Thursday, 12 November 2020

John Gannam in the American Boudoir

John Gannam was working at a time when the wartime climate of permissiveness was under sustained attack from the guardians of public morality - the forces of American prudery having been quick to regroup in peacetime and push back against the slightest hint of sensuality in the media or the arts.  Intruding into the privacy of the American bedroom and emerging with such hedonistic imagery was a brave thing to do.  Gannam’s watercolour brushes danced over the topography of crumpled sheets, casually flicked here and there by the unconcerned occupants. Alongside a tender image of mother and baby and the innocence of childhood, the boundaries were pushed by a generous quantity of indecorous romping elsewhere. Reading Treasure Island in bed is just about acceptable but teenage absorption in the comic section is a morally defective surrender to indolence. Gannam’s art director, Kurt Josten was quoted (Art Directors’ Annual 27) saying that the aim was to appeal to the reader by showing vignettes of human interest in the bedroom while prominently displaying sheets.  This explains the asymmetric compositions which had the advantage of providing space for text. Human interest was to be found in the energy and vitality more often associated with the sports field.  As well as working for Pacific Mills, Gannam was engaged by St. Mary’s Blankets to bring a tone of more subdued glamour to their product. By all accounts Gannam was a self-effacing character and physically unimposing, unlike his more stereotypically extravert colleagues forever hustling in pursuit of the next commission. Relying on his skilled handling of watercolour to offer something different he also worked for Ford and Chevrolet but his best work was editorial illustration for the fiction pages of Good Housekeeping magazine. Leif Peng has a judicious selection to be seen here.


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