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LEETEG: BABES, BARS, BEACHES, AND BLACK VELVET ART
Edgar Leeteg once described himself as a “fornicating, gin-soaked, dope-head.” This wasn’t far off the mark. As a result, all the major artists and writers of the South Pacific knew of him — not to mention, the wider public. The talented iconoclast took on the Hawaiian art establishment, also challenging the Honolulu Academy of Arts, with his oversized antics and antiauthoritarian attitude. Leeteg’s insatiable lust for life led the author James Michener to label him “Leeteg the Legend” in his book, Rascals in Paradise (1957).
This is a story of a most memorable rascal from the South Pacific.
256 pages and more than 510 photographs.
Genesis of a Genre
What follows is the story of the “American Gauguin.” Leaving California in 1933, with oil paints and a few paint brushes, he conquered the South Pacific art scene. (And of course, its nightlife.) Hard drinking, constantly womanizing, and endlessly painting, Leeteg, the original “Tiki Man,” started the black velvet craze linked to South Pacific-themed restaurants.
“Going native” and establishing a home in Tahiti allowed him to paint nudes, drink, and party with sensual babes at Quinn’s bar in Papeete. Meanwhile, the sheer force of his personality made him an (anti)hero of his time. As a result, his many artist and author friends included: Charles Marek, Henry Christian, Robert Lee Eskridge, Willis Shook, Robert Dean Frisbie, Don Blanding, and Mutiny on the Bounty authors, James Hall and Charles Nordhoff.
Read this sensational story of Leeteg, black velvet artist and party man of Tahiti, who painted sumptuous vahines in his tropical paradise Villa Velour on the island of Moorea, between 1933-1953.
One of the wealthiest and most famous artists in the first half of the 20th century, he was the father of black velvet art, leading to the genesis of a genre continuing today with Polynesian pop art and the tiki revolution.
Iconoclast. Contrarian. Pugilist. Artist.
Throughout his life, shrewd promoter and creative genius Edgar Leeteg possessed many titles, astounding fans and antagonizing critics. Considered the “American Gauguin,” the rakish ladies’ man originated the modern technique of oil painting on black velvet. Once memorialized by James Michener as an original rascal in paradise, he redefined artistic success by pioneering a form of painting in the South Pacific that would forever change the world.
This is a biography of the artist Leeteg, who left California in 1933, with a few paint brushes and oils, bound for the South Pacific. He started the black velvet painting craze linked to South Pacific-themed restaurants. His home in Tahiti allowed him to paint nudes, drink, and party with sensual vahines from the beaches to the bars of Tahiti (Captain Louis Bougainville’s birthplace of the Venus, goddess of love).
Leeteg described himself as a “fornicating, gin-soaked, dope head” and all the artists and writers of the South Pacific knew of him. He took on the elite of the art establishment of Honolulu Academy of Arts in 1938 and shamed them in the press. He painted murals in fine establishments in Honolulu and in Tahiti and sheltered himself and his family on the neighboring island of Moorea. However, his self-promotional newspaper “letters to the editor” and drinking bouts in the bars of Papeete, especially Quinn’s Tahitian Hut, made him a most famous scoundrel in the South Seas. He was a wealthy artist and legend in his lifetime, a goal few can achieve. Tourists visiting Tahiti would seek him out for his generosity of wine, women, and song on his Shangri-la-like estate called Villa Velour on his quiet isle. He was the father of black velvet art and the genesis of a genre continuing today with the tiki and Polynesian pop art movement, nearly 70 years later.
Instead of viewing Leeteg as a relic of some unenlightened period, we should ask ourselves, what can this genius teach us about what it means to create and fearlessly love? When we look back at Leeteg, we encounter our own reflection, forcing us to reckon with our existence. When this occurs, a question leaps to us: Did we live as much as we could?
When it comes to Leeteg, we know the answer.
People Who Bought This Book Had This to Say
“Art, booze, brawls, women, parties and late-night escapades. This story has it all. Little was really known about Leeteg till now. C J Cook has unearthed the people, places, stories and bare facts on renowned artist and party man Edger Leeteg. One of the Pacific's legendary characters, a master of his craft, Leeteg's life story finally wrapped up inside this rich historical read brimming with stunning art and imagery. A story waiting to be told and delighted to see it finally has and one I can’t seem to put down. I’m hooked.”
“Hey this book is amazing and overwhelming... for Leeteg wannabees, a slice of life most wished they were a part of...”
"CJ Cook draws Leeteg out of the velvet shadow created by myth, making him the ‘American Gauguin’."
"This book is so much more than I expected. It’s not just about Leeteg, but all the detail and “science” behind who (and why) the man was. This book is rich with interesting facts that I never pieced together before. I think I’ll have to start over and read it again!! I shared the copy with my 96-year-old mother, and she finished it before me. She absolutely loved it too! Congratulations CJ. You created a work of art. Seriously.”