Alain Aslan, the famed French sculptor and painter, has produced a huge body of extraordinary pinup art that is technically exquisite and playfully provocative.
Aslan was born in Bordeaux, France in 1930 and displayed prodigious talent at a very young age. This natural ability helped him gain admission to the School of Fine Arts in Bordeaux, where he excelled most notably at clay modeling. He quickly went on at the age of 16 (officially underage) to the prestigious Superior School of Fine Arts in Paris, where he produced many now-famous sculptures and busts of famous Frenchmen, winning several prizes and the amazement of his artistic peers.
Compulsory military service did nothing to stop the young artist from pursuing his calling. His talent was recognized and acknowledged by his military superiors, and he was provided with a studio and eventually named the army’s official painter and sculptor. After completing his service, he continued to win awards for his sculpture, but also sought out commercial illustration work.
The 1950s brought a variety of work. He did illustrations for children’s books, including Pinocchio and the stories of Anderson and Perrault. His advertising work included illustrations for the Crazy Horse Saloon, The Casino de Paris, Folies Bergere, as well as major car companies such as Peugot, Renault and Fiat. He also signed an exclusive contract with Publicis, the first French publicity agency, and produced excellent work for publishers Editions Dargaud and Editions Mondiales.
Throughout these early years doing commercial illustration and fine art sculpture, Aslan developed his unique artistic vision and technique. His talent and appeal laid the groundwork for what would become some of his most remarkable work: the pinup art he created for Lui and Oui magazines between the years 1963 and 1981.
Lui was an upscale French men’s magazine started in 1963 featuring nude photography as well as erotic artwork. Aslan was on board from the beginning, producing full-page pinup illustrations on a monthly basis. In 1972, Playboy launched Oui magazine as an American sister publication to Lui. This magazine, which continued to feature Aslan’s pinups, continued Playboy’s tradition of beautiful women, quality articles and stories, and timely interviews. This brought Aslan’s work to the North American market and cemented his fame in the erotic art world.
Aslan’s paintings for Lui and Oui are perhaps some of the most representative pinup work from the heyday of print erotica in the 1960s and 70s. They are fun and sensuous celebrations of female sexuality, testaments to Aslan’s claim that he is in love with nature and its laws. In his own words: “I paint and sculpt ‘woman,’ the most beautiful subject ever given to artists, because it is inexhaustible and eternal.”
The artist did not, however, give up on his renowned sculpture work. His 1970 bust of Brigitte Bardot as Marianne, that great symbol of the French Republic, stands out as one of his most significant accomplishments, but the next few decades also brought major works of notables such as General Charles de Gaulle, comedian Alain Delon and French Prime Minister and President George Pompidou.
In 1995 Aslan moved to Canada and continued working not only in sculpture but also in painting and drawing. Although his pinup work for men’s magazines ended with the demise of Oui in 1981, his artistic commitment to female beauty never wavered. He has produced dozens of erotic drawings that rival his paintings in sensual charge and show amazing technical mastery with that most basic of artistic tools: the pencil. He has also produced important busts of cultural figures in his adopted province of Quebec, Canada.
It is rather uncommon but very refreshing to see an artist make such achievements in two artistic realms that many might consider at odds. But in everything he has done, be it sculpture for the French state or pinup for men’s magazines, Aslan has brought very high standards of excellence. He has said, in fact, that he felt out of place in the abstract-expressionist trends of his lifetime. For this reason, his erotic work could be said to offer an updated, and slightly racier, version of classical figurative painting.
The lifetime achievement of this artist is undeniable, and culminated in an award that few in the world of pinup can match: in 2003 he was named a “Commandeur” of the “Ordre des Arts et des Lettres,” the highest distinction in French art and culture.
- admitted to Superior School of Fine Arts in Paris at the age of 16
- won the Esprit Prize of the Institute of French Artists at the age of 17
- appointed official painter and sculptor of the French army
- 18-year contributor to Lui and Oui magazines
- sculpted bust of Brigitte Bardot as Marianne, symbol of the French Republic, now in the Louvre
- sculpted bust of singer Mireille Mathieu as Marianne, now in the Louvre museum
- named Commandeur of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government