Art Paul: The Artist Behind Playboy


When Art Paul left Playboy in 1982 after 30 years, he returned to his own creative output. A new show at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art looks at the varied and striking work that Paul has made in the years since -- from early abstractions to a recurring focus on the human head.

We speak with the artist and get a glimpse inside his home studio in the Hancock Building.

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It seems Art Paul has always had an interest in heads.

Best known as the creator of the Playboy bunny logo and as the magazine’s founding art director, Paul’s latest exhibit, which opened June 5 at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, features inner portraits of anonymous faces that he created throughout the past several decades.

Paul grew up on the Southwest Side of Chicago and got his start in art thanks to a high school art teacher who submitted his work to a scholarship competition (that he subsequently won) for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Upon his return from volunteer service in the Army Air Corps during World War II, Paul attended the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design, also known as the “Chicago Bauhaus.”

After completing his education, Paul worked as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer until fellow Chicagoan Hugh Hefner approached him about a magazine he was starting that was initially going to be called “Stag Party,” and was later renamed Playboy.

The bunny’s original purpose was later altered as well: Paul sketched the symbol in about an hour, initially intending it to be used as an endpoint to the magazine’s articles. Those plans eventually changed, with the bunny becoming the international identifier for the Playboy brand.

Serving as Playboy’s art director until 1982, Paul commissioned other Chicago artists and fellow Institute of Design students to contribute to the magazine.

Paul has dedicated his post-Playboy life to drawing and painting. The exhibition at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, titled Hard Heads, Sweet Knees, Forked Tongues, showcases work from throughout his career over the past 33 years. The artwork was created using various methods and materials — including colored pencils, china markers, colored inks, and acrylic paint —and refers to his personal values, satirical observations, and social commentary that is a mixture of humor and seriousness.


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