Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Gene Bilbrew: Paperback Cover Illustration 1960s

Gene Bilbrew (aka Eneg), one of the names synonymous with American fetish art and illustration, was a born in Los Angeles in 1923 (click for brief bio). He settled in New York City in the early 1950s and after meeting Eric Stanton they both began creating illustrations for Irving Klaw at Movie Star News. His early career, like Stanton's, is most closely associated with Klaw and in the mid-1950s to early 1960s with Burmel's Exotique magazines and later with Selbee publications.

Of the major American artists of the fetish illustration genre, Bilbrew, even though one of the most popular amongst collectors has been ignored by contemporary publishers. Willie, Stanton and Bill Ward have all had books devoted to them and their careers. Bilbrew, however, has yet to reach coffee table book status. In the context of the mandate of Taschen books, this fact remains a bit of a mystery and in a way, a recognition of his continued cult status.

Like Stanton, nearly all of the attention and collector interest goes to his work published in the fetish digests from Klaw and Burmel. Also like Stanton (and Bill Ward), Bilbrew created excellent color illustrations for the covers of sleaze paperbacks published in the early 1960s by Wee Hours, Unique Books, After Hours and First Nighter ~ the themes:  always female domination over men and lesbianism.

The end of Bilbrew's story (or is it an urban myth?) came in 1974 at the age of 51: he dies alone in his Brooklyn apartment; a few days later the contents of his apartment (including all of his artwork) is thrown out onto the sidewalk, where it is found by trash pickers (dumpster-divers) and immediately sold. For whatever it's worth, some of that original artwork, was still showing up in dealer inventories 20 years later.

A selection of paperback covers from my archives follows in no particular order and without captions. 

Note: Character in the background of Perpetual Motion is believed to be Bilbrew


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