When Alice Stribling and Jessica Whiteside met in 2007 at a gallery show they could not have foreseen the tantalizing artistic journey they would end up taking together. Both artists, Stribling and Whiteside, continued to run into each other over and over again until eventually they ended up in Bombshell Betty's Pinup Workshop together, both having been drawn to the class by their mutual interest in pinup art and the art of modern burlesque.
The friendship they developed in this class was to become the catalyst for a partnership that would result in Pin it up, Babycakes! an art show featuring some of the most renowned artists of the modern pinup genre, opening at the 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco on February 5, 2009.
Some say that the sexual revolution and pinup art/the burlesque movement stalled in the 80s due to conservative politics, AIDs and the prevalent second wave feminist message that a woman could not acknowledge their own sexuality without being objectified. Because of this, icons of pinup and burlesque like the notorious Bettie Page, Lili St. Cyr and artists/producers who highlighted their femininity and sass, such as Alberto Vargas and Irving Klaw began to fall away into obscurity.
Despite this, pinup art and burlesque performance has always remained a prevalent sub-culture in American society. Artists and performers thrived in a post-punk culture, creating art and producing shows where they would be well received. New Orleans hosted the Shim Shamettes in the Shim Sham Review (club renamed One Eye Jack's) during the late 90s and early 00s; San Francisco hosted Tease-O-Rama; in 2004 Michelle Baldwin released "Burlesque and the New Bump-n-Grind"; and, artists such as Rose McGowan and Dita Von Tease appeared publicly in fashions which emulated those of pinup girls of the 40s and 50s.
Before long, there was a strong resurgence of these sexy art forms occurring around the globe. Contrary to the assertions of some feminists that pinup art and burlesque performance was demoralizing and objectified women in a negative way; the new movement has become driven by women and is all about learning to love yourself and appreciate the innate beauty of the female form in all sizes. It is coy, sassy, sexy and all about the imagination. Says Stribling:
"That's one of the cool things about burlesque, women just own it and produce their own shows and it's just TEASE and you are taking off your clothes and you can reveal nothing or everything and it's just going and going and the audience is just on the edge of their seats because of it."
Stribling and Whiteside, the curators and creators of Pin it up, Babycakes, were drawn to pinup art and burlesque for very different reasons.
"I come at [pinup and burlesque] from a more rebellious point of view," says Whiteside as she smiles and takes a sip of coffee, "I won't subscribe to what society tells me I should do. I like girls who do what the fuck they want."
For Stribling it has been a journey to learn how to love herself, "It's been about facing my own personal fears and accepting the way I look and loving it. I did not have a great role model for my body size, everyone in fashion magazines were ultra thin and I remember feeling like that wasn't achievable."
While the art of pinup and the tease may still be considered a sub-culture, it is a positive one. Both artists agree that while pinup and burlesque are about fantasy, it's less about the audience's fantasy of the artist, model or performer and more about how the audience is incorporated into the artist, model or performer's fantasy for their own enjoyment. And that's exactly why Whiteside loves it:
"That's what I love about it, it's not 'what role am I going to play in YOUR fantasy?' It is what role are you playing in mine?"
Stribling smiles, "There is a sense of play and there's a woman behind the camera is encouraging you, there is fun, touching on the taboo - girl girl, this is naughty - but, there is this sense of fun. There is a sense of innocence which goes with pinup and burlesque, it's not overtly sexual."
Sub-culture aside, there are a plethora of artists and performers, male and female, who have been experiencing the same journey with pinup and burlesque as Alice and Jessica. As their friendship developed the two began to talk theoretically about producing an art exhibit which would bring together all those artists. From hotrod to tattoo to to cheesecake to faux advertisement to classic pinup to Samuri to photography to performance soon they had an impressive dream list of artists they'd want to include in the show. Shortly after wards they put together a proposal and approached Gabe Scott, the curator of 111 Minna about producing the show.
"He was really impressed, I think" says Stribling, "because we were really organized and did all the work."
"Then we started emailing artists to ask them to be in the show," grins Whiteside. "Pretty much everyone we asked said 'yes.'"
"It's really exciting, because while we have had examples of the artist's work [on the website,] now we're starting to get the pieces shipped to us."
"Every day it's like, 'Wow, what did we get today?" Nods Whiteside.
"It's kind of like Christmas," grins Stribling.
Visual art is only one component of the show, opening night will feature burlesque performances by Thee Merry Widows, a fashion show sponsored by Dollhouse Betty Lingerie (whose store showcases a commissioned portrait by Alice Stribling,) vintage burlesque films and perhaps guest performances by M'Sweet Alice and Tinky Sparkle (Stribling and Whiteside's burlesque alter egos.)
"I can do this," says Stribling. "Even though it's scary and I'm still afraid to do it, I can do it. And, if I can do it, I hope that it serves as an example to other women that they can do whatever they want to, regardless of shape and size. That they are beautiful and sexy and awesome!"
This show, while a journey for both artists, isn't an ending, it's just a beginning.
Pin It Up, Babycakes opens on February 5th and runs through through the 28th at 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco, California. Tickets for the performance portion of the night, which starts at 9pm, are $5 at the door. You can preview art on the Pin It Up, Babycakes! website, as all pieces are on consignment and anticipated to sell very, very quickly.
NOTE: Alice Stribling is a close friend of the author of this piece. For this reason the show will be reviewed by BitchBuzz Deputy Editor, Liz Abinante. Please check it out what we saw!