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Behind the Cover: January 1989

Behind the Cover: January 1989

A look inside the sleek, thoughtful oeuvre of Ernest Trova, the self-taught sculptor behind PLAYBOY’s 35th anniversary cover.

Art at Playboy has never been limited to pictorials of beautiful women. It—as well as our ubiquitous Rabbit Head logo—has been inherent to the ethos of the brand for 67 years and counting. So much so that the latter has often served as the inspiration—and literal blank canvas—for the former. Case in point: World-renowned sculptor Ernest Trova created this futuristic stainless-steel hinged version of our Rabbit for the cover of PLAYBOY’s January 1989 issue in celebration of the magazine’s 35th anniversary (pictured below).

While being asked to create any cover was an honor, being tapped for the first issue of 1989 was particularly special. "Don’t do a magazine that’ll just show how smart we think we are,” The Playboy founder had said in response to editors’ suggestion to mark the magazine’s 35th anniversary with "a grand retrospective issue.” Instead, he continued, "Do an issue that will get the essence of Playboy without any pretense. Do an issue that a reader will savor, not one that an editor will gloat over.”

Providing the issue’s defining visual statement in line with the Playboy founder’s vision was a testament to Trova’s skill and originality, and the artist was in incredibly good company. The star-studded roll call for the 350-page tour de force included dozens of the most important cultural, artistic and literary figures to grace Playboy’s pages during its first three and a half decades: Martin Luther King Jr., Ray Bradbury, Barbra Streisand, Jack Kerouac, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Raquel Welch, Shel Silverstein, Linda Lovelace, LeRoy Neiman, Ian Fleming, Vladimir Nabokov, Joan Collins, David Mamet, John Updike, Barbi Benton, Joyce Carol Oates, Truman Capote, Bo Derek, Andy Warhol, Bunny Yeager, Robert De Niro, Malcolm X and Madonna—to name just a few.

A portrait of the artist.

A self-taught artist born and bred in Missouri, Trova rose to prominence in the 1960s for his Falling Man series, a collection of sculptures, paintings and silk-screened prints depicting an armless human figure, which the artist characterized as "man at his most imperfect.” Following the death of his father, an industrial tool designer and inventor, Trova secured a job as the window dresser for a department store. Working with mannequins clearly informed the artist’s aesthetic, as did the jazz and blues music he often listened to while he worked. (Fun fact: At the time of the 1989 Playboy commission, Trova was constructing a series of bronze troubadour figures inspired by the music of Spanish crooner Julio Iglesias.)

Trova created this exclusive "Do-It-Yourself Multiple” for PLAYBOY’S December 1970 issue, allowing readers to take home an original Trova for the bargain price of $1.50—the magazine’s cover price at the time.

Though his 1989 cover art is perhaps the most memorable of Trova’s creative contributions to the Playboy pantheon, it is not the only one. In addition to illustration work for the magazine (including the special three-dimensional cut-out pictured above), the artist also created a seven-by-four-foot kinetic Rabbit Head for Playboy in 1997. That hinged hare now greets guests in the lobby of the company’s world headquarters in Los Angeles, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a visitor who leaves without a selfie with the artist’s signature take on our mischievous bow-tied mascot.

Trova spent more than two months creating this large-scale Rabbit Head for PLAYBOY in 1997. The sculpture features a flappable ear and bow tie and is the only known kinetic version of the Rabbit.

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