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Jim French (July 14, 1932 – June 16, 2017) was an American photographer, filmmaker and publisher who, under the pseudonym Rip Colt,[1] created Colt Studio.

French left a legacy of homoerotic images in photo sets, magazines, books and calendars that presented his work exclusively and set a new standard in photography of men.[2] Given that he owned the company that produced and distributed his work, it was self-published.

French began drawing and photographing male erotica in the 1960s. His first published book, Man, was issued in 1972. Other books include Another Man, Jim French Men, Quorum, Opus Deorum, Masc., The Art of Jim French and The Art of the Male Nude. Colt magazines began in the early 1970s. By the late 1970s, short films were being issued in 8mm format; they were soon collected on video-cassette format, which were remastered for DVD format in the 1990s. These DVDs remain available. Annual calendars in the Jim French style, some of them including his iconic photographs, continue to be published each year.

French died at home in Palm Springs, California, at age 84.[3]

Contents

Luger yearsEdit

French was formally trained at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art from 1950 to 1954 and went on active duty in the United States Army in 1955, having been in the reserves for two years prior to his enlisting. He was honorably discharged from the service in 1957. French settled in New York and pursued a successful career in fashion illustration. At the suggestion of an Army contact who had seen some of his early, mostly unpublished homoerotic drawings done under the name Arion, he and French formed a partnership to start a mail order company they named "Luger." This brand was chosen because of the strong suggestions of masculinity associated with the German Luger pistol.[citation needed]

While the Arion drawings had been romantic and glamorized sketches of Fire Island life and similar scenes (influenced by two of his favorite artists, George Petty and Alberto Vargas), the drawings he produced for "Luger" shifted over to male icons like bikers, cowboys, wrestlers and other hypermasculine subjects. When his art was featured on the cover and inside several issues of Mars, sales increased.[citation needed]

Because of legal restraints of the time, the earliest works did not contain frontal nudity but were nonetheless erotic and humorously creative in their suggestiveness. French's artwork was comparable to what Athletic Model Guild and Tom of Finland produced at the time. He also began offering prints of photographs he had taken as references for his drawings, and these too sold well.[citation needed]

Colt StudioEdit

Eventually French’s partner bought out his share of Luger, freeing French and a new partner, Lou Thomas, to establish another business called Colt Studio (again, a reference to a firearm, although before long, this image association was scrapped in favor of a young stallion logo). Having worked for nearly a year to produce the first drawings and photographs to be offered by the new company, Colt was begun in late 1967. Once more the images were offered in sets of prints by mail and the company quickly became successful. But after fifteen years in New York, often traveling to California to take advantage of the weather and abundance of models, French decided to move west.

In 1974 he bought out his partner’s share of the business leaving Lou Thomas to start, briefly, his own company (Target Studio). French made his home in the Hollywood Hills. From the COLT Studio offices in San Fernando Valley, he continued to run the most successful male physique photography company in America, marketing his work to gay men. For thirty-six years, COLT Studio offered the highest quality male erotica commercially available.

Longhorns - DanceEdit

One illustration of French's, entitled 'Longhorns - Dance', achieved worldwide notoriety when it was appropriated by the late Sex Pistols manager and fashion designer Malcolm McLaren in 1975 as the basis for artwork for a T-shirt sold through Sex, the King's Road boutique McLaren operated with Vivienne Westwood.[4]

Depicting two cowboys facing each other, each naked from the waist down apart from their boots, 'Longhorns – Dance' was initially sold as one of a pack of six 5″ x 7″ prints in 1969. Reproduced in the book The Colt Album, published in Britain by John S. Barrington in 1973, its appearance in issue 7 of French’s magazine Manpower!, published in 1974, piqued McLaren’s interest when he acquired a copy in a shop on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village.[5]

McLaren added imagined dialogue between the two figures to express “the frustration and boredom I felt at the time”.[6] Alan Jones, a friend of McLaren's, was the first person to wear the design in public, and was promptly arrested and charged with “showing an obscene print in a public place” under the Vagrancy Act of 1824.[7]

The following day Sex was raided by the police, who impounded shirts bearing the design. Indecency charges were levelled at McLaren. The uproar became a freedom of speech issue when Labour MP Colin Phipps called on Home Secretary Roy Jenkins to review the outmoded law. “It would appear to me to be more logical for a prosecutor to have to demonstrate a specific public hurt in matters of taste rather than being able to rely on antique laws,” Phipps wrote to Jenkins.[8]

Despite the outcry, Jones was fined and McLaren was arraigned to appear in court and was also later fined.[9]

Subsequently, when the 'Cowboys' T-shirt was worn by members of the Sex Pistols such as Sid Vicious, French's illustration became one of the key visual provocations of the punk movement, though French was not impressed when Westwood continued to reproduce the image with McLaren's dialogue.[10]

In 2011, French's spokesman Nat Gozzano told blogger Paul Gorman: “The whole drawing was simply jacked. The illustration was drawn by Jim French well before McLaren and Westwood made a whole bunch of money (and still do apparently) stealing it.”

ExhibitionsEdit

The Galleria: a Collection of Physique Art. The Studio Bookshop, New York, 1969. See advertisement in "The Silent Men 4" (NY: Times Square Studio) 1969. French’s drawings were included with the work of others in this early exhibition of gay erotica.

Jim French.Wessel + O’Connor Fine Art, New York, June 2 - July 9, 1994. Black and white photographs of the male figure taken by French between 1968 and 1994. See “Art Exhibitions,” New York Magazine 27:23 (6 June 1994): 80.

The Photography of Punk. SHOWStudio, London, November 2013. French exhibited both drawings and Polaroid photography as context to the 1975 appropriation (by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood) of his erotic cowboy imagery. The show was curated by Nick Knight. [11]

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor: Polaroids by Jim French. ClampArt, New York, November 21 – December 21, 2013. Featured French’s original 1960s Polaroid photography. [12]

Jim French Before Colt. Nat Reed Gallery, Palm Springs CA, May 17 - June 20, 2014. Featured examples of French’s 1950s and 1960s commercial artwork including early illustrative and design work for such clients as Columbia Records and fabric house Tammis Keefe

Jim French. Wessel + O’Connor Fine Art, Lambertville, NJ, May 17 - July 13, 2014. Featured French’s original 1960s Polaroid photography. http://wesseloconnor.com/exhibits/french/index.php [13]

Later lifeEdit

In his final years, French resided in Palm Springs, Calfornia, and offered limited edition art prints from his photographic archives. French died at home at age 84. He is survived by husband Jeff Turner.[14]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Blasius, Mark; Phelan, Shane (1997). We are everywhere: a historical sourcebook in gay and lesbian politics. Psychology Press, ISBN 978-0-415-90859-7
  2. ^ Falkon, Felix Lance; Waugh, Thomas (2006). Gay Art: A Historic Collection (reprint of 1972 ed.) Arsenal Pulp Press, ISBN 978-1-55152-205-0
  3. ^ ""Because it's so damn good!" Extracts from my exclusive interview with pioneering illustrator/photographer Jim French, who has died aged 84 « Paul Gorman is…". Paulgormanis.com. Retrieved 2017-06-24.
  4. ^ "The Cowboys came from Colt Studio « Paul Gorman is…". Paulgormanis.com. Retrieved 2017-06-24.
  5. ^ ""Because it's so damn good!" Extracts from my exclusive interview with pioneering illustrator/photographer Jim French, who has died aged 84 « Paul Gorman is…". Paulgormanis.com. Retrieved 2017-06-24.
  6. ^ "The Cowboys came from Colt Studio « Paul Gorman is…". Paulgormanis.com. Retrieved 2017-06-24.
  7. ^ 'They had the shirt off his back', Nicholas de Jong, The Guardian, August 2, 1975
  8. ^ 'MP attacks t-shirt charge', The Guardian, August 5, 1975
  9. ^ "'They had the t-shirt off his back': The 40th anniversary of the creation of the notorious Cowboys t-shirt + the obscenity debate it sparked in the pages of The Guardian « Paul Gorman is…". Paulgormanis.com. Retrieved 2017-06-24.
  10. ^ "'Cowboys' T-Shirt - Worlds End". Worldsendshop.co.uk. 2015-01-23. Retrieved 2017-06-24.
  11. ^ "The Photography of Punk". shop.showstudio.com. Retrieved 2019-03-20.
  12. ^ "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor: Polaroids by Jim French". clampart.com. Retrieved 2019-03-20.
  13. ^ "Jim French". wesseloconnor.com. Retrieved 2019-03-20.
  14. ^ "James T. French (obituary)". Los Angeles Times. 2017-07-16. Retrieved 2019-03-20.

Further readingEdit

  • Jim French Diaries: The Creator of Colt Studio. Robert Mainardi, ed. and Jim French, Berlin: Bruno Gmünder, 2011, ISBN 978-3-86787-164-8. A large volume providing substantial information regarding the life and work of French.
  • Life Thru a Lens - Jim French: In His Own Words. Gabriel Goldberg, MEN Magazine Presents COLT: The Man, the Myth, the Muscles (Hollywood) Winter 2004: 6-16.
  • Jim French: The Art of Masculinity. Sean Boyle (director), 2017 documentary film (premiered 2019.) The documentary features footage of French discussing his life and work, as well as interviews with former models and others.
  • ’Because its’ so damn good!’ Extracts from my exclusive interview with pioneering illustrator/photograph Jim French, who has died age 84. Paul Gorman, http://www.paulgormanis.com/?p=19850 (accessed 2019-03-04)
  • The Cowboys Came from Colt Studio. Paul Gorman, http://www.paulgormanis.com/?p=2935 (accessed 2019-03-04)
  • Jim French’s Body of Work Invigorated Gay Community, Porn Industry. http://bobmizer.org/blog/2017/passing-of-jim-french

(accessed 2019-03-04)

External linksEdit