Just in case you thought I was an art snob, I offer today’s beer-themed work into evidence that I can appreciate art in almost any form. Having visited the kitschy motel resort South of the Border that’s just over the border into South Carolina from North Carolina several times as a kid on family vacation road trips, I have a special place in my heart for black velvet paintings. Sadly, my parents never picked one up though I had my share of black light posters as a teenager in the 1970s, including one or two that were simulated velvet.
This week’s work of art has the formal title Custom Black Velvet Painting of a Monkey King With A Beer, and it’s from a company called Indignico Inc. Back in the “velvet painting purchasing heyday of the late ’60’s and early ’70s that there was enough business to justify the multiple-artists-per-painting, production-line techniques of mass production” so during that time there were no individual artist because back then the paintings were collaborative works of art, meaning each painting was done by several different artists. Usually they were done in an assembly line of sorts, where each painter did a portion of the work, one small part, and then passed it on to the next artist, who added his bit before passing it on himself, a pattern which continued until the painting is completed.
But according to William Travis Robison, owner of Indignico, “here in the present day, and for at least the last 20 years, such methods are no longer used — at least not in Tijuana. Today in Tijuana any painting you might buy that was painted on black velvet will have been hand-painted by a specific actual human being. To be sure, some of the professional Mexican velvet Elvis artists from Tijuana painting today are more naturally talented than others, but not one of them would consider what he does to have anything to do with the soulless, rote work of the production line, be it Jorge Terrones, or Lino Zamora, or Abel Velezquez, or Argo, or Francisco Romero, or Ramirez, or Santos, or Felix, or Salvador….”
Indignico appears to be the biggest purveyor of black velvet paintings on the planet, with an unbelievable array of different types of paintings, including Elvis, scary and funny clowns, cowboys and Indians, unicorns, and a wide range of politicians from Nixon to George W. Bush. Check out the galleries and prepared to be amazed. The section called “Tijuana Standards” is four pages and alone has more velvet paintings than I think I’ve ever seen in one place. They range is price from $75 for standard images and can go as high as $350 for more unusual subjects like Dick Cheney and Joe the Plumber. Today’s painting is a custom painting, and you can find it in that particular gallery. That means it was commissioned by a customer, which brings up an interesting question. If you could have any person or subject painted on black velvet, what would you choose?
Believe it or not, in Portland, Oregon, there is a museum devoted to black velvet paintings, the Velveteria. It’s interesting that it’s Portland because a few years ago I found a pretty cool black velvet painting in the men’s room of a restaurant during the Oregon Brewers Festival.
Did you know that velvet painting may be as old as the 14th century, when Marco Polo wrote that he saw painting on velvet in Kashmir during his travels. But it was the 1950s when its modern popularity began, originating from Tijuana, Mexico.
Here’s some more history from AFCNewsource:
The popularity of American black velvet painting can be traced to the work of one man known as the “American Gauguin” — Edgar Leeteg, a native of Sacramento, California, who lived and painted in Tahiti from 1933-to-1953. Leeteg’s vast output of thousands of black velvet paintings served as the inspiration for imitators who flocked to create a vast industry churning out a form of art that would be indelibly associated with tourism. Many of Leeteg’s works were purchased by navy personnel based in Hawaii, who would return to San Diego, bringing Leeteg nudes and commission Mexican painters in Tijuana to make similar portraits of their girlfriends in black velvet.
If you want to learn more about velvet painting — there’s more to it than you might think — Wikipedia has an entry, but the AFCNewsource has probably the best description from an art history point of you. If you want even more, check out Jennifer Heath’s book, Black Velvet. And check out the Velvet Store.