Joaquin Alberto Vargas y Chávez was a painter and illustrator of pin-up girls and is often considered one of the most famous pin-up artists of all time. Born February 9, 1896, in Peru to photographer Max Vargas and his wife, Margarita, Alberto was inspired early on by the paintings of Jean-Dominique Ingres and by Raphael Kirchner’s watercolor illustrations of women. Vargas apprenticed as a photographer with the Julien Studios in Geneva, and Sarony Court Photographers in London. The start of World War I forced Vargas to leave Europe, and he moved to New York — rather than return home to Peru. He was never formerly trained as a painter, and learned his airbrush techniques when he retouched photos in his father’s studio in Peru. He taught himself how to use pen and ink, watercolors, oils, and pastels.
Vargas was widely known for his use of the airbrush in his paintings. He did an underpainting with a paint brush first and, then, airbrushed color over top in a glazing technique. Even though he worked in watercolor, he was able to achieve this because the sprayed color did not disturb the delicate underpainting, which remained untouched during color application. During his time with Esquire Magazine, he relied upon the airbrush more and more due to the time constraints of his deadlines.
Vargas produced 180 paintings for Esquire Magazine from 1940 to 1946. He hit the high-point in his career when Playboy Magazine began publishing his works in 1959, which he continued to produce until the 1970s, when he went into a self-imposed retirement after the death of his wife/manager/muse Anna Mae. He produced 152 paintings for Playboy during that 16-year stint.
He came out of partial retirement in 1978, after renewed interest in his works, and he produced a few more paintings — including the album cover the the Cars’ Candy-O album (1979), and Bernadette Peters’ albums in 1980 and 1981. He died of a stroke on December 30, 1982 at the age of 86.
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