Japanese artist Rockin’ Jelly Bean (rockinjellybean.com) uses B-movie poster styles from the 1950s and 1960s to create giant-breasted, wasp-waisted babes who pout and shriek melodramatically as sea monsters attack them. In less skilful hands, such Barbie doll-proportioned girls would seem like little more than the result of a fevered teenage boy’s imaginings. However, when combined with 1950s horror-movie lettering and phrases like “attack of the bikini snatchers”, the result is so overdone that it’s funny rather than sordid, poking fun at gratuitous sexualisation of women in the past while enjoying the chance to flash a little nipple in the present. This is the neat contradiction of retro art.

Rockin’ Jelly Bean tempers his generously endowed subjects with a sense of mischeif, be it a chocoholic devil-doll or a bikini spilling B-movie babe.

The bright, witty collages of Peter Quinnell (peterquinnell.com) are full of vintage photos of glamorous models interspersed with consumer goods and suggestive elements such as fruit and parted, shiny lips. “I look for strong and colourful images with a certain superficiality; often [using] old advertising images designed to be liked and to sell,” he explains. 

The juxtaposition of women and consumer goods satirises old-school advertising techniques – to Quinnell, this is essential: “Humour is very important to me – the sexual elements in my work are light and amusing rather than pornographic and exploitative.”

Peter Quinnell’s Ladyporn

There’s a similarly tongue-in-cheek feel to Arn0’s work: the French illustrator typically references slick, 1970s and 1980s airbrushing and Miami-style retro slickness to create sexually charged portraits of physically perfect boys and girls. He says that a sense of glamour so extreme that it carries a hint of parody is vital to his images: “A previous agent used the expression ‘hyperglamour’ to describe my work to clients. I like that because it evokes hyperrealism and glamour, in the dual definition of suggestiveness and of a magic spell.”

Adopting particular styles, especially long-established ones such as the 1950s pin-up or 1970s poster art, allows illustrators to hold up a sort of lens that filters how we view the subject-matter. However, at the centre of almost every sexually charged image is a human body – usually a female one. How you go about portraying this can make all the difference between classy and trashy.

Peter Quinnell’s Watches5

A delicious tease
Almost all the artists we spoke to underlined the fact that the image must be beautiful – one of the pivotal differences between sexualised art and pornography is that it tends to idealise women rather than displaying them as a collection of fleshy bits.