Once upon a time, before YouPorn, "Blurred Lines," and viral twerking, the pinup girl was the most popular form of naked-lady media. Also known as cheesecake (male counterpart: beefcake), pinups were mass produced in calendars, magazines, and on playing cards.
With his deck of cards featuring nudie woodblock prints, New York-based artist TJ Huff presents a contemporary spin on the classic form. "I wanted to mix the highbrow and lowbrow, the pinup girl with the classic nude," he tells Co.Design. "Art is usually too pricey to be accessible to everyone. Printing on playing cards made it as cheap as possible." Huff cites comic artist Robert Crumb, famous for his Amazonian bombshells, as inspiration for his drawings, as well as older and classier masters like Albrecht Durer and Botticelli.
He also wanted to keep the design process simple—there's a reason the block print was the original means of mass production—and tends to avoid galleries, preferring to show in "less elitist" venues, like bars, wine shops, and homes. The set was printed by Customized Playing Cards, a family-run business in Florida. All of the above means he can sell full decks, plus a woodcut print, for $35.
"I bought 100 old nudie cards from the '40s, '50s, and '60s on eBay," Huff says of casting his subjects. "Some of the sketches took 20 seconds to make, some took a few minutes. I picked what I thought were the 52 most successful and turned them into 6"x8" woodcuts, all in either red or black." One woman holds a gun, another a parasol; another strums a ukelele.
Then there's nudie image 53, the only man in the deck—the joker, naturally. "My wife says it looks like me," says Huff, "but I didn’t draw it from myself."
As the playing card industry isn’t exactly booming, the project was a labor of love. "I wasn’t trying to make money with this. I calculated that if I sold 70 sets of 52 cards along with one woodcut each, I would break even." He’ll soon be printing a second run of 70 decks, as demand has been higher than expected.
The original nudie woodcuts are on view at Gnarly Vines, a winery in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, until the end of September. You can order a deck of nudie cards and a woodcut ($35) by e-mailing email@example.com.