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Overspray: Riding High with the Kings of California Airbrush Art

Overspray: Riding High with the Kings of California Airbrush Art

Courtesy Picturebox, Inc., New York

Hrag Vartanian / ARTINFO

October 07, 2009

For decades, airbrush art was the butt of jokes, evoking images of sexed up paintings on the sides of vans or sleek palm trees adorning surfboards and vacation T-shirts, but not anymore. Design historian Norman Hathaway has resurrected the movement and four of its masters, Dave Willardson, Charles E. White III, Peter Palombi, and Peter Lloyd, for a vibrantly illustrated book that reads like a love poem to the halcyon days — and amphetamine-fueled nights — of 1970s Los Angeles, when the airbrush style came to define an era.

The images that populate this coffee-table book — women posing next to bananas, pickles, or hot dogs, or cowboys strumming guitars into the sunset — are not ironic, even though their obvious sexual innuendos and saccharine Americana can make them seem, today, like the pinnacle of hipster cool. These humble West Coast masters of commercial art were able to transform a utilitarian American invention from the late 19th century into a tool of artistic fantasy.

The book begins with a rambling but insightful essay by the visionary art director Mike Salisbury, who during his tenure at some key publications, including the LA Times’s West magazine and Rolling Stone, commissioned some of the best images in this book. Salisbury speculates that Los Angeles’s lack of folk history or, as he puts it, its dearth of “handcrafted warmth in our endless miles of anonymous real estate” made it ripe for this new style. Los Angeles was, he explains, “the first American city of the future and the first renderings we received of that city were in airbrush.”

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