Erotic art in abundance
New show at RayRay Gallery is wildly prolific and varied
If the RayRay Gallery’s new exhibit, The Real Erotic Art Show, is any indication, a lot of people in Chico are creating erotic art, or what they believe is erotic art. Every available nook, cranny and wall space in the downtown Chico gallery is filled with pieces, 150 to 200 of them, I’d guess.
That many artists made for a well-attended opening Friday night (April 15). The gallery was packed, mostly with young people, many of them garbed, tatted, painted and pierced examples of creative self-expression—walking artworks, you might say. They spilled into the garden area in back, where libations were on sale, as were erotic oils and other sexual enhancements.
I enjoyed the show and recommend it to anyone, although many of the pieces stretch the meaning of “art.” What it has above all else is an exciting exuberance, a prolific abundance of imagery that suits its subject’s universality.
“In art, immorality cannot exist. Art is always sacred,” August Rodin famously said, speaking to the blue noses of his day, though he didn’t complete the thought by defining art, perhaps because he couldn’t do so. Who can? The point is that erotic art, even bad erotic art, is a celebration of the primal energy of sex and thereby vital and, as far as Rodin was concerned, anything but immoral.
But—I found myself asking as I squeezed among the bodies—are the pieces in this show erotic? Is erotic art meant to be about eroticism or actually to arouse—or both?
Later, on Wikipedia, I found this succinctly inclusive definition: “Erotic art covers any artistic work that is intended to evoke erotic arousal or that depicts scenes of love-making.” Well, “different strokes for different folks,” as the saying goes. I’m not aroused, for example, by homoerotic art, and the sight of Matthew McConaughey shirtless only makes me think I need to spend more time at the gym.
There aren’t many scenes of love-making in this show. Much of the erotica is voyeuristic in nature—images of nude women, mostly, in a variety of styles, from Alberto Vargas-like pin-up girls (“Natalia,” by Chris Johnson) and Joy of Sex-like pencil renderings (by Shanti de Genova) to numerous photographic studies of varying quality.
One I especially like is “The Claim,” by Holly Smith. It’s a large black-and-white view of the nude torso of a woman with her hands on her hips. It’s shot from below, looking up at her, and the sunlight, which appears to be coming from slightly behind her, casts deep shadows across her face, shoulders and breasts, creating a chiaroscuro effect reminiscent of one of Leni Riefenstahl’s titanic figures of German Olympic athletes.
I also like “blow me,” by an artist named “erotic budha.” In it, two young, nude women stand next to each other, their bodies covered in red paint, their arms entwined, while each looks off in a different direction while blowing a big pink gum bubble—a delightful touch.
Some artists see the humor in sex. Among them is the venerable Sisko, who’s been making funny, crafty pieces on all kinds of subject for decades. I especially liked “Appeasing the Gods,” a 3-D wall piece painted on cut wood, which shows one of his comic-book figures trying to meditate while two images of couples fornicating dance before him.
On opening night, three women from the innovative fashion/theater collective Chikoko put on a short show midway, coming out dressed as bizarre birds, all feathers and beaks, and doing a mating dance of sorts, though without the formal dignity of, say, sage grouses. It was fun, and funny, and the costumes were fabulous, like so many that night.