsky Fine Art, 972-333-1468,

* Bernice Gross Fine Art, 510-843-2159,

* Linda Jones Enterprises, 800-660-7791,

* Patrick Reid O'Brien Fine Art, 443-255-0377,

* S2 Art Group, Ltd., 877-252-2122,


ABN Contributing Editor
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Comment:When past meets present: Retro Memorabilia Art might feature images of the past, but its influence in fine art is all in the present.
Author:King, Carol
Publication:Art Business News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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