Working Man Creative | Zoë Mozert: From pin-up girl to top pin-up artist
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Zoë Mozert: From pin-up girl to top pin-up artist

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Zoë Mozert: From pin-up girl to top pin-up artist



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zoe mozert painting
With a phenomenal reputation as a pin-up artist, Zoë Mozert later painted fashion models for magazines and advertising layouts.

The year was 1952 and Zoë Mozert received a letter from Bigelow & Brown, the famous publishers of pin-up calendars. Among other matters, it informed her that, after Norman Rockwell, she was their highest paid artist.

That was some achievement, particularly for a female artist in that day and age. The $5,000 she received for each image would be an astonishing sum even today, let alone in the mid-50s.

 

Zoë was known across the United States and beyond as one of the four leading pin-up artists of her era with contemporaries including Earl Moran, Rolf Armstrong and Gil Elvgren.

That Zoë isn’t spoken of more today is perhaps down to the genre she worked in. Although it has its nuances and a legion of fans, pin-up art isn’t to everybody’s taste in the supposedly liberated 21st century.

The girls she painted usually wore little to nothing, were often provocatively posed, 
or had sexually charged expressions. A closer look, however, reveals there was a lot more to her creative approach. The realism in her work sets it apart from the more overtly sexualised – or sexist – pin-up art of the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

Her understanding of anatomy put most of her contemporaries in the shade. Commentators have noted that whereas a male artist might make a girl’s legs longer and breasts rounder, Zoë would usually depict more realistic proportions.

the outlaw zoe mozert
After her move to California, Zoë painted the poster art for 1943 film The Outlaw. Jane Russell, the female lead, posed live for the poster

Pulp artists tended to be nothing if not dramatic when it came to lighting, but this is another area where her subtle yet rich use of colour enabled her to excel.

Together with his brother Tim, Greg Hildebrandt painted the iconic 1977 Star Wars film poster. Nowadays he paints pin-ups and hanging in his studio for inspiration he’s got a print of Zoë’s famous poster for the 1943 film, 
The Outlaw. It features the voluptuous actress Jane Russell, lying on 
a bed of hay holding a pistol.

“Her use of a cool blue edge light made a real impact on me,” says Greg. “Zoë had an excellent understanding of light and colour. Her use of light made her paintings immediately stand out. She used vibrant colours that made her art very seductive.”

pulp art parisienne nights zoe mozert
Here’s Zoë’s cover for the pulp magazine Parisienne Nights, January 1940, featuring her early signature style

Pin-up girl to pin-up artist

Born Alice Adelaide Moser in Colorado Springs in 1907, she studied art first at LaFrance Art School, and then at the Museum School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia.

Taught by Thornton Oakley who himself was a protégé of Howard Pyle, another member of her class in Philadelphia was the pulp artist HJ Ward.

In the 1920s and 30s, Zoë would earn extra money to support her budding career by posing – nude or clothed – for other artists, including HJ.

spicy mystery mag zoe mozert
From the 1930s feature compositions that Zoë had posed for, painted by her art school classmate HJ Ward.

She appeared on the cover of many a pulp mystery magazine. Her own career began to take off in the 
30s and she started working under the name Zoë Mozert.

Her entire family later followed suit, including her brother Bruce, who became a well-known photographer. Apparently, she chose the name after flicking through an entire dictionary of names, getting to the end and deciding the last one would do.

A real cover star

Zoe schooling
Zoë Mozert’s drawing class in Philadelphia, in the 1920s. Her contemporary HJ Ward is one of the artists using an easel.

Working mainly in pastel, she was illustrating covers for magazines such as True Story, True Romance, Screen Book 
and Night Life Tales, as well as for the advertisers inside them.

Maybelline cosmetics, Raleigh Cigarettes, Dr Pepper, Irresistible Perfume and Regina Hair Nets were just some of the products her glamorous women appeared to endorse.

By 1937 she’d painted over 400 pieces and the following year she judged the Miss America competition in Atlantic City. A fellow judge was James Montgomery Flagg, creator of the iconic Uncle Sam Wants You poster.

screen book magazine
Zoë often painted covers for Screen Book magazine in the 1930s. This one features actress Carole Lombard.

Apparently, he tried to flirt with her, but she was more taken with fellow pin-up artist George Petty, whose work had influenced her own.

In 1942, she sold her first nude painting, and this drew the attention of Brown & Bigelow, publisher of saucy Mutoscope cards and nude calendars. She worked 
with the company for the next 26 years 
and became one of its top artists. Moving 
to California, she painted for the big motion picture companies, Hollywood magazines and Esquire.

From a young age, Zoë was aware of beauty and during her career she sought perfection. Early on, she would use her brother and sister as models, and later got her assistants to pose.

more realism - zoe mozert
As Zoë’s career progressed, her style grew softer, lighter and featured a greater level of realism, as seen in this golf pin-up.

When she found features she liked, she would use them again and again in her paintings. Her brother had the perfect pout, for instance, and so it appears on the lips of women in several of her pictures.

Often, she posed for herself using either mirrors or photography. Perhaps it was her awareness of her own body that gave her art its edge says David Saunders, the author and art expert behind Pulpartists.com.

Zoë captures a happy self-empowering feeling

“Women and men both enjoy looking at themselves in mirrors, but in the art of Zoë Mozert her women are thinking, ‘I look pretty cool today!’ in a proud way.

“This seems to capture a happy self-empowerment feeling, rather than some of the other moods that are conveyed in other pin-up artists, such as ridicule, contempt or resentment,” he says.

David has also noted that – by design – there’s little implied narrative in Zoë’s pictures. Other glamour artists aimed for a lustful, pre- or post-sexual encounter intimacy. For the art historian, her images lean towards a classical notion of beauty.

The ultimate artist

artist posing for artists - zoe poses for earl moran
Zoë was aware of her own beauty and posed for other artists, including for top pin-up painter Earl Moran seen here in 1935

According to the history books, Zoë paid her art school tuition fees by posing for other artists and continued to do so even as her career began to take off. One of the artists she posed for was HJ Ward, whose work adorned pulp Western and detective magazines.

Zoë would pose for him in the mid-1930s. Although a brunette, she had platinum blonde hair during this period as seen on the covers for Spicy Mystery, Spicy Adventure and Spicy Detective that HJ Ward painted.

She also posed for Earl Moran and it’s possible that through him she became one of Brown & Bigelow’s ‘big four’ pin-up artists.

zoe mozert
Another of Zoë’s art school classmate HJ War’s magazine covers, posed for by the pin-up queen herself

“One of her biggest career breaks was modelling for Earl, a famous pin-up artist,” explains pulp art expert David Saunders. “It’s likely this was an important business connection for her. A few of the very best pin-up artists, such as Zoë, left the New York calendar companies and moved to California to pursue their careers in Hollywood.”

In many instances, Zoë also modelled for herself. Later in her career, she was able to paint artwork for sale directly to private galleries. In 1959, aged 52, she painted what was reputed to be the world’s largest reclining nude for the Red Dog Saloon in Scottsdale, Arizona, using her own body as the basis for the picture.

Body of work

Zoe's Loretta young
A 1936 pastel painting of starlet Loretta Young, for a film magazine cover

David is the son of the legendary pulp 
artist Norman Saunders, who created 
the original Mars Attacks cards and illustrated hundreds of pulp magazines in the 1930s, 40s and 50s – at the same time as Zoë was creating her pin-ups.

Norman always observed men and women and commented on their bodies. David believes Zoë had a similar eye for anatomy and appreciation of beauty.

“I was actually embarrassed Norman would confide such thoughts to me, and 
I told him so,” says David. “He snapped out of his trance and looked at me. ‘I’m an artist!’ he said. ‘This is my job! There is inspiration all around us, in beautiful women and handsome men and cute kids and fat old businessmen too!’ That put 
me in my place.

What seems extraordinary is how successful she was in an industry dominated by men

“I suspect the same affection for human beauty may have inspired Zoë’s work – the woman are empowered and not victimised or ridiculed. Some pin-ups by other artists emphasise a male-oriented attitude that’s a mixture of begrudging admiration and resentment, characterised by the phrase, ‘Women! You can’t live with ’em, and you can’t live without ’em!'”

When artists look back on Zoë’s career today, what seems extraordinary is how successful she was in an industry dominated by men. At five-foot-nothing, she had a huge personality and worked extremely hard to realise her dream, which was simply to become a famous artist.

zoe mozert - titillation
Another failure of female clothing in a 1940s Mutoscope card by Zoë. The format gave the artist a huge audience.

“It must have been difficult for her, at that time when there was more sexism than there is today,” says Spanish artist Rebeca Puebla. “It’s always inspiring to see women breaking into a world that’s often dominated by men.

“However, she made her way showing beautiful and hot women in a way that was less overwhelming than male artists of the time. Maybe, as a woman, she had a different vision of how to represent women in the world of pin-up art.”

She had a wonderful way with attitude and anatomy

For Greg Hildebrandt, there’s something to appreciate in her work even if you don’t enjoy pin-up art per se. “She had a wonderful understanding of composition, attitude and anatomy,” he says.

“All of these things should resonate in any contemporary artist. But that doesn’t mean that her kind of art – pin-up – is actually interesting to many contemporary artists. This is not a negative. Pin-up is just not for everyone. I would think anyone who looks at her art can appreciate it for the style.”

Hello, sailor!

darndest breaks
A doll-like glamour girl experiences a sudden strap failure, as frequently occurred on Mutoscope pin-up cards painted in the 1940s.

From collectible cards to calendars, Zoë Mozert created demand for her work among US servicemen.

During World War II, Zoë’s art was used to raise the morale of American troops. Her paintings appeared on Mutoscope cards, which could be bought from vending machines. Occasionally, such cards would have comic strips on them, but largely they offered a pin-up girl accompanied by a mild, saucy quip.

One of Zoë’s efforts features a girl in a see-through negligee looking at the telephone, which clearly isn’t ringing. “There must be something wrong with my line,” she thinks.

adventure - zoe mozert
Fun, frolics and another broken shoulder strap. Note the excellent anatomy on the girl, but a bull that’s far less realistic.

In others, the model is doing some spurious activity normally the domain of men at the time, due to the war effort, such as scrubbing a deck, cutting the lawn or doing some car maintenance. Or, they might merely be adjusting their clothing in revealing ways.

Each card was signed with her distinctive mark, designed for her by advertising executive Doan Powell. After the war, she continued by painting nudes for calendars that were sold via mail order by Brown & Bigelow.

Men, many of whom had served and would have known her work from the cards, would take the calendars on standing order every year to see her latest artworks. Both the cards and the calendars are still considered prize collectibles.

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 123.

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