The Artists Who Gave 1960s Pulp Fiction Its Killer Look

Illustrating "daydreams for the frustrated and the sick”

The men on the pulp fiction book covers were muscular, two-fisted, unsmiling and action-eyed. The women were titillating, often partially clothed, dangerous and suggestive. They were the lurid, raunchy, exploitative, popular and vilified faces of work by the likes of Mickey Spillane, Earl Stanley Gardner, Hammond Innes, Alistair Mclean and Helen McInnes, whose paperback books sold by the millions. The covers of these stories one reviewer called “daydreams for the frustrated and the sick” seduced readers. The wrappers on mass-marketed, accessible literature peeped from wire racks in supermarkets, drug store and kiosk. Publishing houses noted the success of these books for people who never read, and before long art in the pulp style was appearing on all manner of titles, not just on pulp fiction comic books for adults, but in magazines and around texts written by highbrow authors, like Simone de Beauvoir, Sinclair Lewis and CP Snow.

 

Michael Johnson_Pink Woman_c1962_casein tempera on board_copyright Lever Gallery_cropped

Michael Johnson -Pink Woman, 1962

Over 40 examples of the art that sold pulp fiction are on show at the Lever Gallery, London. Work by Gianluigi Coppola, Giorgio De Gaspari, Pino Dell’Orco, Renato Fratini – they arrived in pulp via Rome’s Cinecitta film studios (Ben-Hur, Cleopatra, La dolce vita and A Fistful of Dollars) and an invitation to work by Penguin’s Italian-born art director Germano Facetti –  Michael Johnson and Ian Robertson is appreciated for the artists’ skill.

 

Renato Fratini_The Twisted Thing_1967_gouache on board_copyright Lever Gallery_AW

Renato Fratini: The Twisted Thing, 1967

Renato Fratini_The Snake_c1967_ gouache on board_copyright Lever Gallery_AW

Renato Fratini: The Snake, 1967

Renato Fratini_The Pearl Bastard_c1960s_ gouache on board_copyright Lever Gallery_AW

Renato Fratini: The Pearl Bastard, 1960s

Renato Fratini_The Hucksters_1965_gouache on board_copyright Lever Gallery_AW

Renato Fratini: The Hucksters, 1965

Renato Fratini_ The Girl Hunters_ 1967_gouache on board_copyright Lever Gallery_AW

Renato Fratini: The Girl Hunters, 1967

Renato Fratini_ Lady in Blue_c1960s_ gouache on board_copyright Lever Gallery_AW

Renato Fratini: Lady in Blue, 1960s

Michael Johnson_Woman in Silver Disc Swimsuit_1967_ acrylic on board_copyright Lever Gallery_AW

Michael Johnson; Woman in Silver Disc Swimsuit, 1967

Michael Johnson_Unknown_c1970_acrylic on board_copyright Lever Gallery_AW

Michael Johnson: Unknown, c1970

Michael Johnson_A Crowd Of Voices_1961_casein tempera on board_copyright Lever Gallery_AW

Michael Johnson: A Crowd Of Voices, 1961

Gianluigi Coppola_The Oldest Confession_1972_gouache on board_copyright Lever Gallery_AW

Gianluigi Coppola: The Oldest Confession, 1972

Gianluigi Coppola_The Oldest Confession_1972_gouache on board_copyright Lever Gallery_AW

Gianluigi Coppola: The Oldest Confession, 1972

Woman with Pines, 1964-65, by Michael Johnson.

Woman with Pines, 1964-65, by Michael Johnson.

Pino Dell Orco_Wages of Fear_c1965_gouche and pencil on board_copyright Lever Gallery_P

Pino Dell Orco: Wages of Fear, c1965

Renato Fratini_Lady Behave!_c1965 pulp fiction art

Renato Fratini: Lady Behave!, c1965

Giorgio De Gaspari_Above Suspicion_c1960s

Giorgio De Gaspari: Above Suspicion, 1960s

Michael Johnson_Unknown_c1970_acrylic on board_copyright Lever Gallery_AW (1)

Michael Johnson: Unknown, c1970

Renato Fratini_ The Golden Rendezvous_1964

Renato Fratini: The Golden Rendezvous, 1964

Michael Johnson_Tale of the Lazy Dog_c1970

Michael Johnson: Tale of the Lazy Dog, c1970

All images via the Lever Gallery, where the exhibition Uncovering The Sixties and Seventies runs until March 24 2018.