Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Just Above the Mantlepiece (Mass Market Masterpieces) by Wayne Hemingway (2000)

Good morning!

I was nosing around Fine Arts last week and spotted this book. Not just any book, folks! While it's not a fifties' interior decorating manual, nor an instructional on how to arrange altar flowers from the sixties', I think you will nevertheless be impressed with Just Above the Mantlepiece: Mass Market Masterpieces, edited and annotated by the improbably named Wayne Hemingway. Hemingway is a British fashion designer/man-of-taste who founded the Red or Dead clothing line in the 1980's. He assembles in the book a curated glimpse into mass produced kitsch art from the 1950's, 60's, and 70's...which is just, JUST up my alley! I don't know how I didn't know this book existed. Sadly, my grandmother only had a huge crochet owl wall hanging and a large print of a window with various scenes in each pane (I promise if you've been to more than one thrift store in your life, you've seen the latter piece) in her vintage home, but a lot of you out there might have had grandparents with a slightly more exotic eye towards middle America interior decorating, in which case some of these pictures may seem very familiar to you!

The classiest artist represented here, and my favorite chapter from the book, is Vladimir Tretchikoff. I first became aware of his work from the banner at Wacky Tacky, which uses the self-same print! Ladies and gents, "Miss Wong", by Vladimir Tretchikoff. The colors! The gold background! Her perfect hair and insouciant gaze!

I forthwith took my fifty cents to the color copier on the Reference floor and made a GREAT color copy of the above picture for inclusion in my living room...I'm bad. I know I should buy a licensed reproduction, but I also know that I am poor. A reprint would run about $50, even from an allposters type site, and a real print, vintage from the sixties', runs about $300! Someday, when I write my masterpiece, I'll have a roomful of these. Until then, let us avail ourselves to the resources at hand. I like how elegantly kitsch the Tretchikoff prints are...while lots of his contemporaries did pictures that I would see in a thrift store and go "Well, is it funny bad or just bad?", these are actually pretty on their own merit and the coloring and subject (exotic beauties of the world) just puts it over the edge.

Sad puppy and kitten pictures, anyone? What are your takes on these? I've seen my fair share out in the wild at Goodwill and estate sales, but they don't appeal to me much:

Selected prints in the book come with removable-copies so you can still have your reference book full of weird pictures, but also frame a professional print in your home! No bad-guy photocopying involved! I think this is a really clever way of keeping me from exacto-knifing the fool out of this text (my own copy, naturally...I wouldn't lay hand to a library book at gunpoint). Some unprincipled person in the past removed most of the copies in the library edition, but if I end up Amazoning this book, you'd better believe I'll be making use of this clever feature!

Another chapter features "sad-eyed" kids (in general) and the Keanes (in specific). Did you read my post on the acrimonious divorce (and controversy over which of the Keanes originated the "large eyed" look)? Reese Witherspoon's still going to be in a movie about it, as far as I know. A movie I would like to see!

Some of the seventies' stuff gets really bizarre (as if I needed to tell you that). Unicorns, unicorns everywhere!

If you're interested in kitsch paintings, this is a great sourcebook...if you're not, this is a good way to get acquainted with the weird and wacky genre of vintage collectibles. Who knows, you may find a diamond in the rough next time you're estate sale-ing!

Do you have any weird paintings in your house? And particular type of wall hanging you collect? Which of these is your favorite? Do tell!

That's all for today, folks...see you tomorrow!


  1. I have Trechikoff, Lynch and some unknown 1950s and 1960s ladies in my lounge, freaky kids on the stairs and a random mix of all sorts in the bedrooms (swans. flamenco dancers, crying children, poodles, horses), as long as it comes in a white frame and costs under £20 I'll buy it! x

  2. i love big-eyed pictures! but mostly just the dogs and cats, and the mod kids. i have a whole hallway of big-eyed prints in our house and i love it!

  3. oh cool! i want a Vladimir Tretchikoff. so bad! my house doesn't have a lot of classy art. i'm mostly a paint by number/ woodland themed plaque kind of girl. i kind of like the sad eyed animals, but not the kids. that book is awesome!

  4. I've got that book. I can't bring myself to take any of the prints out of it though! The big eyed pictures were everywhere when I was growing up but I never had any. Now I can have as many as I want and I have a lot! I'd love to luck up on a Tretchikoff someday but I haven't been that lucky yet. I don't remember ever seeing one in anyone's home that I knew I guess I didn't know anybody classy enough. ,)



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