Book Report: Alberto Vargas: Works from the Max Vargas Collection by Reid Stewart Austin (2006)

I’ve been a fan of Vargas’s work since the Great Playboy Caper (someday, I’ll have to re-relate that story since I cannot find it on the blog here). Vargas (and his s-less alter ego Varga) did pinup and nude art for Esquire and later Playboy. They were always playful and attractive, so when I saw this book at Barnes and Noble, marked down, I knew it was the proper way to spend a Christmas gift card so long as I didn’t mention it in the thank you note by name.

The book chronicles the eras in Vargas life and selective art from each period from the collection of Vargas’s nephew. There’s plenty of text to tell the sad story of Vargas, from his start doing promo portraits of Zeigfield girls, to his rise when discovered by Esquire, to the final contract at that magazine that rooked him into indentured servitude, his break with Esquire, the lawsuit over the contract and its aftermath, and then his return to publication with Playboy.

He had a rough life, fiscally for sure, but he produced some great work. I cannot help but compare his life with that of Frederic Remington, whose art book I expect to complete during the Packers game next Sunday. Remington lived a generation before Vargas, and his work came from a life that was pretty cush and unfraught with drama. It puts lie to the hypothesis that great art must come from rotten lives. Sometimes art comes in spite of surroundings. Which is what I tell myself since I live a pretty cush life, which contrasts with my most productive writing period.

Although, to be honest, the Great Playboy Caper brought me more fiscal reward than my creative writing has.

So this book is worth a look if you’re not too embarrassed to buy it or be caught reading it. Because the other Republicans might ostracize one who knows who Vargas is or has an event in one’s life called The Great Playboy Caper.

Books mentioned in this review:

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