By Sophie Truelove
On Thursday night I make my way through the riding crops and nipple tassels of She Said, Ship Street, to admire Jerry Rulf’s painted ladies. A Brighton-based artist originally from Portsmouth, Jerry Rulf, 45, has an obsession with the 1950s that he expresses through his work.
His paintings are colourful and sweet; all candyfloss hues and Marilyn eyelashes but with a grown-up edge. The art screams not so much sex but seduction, as the oil he uses creates a softness that resembles the Vaseline perfection of 1920s films.
Jerry Rulf, however, is a bit rougher round the edges than his art. Wearing a brown flat cap, a 1950s college jacket and a small smile; he is a cheeky chappy to the core. He isn’t bothered by the fuss; when he sees they have spelt his name wrong on the flyers he isn’t annoyed but amused.
Art is a relatively new outlet for him; at heart he is a double bass player.
“I’m not an artist, it’s just my latest undertaking. I did an art degree in Brighton, became a musician, a teacher and now I’m back to painting.” – Jerry Rulf
Jerry met most of his work’s models at The Dorset Arms, on the North Laines, which has become somewhat of a retro, rock and roll hangout. The owner of the café/bar is Mark Stoller the vocalist of Jailbait, the rockabilly band that Jerry plays the double bass for. The Dorset Arms hosts dance evenings that cultivate the 1950s culture Brighton is growing and, therefore, attracts vivid individuals.
Most of Jerry’s models actually live and breathe the retro lifestyle; their hair always immaculately set, their daily fashion ’50s inspired. His art isn’t just a moment of dress up; for artist and model, these paintings are an authentic representation.
One of the models, Simone Jane Piper, 21, is present at the art show, so I ask her what the lifestyle is like. She has a quiff into a high ponytail, a big red flower in her hair and bright blue eye shadow on.
She says: “The art; the fashion; the entire rockabilly trend; it all comes from the music and the dancing and at the heart of that is fun. Also, behind the liberation there’s a sense of community which makes it addictive.”
Despite the art being showcased at an erotic shop, it isn’t scandalous. Most of his paintings suggest rather than show and this makes the art more approachable. Sure it is sexy but it doesn’t subtract from the fact that he has handled the light beautifully or craftily captured expression.
In my favourite piece, a large oil on board called Simone Lazing, he has achieved a subtlety that his others lack. When I say this he jokes: “It was the first one I did, are you trying to say I got worse?!” It wasn’t what I was trying to say. But perhaps it is because it was his first piece that it arrests an innocence his later works lack. It’s like the distinction between sex and making love – both are satisfying but mean entirely different things.
There is also an attention to detail in his paintings that sets him apart from other pin-up artists. One of the subjects of his paintings, Emily Evans, 21, has a tattoo on her right shoulder that Jerry has paid scrupulous detail to. The curve of a suspender belt, the fall of a sheet; he does not forget his movement or shading.
Jerry’s inspiration is Gil Elvgren, the American painter of pin-up girls who famously did the ’30s-’50s advertisements for Coca Cola.
There is a strong nod to him in Jerry’s pieces but also a significant difference. Jerry’s work is more contemporary, the colours brighter – less subdued. For example, in his oil on canvas Lucy in the Lights, in which the model is draped in fairy lights, Jerry takes Elvgren and catapults him into the Disney age. Perhaps it loses some charm in the process but it also adopts Warhol modernity. The thing I like most – it doesn’t take itself seriously; just like Jerry, it isn’t pretentious.
Jerry Rulf chose well when picking She Said as the location to showcase his art. The shop’s lingerie; sex toys; corsets and long glamour puss dresses create a sense of liberty that compliments his work.
Downstairs they are handing out free womens’ condoms, leaflets on safe-sex porn and explicit badges. There are also several small “self-portraits” by women proud of their genitalia.
They are an empowerment group intent on reclaiming the word ‘cunt’ back from its current disrepute. The women are bold, forthright and, judging by the piece Mona Lisa’s Labia, fairly amusing; Leonardo da Vinci may not agree.
In fact, the little alley where She Said lies feels like an erotic version of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley; one doesn’t quite understand how they’ve ended up there but it’s definitely entertaining.
For people fond of Brighton’s laissez-faire attitude, the alley, She Said and Jerry Rulf’s art are all worth a look… but perhaps don’t take your parents.