Artwork by Gilbert III (Gilbert Martinez III) appeared in bodybuilding magazines in the 1970s.
Gilbert created and published art in a time of transition. His art is firmly rooted in a secretive past but point to a more open and accepting future.
The closeted days of earlier homoerotic ‘fitness’ magazines were ending, marked be the disappearance of publications like Physique Pictorial and Tomorrow’s Man with their black-and-white images of lightly-muscled (and heavily-oiled) young men wearing little more than a posing pouch and white sailor cap or cowboy hat in a studio draped with fishing nets.
In their place, ‘legitimate’ bodybuilding magazines were beginning to find their footing in the magazine market. Magazines like Muscle and Fitness, Iron Man, and Muscular Development embraced the male body with gusto and erased the innuendo and sexual overtones of earlier publications. The unwritten rule was that it was OK to talk about male bodies and muscles, but you had to pretend there’s nothing sexual inside their posing trunks. In a time when even Liberace wasn’t gay, publishers walked a thin line between what their readers wanted and what society, the law, and the market allowed.
Gilbert’s work reflects his time, and shows clear influences from other artists of the period such as George Quaintance, Harry Bush, and Tom of Finland, the pinup movement of the early 20th century, and the output of the American Model Guild (AMG).
- George Quaintance was one of the earliest American artists producing this type of work. Almost without exception, his images are gaudy, extravagant and flamboyant. More theatrical than erotic.
- Harry Bush created a large body of almost innocent ‘boy-next-door’ images that hinted at erotic potential. Publishers could reasonably argue that nothing pornographic – and hence censorable – was being presented. Gilbert’s images share this almost erotic innocence.
- Tom of Finland’s early images lacked the hyper muscularity of later work, especially his faces. Tom’s early men have soft and androgynous– almost child-like–features, and big hair.
- Gilbert worked in the pin-up genre focused on images of coyly posed nubile women that could be ‘pinned up’ on a wall. Enoch Bolles is perhaps the best known artist of this genre (google is name if your tastes run towards straight male fantasies.) Beefcake – the male version of the pin-up – comes later, perhaps most famously represented by Burt Reynold’s 1972 Cosmopolitan.
- Organizations like Bob Mizer’s American Model Guild (AMG) walked the thin line between acceptable and pornographic with his artistic black and white images of athletic young men, sometimes sold through the mail in discrete brown envelopes. Mizer also created a number of periodicals that introduced audiences to images created by the artists mentioned here.
These and other factors influenced Gilbert’s unmitakeable style.
I was in my early teens and many awkward years away from joining a gym when I found Gilbert III in the soon-to-be sticky pages of a furtively-purchased issue of John Grimek’s Muscular Development (purchased, I told the saleslady, for a fictitious older brother who asked me to pick up a copy of the magazine for him).
Many, but not all, issues featured Gilbert’s freaky, fantastic, fabulous men flaunting their bodacious tatas, wasp-waists, monster asses and thunder thighs in posing trunks or tights.
The bodies he portrayed were unfeasible, unrealistic, and unobtainable: no amount of lifting or squatting – or drugs or plastic surgery– could ever make anyone look like this. Without exception, they were ridiculously proportioned, impracticably built, and impossibly big.
Changing tastes lead to a decline in artwork like this in bodybuilding magazines. To many – especially younger men– the images look old fashioned and out of date; something from another time. Technology also meant magazines publishers had access to more graphic options. New tools allowed publishers to create the sophisticated visual content readers craved. Color photography became the norm. By the late 70s his black and white artwork had disappeared from the magazine racks.
Today you can occasionally find his men in old issues of Muscular Development in second hand book stores or thrift shops; these images were scanned from back issues purchased in an old book shop: