Laid low by a series of ever-more ferocious colds, I've been spending lots of time recuperating by 'reading' pretty (some would say coffee table, but I don't own such a thing, and nor do I drink coffee) books. One such is Steven Heller and Louise Fini's Euro Deco. Although mercifully this is without Heller's embarrassing attempts at art-historical analysis, because of the intense politicisation of the period - the 20s and 30s - it can't help but work as a little politico-aesthetic breviary, the supposedly 'depoliticised' nature of the non-movement 'art deco' (a term not coined until the '60s) actually seeming every bit as fascinatingly ideological as the more professed radical or reactionary design of the inter-war years. One image which really caught my eye was the one above, by Josep Renau. This is the perfect deco image, surely: the upward angle, the streamlining of the powerful, fizkultura body which, aided by liberal use of the airbrush is closer to Vargas than it is to Rodchenko, the lovingly rendered, rectilinear abstraction of the diving board, and the sense that it all might tip over any second into Tamara de Lempicka-style lurid kitsch.
So some searching brought me to the brilliant collection of recondite filth at Au Carrefour Etrange, which features these images published in the magazine Estudios in 1936, which appear - not being able to read the Spanish text, I can only assume - to be some kind of surrealist-deco political history of love via a bizarre series of brightly coloured paintings, continuing the monumental airbrushed physicality of the deco posters. In one, we have 'Amor Financiero', where, under a luridly purple sky, the Rockefeller Centre, a skull and a few dollars, a heavily made-up woman is disconsolately romanced, looking bleakly out at the viewer. Meanwhile 'Amor Humano' shows a muscular male figure (with posing pouch) and a pink female reaching upwards, in front of a blast furnace - and in so doing, is the only example I've ever come across of socialist realist soft porn. Further research shows that Renau was a committed Communist, and the director of posters for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, and is best known for a photomontage series called Fata Morgana USA - The American Way of Life, which features similar Cold War contrasts, resembling some sort of cross between prog rock artwork and John Heartfield. Apparently Renau regarded himself as 'an artist who is a Communist, not a Communist artist', but these images suggest a rather weirder Communist art than the one that we think we know.