Harry Harrison used to enjoy referring to the “sexual dimorphism” of the cover art on pulp science-fiction magazines, by which he meant that male astronauts would usually be depicted wearing sturdy spacesuits or functional attire while their female counterparts would be given spray-on outfits with plunging necklines, if they were given any clothes at all. Sexism was still thriving in the future, in other words, with visible male flesh in short supply. This makes the handful of cover paintings produced by Alexander Cañedo for Astounding Science Fiction uncommon enough to be almost unique.
Cañedo was a Mexican-American, born Alejandro de Cañedo, whose covers for Astounding were simply credited to “Alejandro”. The editorial policy at the magazine favoured hard-headed, technology-oriented science fiction, with cover art that avoided the scantily-clad women (and, to be fair, shirtless men…) seen each month on the covers of swashbuckling rival, Planet Stories. Robots and rocket ships were still required at Astounding, however, and half the covers produced by Cañedo feature more predictable imagery. The first of the cosmic nudes appeared after editor John W. Campbell spotted an unsold painting during a visit to Cañedo’s studio. Campbell and his readership regarded the naked males as purely symbolic, which they are up to a point, and Cañedo was praised for his art in the magazine’s letters section. When seen in the context of his overtly homoerotic work the pictures evidently reflect more personal proclivities.
Cañedo is described today as a gay artist, a claim that can’t easily be verified when the available biographical details repeat the same few facts. But his art away from Astounding returned continually to the human body, a subject where his mastery was sufficient to warrant the publication in 1954 of a short guide for artists, How Cañedo Draws the Human Figure. Most of his drawings and paintings listed on auction sites are nude (or semi-nude) studies, with lovingly rendered male figures predominating. Several of his later paintings could easily have served as additional magazine covers. The manipulation of light and colour in these pictures is outstanding, unlike any treatment of male nudes that I’ve seen before, and by an artist worthy of greater attention.
(Note: Most of these pictures are untitled and undated. I’m also not an art dealer so please don’t ask for valuations.)
July, 1954. “Inappropriate” is the title of the picture which doesn’t relate to anything inside the magazine.