Oldest profession is drawn into the world of art

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The Independent Online
SCANTILY clad, improbably curvaceous pictures of Busty Belinda, Foxy Fergy and Saucy Sally on cards festooning London telephone boxes are not just seedy invitations to illicit sex - they are works of art tracing their lineage back to Rubens, Picasso, Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec, an artist in residence in various Parisian brothels

Recognising their artistry, Patrick Jewell, 28, a sometime student of architecture from Clapham, south London, has just published Vice Art, an illustrated book discussing the debt that stylised images of submission, bondage and domination owe to such icons as the femme fatale, slave and exotic foreigner as popularised by some of the world's great artists.

Mr Jewell, who has a collection of 2,000 prostitute telephone cards, resolved to publish Vice Art after failing to excite any interest from publishers. Borrowing pounds 750 from his father, he wrote, designed and illustrated the book and distributed it to London shops, including Dillons and Foyles, this month.

Many images on the phone kiosk cards have been custom-drawn by professional artists or have been lifted from magazine illustrations. In both cases, the author says, the illustrators have subconsciously or deliberately been influenced by artists and illustrators such as Degas, Aubrey Beardsley and Andy Warhol.

The ubiquitous bodice-heaving, corset-clad figure can be traced to the classical Rubensesque concept of female beauty, he says, while the closed eyes and thrown-back head of the femme fatale was a popular subject at the turn of the century - 'best observed in Munch's Madonna or Klimt's Judith'.

Should Mr Jewell feel uneasy about publishing a collection of 150 suggestive or lewd representations of naked or semi-naked women? 'The purpose of the book is to discuss the artistic merit of the cards,' he says. Not a view shared by Richard Branson's Virgin retailing chain, however. 'No, we won't stock it,' a buyer told the author. 'It's exploitative.'