In 1976 photographer Martin Elliott dragged his girlfriend Fiona Butler to the tennis courts at Birmingham University. The then eighteen-year-old Butler wore a white tennis outfit handmade by friend Carol Knotts and as a prop carried a racquet also provided by Knotts.
The photograph that Elliott took of Butler that afternoon was published by UK based art retailer Athena in their 1977 calendar. In 1978 Elliott’s photograph was sold as a poster and In the years that followed, Elliott’s ‘Tennis Girl‘ image became an oddly American suburban classic. It found a fitting home in the bedrooms of older brothers and mechanic shop bathrooms. Young boys everywhere discovered Butler’s bare cheeks in the dens of fathers and uncles across the country. The poster would go on to sell over two million copies.
‘Tennis Girl’ is an image that some consider low-class and tawdry. Cheaply sexual and devoid of artistry and all of this may be true, but what it does have is an honest and unique charm to it. I would guess that of the two million copies of the poster that have lived in the world, not one of them was framed. It’s a poster meant to be hung with thumb tacks and Scotch tape. A slab of paper designed to fade and decay from years of tobacco smoke and too many summers in direct garage sunlight.
I remember this — at eight-years-old, I went into a friend’s garage to grab his baseball bat and his spare glove and there tacked above the workbench, was ‘Tennis Girl.’ She wasn’t naked, but she was. It wasn’t dirty, but it was. I had posters in my room, but not like this one.
It’s an image I remember and cannot let go of. It lives and haunts. A part of my youth caught in that strange brand of ’70s haze. A faceless pin-up. Her butt, just seen enough to be a bit too much. When I saw the work of illustrator Keith P. Rein, I found a craftsman with a skill for mixing the cute with the sexual, the vulgar with the whimsical. He is an artist that instills a wonderful sense of enthusiasm and childlike perversions into his work.
I approached Rein to create his own version of ‘Tennis Girl,’ not a direct copy but an ‘inspired by‘ poster to play a part in Elliott and Butler’s conversation. To stay true to the intentions of Elliott and Athena’s poster, ‘West Coast Cola‘ was printed on that simple gloss lightweight paper that my childhood was made of when my bedroom was decorated with posters of Jose Canseco and Michael Jordan.
Rein’s ‘West Coast Cola‘ is cheeky of course — tawdry. She’s a boy’s first crush. That neighbor you never spoke to. That friend’s older sister you went out of your way to sit next to.
‘West Coast Cola’ by Keith P. Rein
18″ x 24″ Full-Color Digital Poster
100 lb. Gloss Text Paper