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K.O. (Knute) Munson (American, b.1900)
Also known as: Knute O. MunsonBirth Place: Oslo, Norway
The rare non-American pinup artist, K.O. Munson (1900 - 1967) nonetheless imprinted himself on American culture over the course of four decades of painting. While he wasn’t as prolific as some of his peers, his use of photography, painting, and their interplay formed a template that would influence other pinup and Americana artists for decades to come.
Munson was born in Oslo, Norway but grew up in Sweden. His family would eventually settle in Michigan, where Munson spent his teen years. Munson’s early art came courtesy of a local doctor who hired him to draw medical illustrations to be used for the doctor’s touring lectures on surgery. Even then Munson’s talent for recreating the human figure was obvious. He enrolled at the Academy of Fine art and the American Academy of Art at the age of 23 where he studied under famed painter Andrew Loomis.
While in Chicago, Munson got odd jobs illustrating men’s clothing catalogs. While Loomis saw obvious skill in Munson’s painting ability, he urged the young artist to continue his commercial art career and recommended him for an extremely lucrative Milky Way candy bar campaign. It was an instant success. In 1936, Munson received a call from friend and fellow Academy of Fine Art alum, Earl Moran, to come work at Brown & Bigelow. He spent the next seven years working under more popular artists and filling in at B&B where he could.
In 1943, Munson finally received his break, inheriting Brown & Bigelow’s popular Artist’s Sketch Pad calendar series after fellow artist Earl MacPherson joined the army. Munson immediately overhauled the style of art, applying subtler vignette techniques, inspired by the work of Dean Cornwell. These pastels were much warmer and softer than previous entries in the series and showed Munson’s affinity for realistic, healthy models. During this time, Munson would also do national ad campaigns for Lucky Strike cigarettes, The U.S. Rubber Corporation, and Goodrich Tires.
During the 1950s, Munson became as known for his color photography as he was for his pastels. This culminated in a 1958 feature by Artist and Photographer magazine entitled, “K.O. Munson and his Glamour Queens.” The feature described Munson as “unpretentious, congenial, and frank” and showed the direct correlation between Munson’s photography and his paintings, both of which had a keen eye for those genial moments of stillness in his models.
Munson died in 1967, earlier than many of his peers. His work in photography and in pastels makes him unique among pinup artists, who typically only excelled in one discipline. Munson helped drive the Pinup into the sixties and embraced new technology from the start, never sacrificing what made them special in the first place -- their humanity.
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