Let’s Talk about Sex (or, How I Became an Erotic Artist)

A couple months ago I received a very strange email from artist Sharon Arnold, whom I had heard of but had never met in person.  She told me that she was the guest curator for the Seattle Erotic Art Festival and invited me to put work in the show.

At first I was amused by the request. Had she even seen my work?  It’s been described a lot of ways, but sexy isn’t one of them.  But it turned out she was also asking a whole bunch of other artists whose work is not at all erotic; part of the festival’s attempt to attract a wider audience and broaden its parameters.

I gave it some thought and even talked it over with some friends who had turned Sharon down because they didn’t want to identify themselves as erotic artists.  I agreed to participate, recalling some lovely abstract lithographs with more than a hint of eroticism by Judy Chicago I’d recently seen at the VAG, and set out to make some formalist geometric erotica of my own.  The concept was also guided by something Joey Veltkamp had said to me recently, about my music sounding to him “like watching the birth of humanity from space.”

Emily Pothast. L'Origine du Monde. Collage and drawing, 2009. 6 x 6 in.

Emily Pothast. L'Origine du Monde. Collage and drawing, 2009. 6 x 6 in.

I was so satisfied with the first drawing/collage to come out of the assignment, L’Origine du Monde (with apologies to Courbet), that the image made its way onto the cover of the my band’s new CDR End of Time.  Upon scanning the collage, I started to play with reflecting it in Photoshop.  Interested in the possibility of collaging photographs of my original collage, I printed out the new shape I had generated in a variety of sizes on photographic paper and used them to create two additional collage/drawings, Cauda Pavonis 1 and 2 (“Tail of the Peacock,” i.e. a final stage of the alchemical Great Work and an endless source of personal fascination).

Emily Pothast. Cauda Pavonis I. Collage, drawing, and photo, 2009. 12 x 12 in.

Emily Pothast. Cauda Pavonis I. Collage, drawing, and photo, 2009. 12 x 12 in.

Tonight I attended the artists-only opening.  It was better than I expected.  The peoplewatching was unbeatable, and the art was varied and interesting.  To be sure, there was the obligatory anime-inspired kitsch, more than a few cringeworthy photographs of goth girls taking themselves extra seriously, and a few creepily misogynistic ceramics, but there were also some genuinely tender and inviting objects.  Comrade X‘s NSFW Duality (shown here as Niko 3000) looks like a collaboration between Gilbert and George, Jeff Gannon, and Alex Grey (and would be blogworthy, perhaps, if his website images didn’t have “COMRADEX.COM” emblazoned across them), while James Lee‘s (also NSFW) “Pussy” paintings are simple, charming studies in the sheer variety of genital morphology.

The highlight of the exhibition for me, of course, was seeing the work that Sharon Arnold was able to coax out of the other Guest Curator invited artists (the vast majority of the work in the show was juried in; there were also a number of established erotic artists invited by the festival organizers).  Works by Gretchen Bennett, Nola Avienne, Daniel Carrillo, Diem Chau, Joey Veltkamp, Troy Gua, Robert Hardgrave, Ryan Molenkamp, Derrick Jeffries, Kimberly Trowbridge, Jennifer Zwick, and many others bridged a gap between SEAF and mainstream art audiences, making this year’s festival the most visible and accessible to date.  As if it weren’t enough work to get 27 artists to make “erotic” art for the festival, Sharon also went to the trouble of interviewing each of us for her blog (my interview is here).

Jennifer Zwick. Hello. Archival inkjet, 2007. 18 x 28 in.

Jennifer Zwick. Hello. Archival inkjet, 2007. 18 x 28 in.

I was impressed by the overall organization of the exhibition, which looks like it will handle enormous crowds effectively, running on the coordinated efforts of dozens of volunteers. I was less than impressed with the labeling system, which listed every work in the show either “original,” “limited edition,” or “open edition,” (open edition?) but perplexingly revealed nothing about the media used.

In addition to the visual art, SEAF includes performers, workshops, and lectures throughout the weekend, including a sexy, sexy lecture this Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. by yours truly:

Cosmic Coitus: A Slideshow of Art, Sex, and Spirituality is a titillating glimpse into the history of the human imagination. Drawing on sacred art from around the world and the writings of mythologists such as Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, artist and writer Emily Pothast will trace the often rocky relationship between sex and spirituality to shed light on symbols, structures and paradigms that persist today as fragments of a mythic past.

The Seattle Erotic Art Festival runs this weekend only at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall.  For details, visit seattleerotic.org.

You know you want it.

Diem Chau. Betty. Fabric, wire, thread and human hair, 2002. 5 x 10 x 5 in.

Diem Chau. Betty. Fabric, wire, thread and human hair, 2002. 5 x 10 x 5 in.

~ by emilypothast on May 1, 2009.

10 Responses to “Let’s Talk about Sex (or, How I Became an Erotic Artist)”

  1. Emily, thanks for the post!

    This was an awesome challenge, and everyone worked really hard to cover the expanse of that bridge in a truly successful way. If I had one goal in mind, it was to approach erotic art from exactly the place that isn’t necessarily erotic to find something more philosophical/spiritual, more quiet, and less obvious. Thanks for being a part of that!

  2. Ha! I like how you just thanked me for a post where I spend 2/3 of the time talking about myself! You’re welcome. =)

    That said, I did figure I should hurry home and hammer something out because obviously the show’s run is so short. Perhaps that’s a strategy to force larger crowds? At any rate, thanks for inviting me. It’s been a great experience.

  3. The pieces looked really great, Emily. From across the room, they had a pulsing energy.

    What a fun project to be a part of!

  4. Well yeah, hah! But also, by virtue of talking about yourself, you’ve given a decent plug for the greater good :P

  5. Nice work Emily! Somehow I missed you last night. Looking forward to the Sunday lecture.

  6. i was impressed with the overall quality as well. the awful stuff was… to be expected, and easy to gloss over given the good.

    i found the labels very disheartening.

    still, big ups to miss arnold. your stuff looked great too, emily!

  7. Gah, the labels. I’m dying inside about the labels. If I’d had any idea about the format of those labels, I would have yelled real loud about changing them. I’m sorry.

  8. Yeah, I didn’t figure you had any hand in formatting the labels. Leave it to this crowd to rub it in. =)

  9. Hehe, I’m trying to not twitch *too* much!

  10. I love the Origin piece and the flip over to the all-seeing peacock’s tail. Confluence, convergence… coitus! It’s the way we met too, kind of– I mean, not coitus, but with the conversation about vesica piscis as a fish, womb, wound…

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