Aslan

Artist whose work ranged from magazine pin-ups to a bust of Bardot as Marianne, symbol of the Fifth Republic

The illustrator, painter and sculptor Aslan enjoyed an unusual career, stretching from officialdom to men’s magazines.

His work ranged from eye-catching posters advertising shows at the Folies Bergère, the Crazy Horse and the Casino de Paris via the striking pin-ups that adorned the pages of Lui from 1963 to 1981, to busts modelled on Brigitte Bardot and the singer Mireille Mathieu to represent Marianne, symbol of the Fifth Republic; these were displayed in town halls from the 1960s to the mid-’80s. He also sculpted busts of Presidents Eisenhower, de Gaulle and Pompidou, but there was a common theme: “I paint and I sculpt women, the most beautiful subject an artist can have, because it is inexhaustible and eternal. I would describe myself as an intimate hyper-figurative painter and sculptor.”

Born Alain Gourdon in 1930 on the outskirts of Bordeaux, he was a precocious talent who followed his older brother Michel and passed the entrance exam to his local Fine Arts school at 14. At 16 he moved to the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he met the sculptor César, who became a lifelong friend. During military service he sculpted a bust of the Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny, and went on to create wax figures for Madame Tussaud’s in London and the Musée Grévin in Paris. He illustrated children’s books and branched out into advertising, record and book jackets. His brother Michel became a specialist of pulp novel covers, and was so overworked that, when approached by the Lui launch team in 1963 he suggested Alain, who had taken up their grandfather’s Armenian name and was now known as Aslan to differentiate himself from Michel; both employed a naturalistic style influenced by Alberto Vargas, whose pin-ups they had admired in Esquire and Playboy. Aslan’s illustrations became synonymous with Lui and its US sister title Oui, and were used on calendars for car manufacturers like Fiat. Many of his gouache-on-paper originals were auctioned in Paris in 2008, with the “Cow Girl” he painted for a Crazy Horse poster reaching £10,000.

His Bardot bust from 1969 broke with the tradition of portraying Marianne as a woman of the people, and proved controversial because of the amount of cleavage. In 1978 he was asked to create the next effigy, based on Mathieu. When Lui was revived last autumn, many were disappointed his pin-ups weren’t part of the package.

 

Alain Gourdon (Aslan), artist: born Lormont, France 23 May 1930; married 1957 Brigitte Marest (two daughters); died Sainte-Adèle, Canada 11 February 2014.

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