In Praise of Pierre Okley, a French Pin-Up Artist

03Jul11

[FR: Pierre Okley, un des rares artistes français qui travaillait dans le style “pin-up”.]

I have often wondered whether great pin-up artists existed in France. Answer: They did, but they were rare. One was Pierre-Laurent Brenot (1). There is a large-format book of his work, published by Éditions Hoëbeke. Other important references are Alain Aslan and his brother Michel Gourdon (2). Bernard Charoy’s work included cover illustrations for Paris Flirt magazine. Jean-Gabriel Domergue (3) claimed to be the inventor of the pin-up. Nowadays, and in a more contemporary style, Fred Beltran and Serge Birault are doing some fine work.

Then, at the MIAM tiki expo in 2005, I was gawking at some luscious paintings when I realized that I was standing next to their creator, Pierre Okley. (No, French artists are not all named Pierre!)

He was a charming guy with a million stories to tell. Self-taught, his first big break came in 1952 when he won a poster contest for Byrrh (a sort of flavored wine). He began signing his work “Okley” in deference to his parents (M. and Mme Gilardeau), who disapproved of his work.

He loved painting beautiful women, and found his niche. A poster for the Paris nightclub “La Nouvelle Eve” in 1956 was the turning point in his career. He continued along those lines, doing pin-up style advertising art for big clients, including le Casino de Paris and les Folies Bergère, as well as for products like soda, swimsuits and nylons, and objects like record jackets, calendars and film posters (4). This is very similar to Gil Elvgren’s career path.

Another parallel with Elvgren is Okley’s technique of taking photos and using them as references while working.

Okley also created “fine art”, which is visually comparable to his other works, but lacks the product tie-ins. His style is classic pin-up, notable for his technique and sensitivity, evolving with the times, and informed by the other artists in his field.

He does not have any retrospective book published, but it’s surely just a matter of time. Pierre Okley passed away in 2007.

(1) Brenot was born in the French town of “Loches”, slang for “tits”.
(2) Thanks to José for this tip!
(3) Thanks to Sunny for this tip!
(4) Including “Les Vierges”, a film by Jean-Pierre Mocky.

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3 Responses to “In Praise of Pierre Okley, a French Pin-Up Artist”

  1. Yeah ! 😉

  2. 2 Colleen Forsyth

    I knew Pierre and his lovely wife Balou well. We were friends when I lived and worked in Paris. After moving to the U.S. in 77 we lost contact. once owned some of his posters which sadly burned up in a big fire. So sorry to hear he has passed away. They were a delightful couple. Would love to find Balou if she is still alive
    Colleen Forsyth

    • 3 Serena Wilson

      Pierre and Balou were very good friends of mine – sadly, Balou died some years before Pierrot, Colette…I am so lucky to have some marvellous signed posters and personal notes, which I treasure – what a talent he had and what wonderful people they were.. I shall remember them always.
      Serena Wilson


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