[NSFW] What Does Erotic Art Look Like in 2017?

Alexandra Manatakis

We asked Alphachannelling, YONE, and Kristen Liu Wong what turns them on.

"Erotica is the fantasy (future), the sensation (present) and the memory (past) of sex presented as an immortal artistic entity or symbol. It's a powerful thing of beauty," Alexander Mitchell tells The Creators Project. The Australian artist curated A Study of Erotica, an exhibition surveying contemporary perceptions of erotica across photography, illustration and painting now on show at Melbourne's Backwoods Gallery. So he'd know.

A Study of Erotica unites a vast and variant scale of erotica as understood by twelve artists from around the world. While the exhibition's submissions vary in subject and concept, they are united in the name of desire, celebrating sex as their binding force. Mitchell's own Hokusai-inspired photography pushes the viewer to question their erotic realities, while painter Kristen Liu-Wong reclaims the gendered gaze in erotic art. Instagram infamous illustrator Alphachanneling travels through the mysticism of erotic utopias, and Japanese photographer YONE grounds his work in the realism of the human form.  

According to Mitchell, A Study of Erotica claims a space where art evades taboo.  "Whether or not something is NSFW, porn, smut or actual erotica is all in context and culture. I aimed for erotica in this show. In my eyes, I received work that covered all of the above, but in the eyes of each artist, I received erotica. This is what turns them on and if it turned you on, then you have found a connection with the artist that other shows won't give you."

We asked our favourite artists from the show what turns them on.

Kristen Liu-Wong

"Squeeze Your Nipples" (2017)


For multi-disciplinary LA based Kristen Liu-Wong, erotic art in the twenty first century is about reclaiming female energy in a space where it is usually manipulated for the pleasure of men. Her fluoro-palette, pop art style acrylic paintings depict the reality of being a sexually liberated woman in 2017, with the aim of providing a space of relatable erotica for women.

"Society still seems pretty threatened by overt sexuality, especially when women attempt to express it in a way that isn't solely for someone else's pleasure," she explains. "We're still either whores or Madonnas and I think when I paint my women, even though they're quite fantastical, they're also really human. Everyone has sex, everyone has at least some type of genitals." Female masturbation is a key theme Wong tries to reclaim through her paintings.  "When female masturbation is depicted, it's usually for man's own pleasure. I'm kind of trying to take that back." 

Alexander Mitchell

"The Fisherman's Wife (Front)" (2017)

Mitchell's submission to the show,   The Fisherman's Wife, depicts a split image where the lower half of a woman's body is transformed into a squid. A reference to Hokusai's woodblock print of the same name, Mitchell states his work a union between "the mundane and the sacré, man and god, the known and the unknowable. The octopus is as alien as an animal can be, it comes from a deep, dark and unknown world. The girl is human, she is young, mortal and flesh. They are brought together in sex, a transcendent, spiritual moment. Whether Hokusai knew it or not, in his print, he created one of the most evocative examples of humanities love and struggle with god."   

Alphachanneling

"Yin and Yang" (2017)



While Wong's pieces delve us deep into the gritty everyday reality of sex, Alphachanneling's work transcends us into dreamy erotic utopias where eroticism is a way of experiencing and exploring the world in an abstract way.

"I find sensuality to be such a pure and honest way to experience this world. Pink fading to red, sweet and salty, leathery and musky, supple and firm, fast, weightless, dark, deep, rhythmic, pulsing, warm, milky…. to me these are a few of the wonderfully existential qualities of life," the artist says. Through karma-sutric illustrations that burst with life and pleasure, Alphachanneling celebrates sexual experience in a soft-core way.

One recurring theme used to explore the energy and soul of sex throughout Alphachanneling's work is plants. "I feel that the light seeking, sun drinking, blossoming and blooming of plants is motivated by the same animating force that compels us towards love and life. Many of my works feature plants and flowers as a way of expressing how all things are nourished and harmonised by attraction."

YONE

"Discipline 001" (2017)

Tokyo-based photographer YONE, aka Yasumasa Yonahara, has a different take. YONE's realist approach to sexuality explores the raw state of the human form through close up shots of body parts juxtaposed with miniature plastic Olympians. In his work, the body becomes a playground as he uses photography to unveil the erotic that lies in the hidden.

"I believe that erotica is raw emotion that rises from your mind when something is hidden," the artist explains.

With a mission to capture the intensity and eroticism of youth culture in Tokyo, YONE's artistic perception of erotica plays on themes of exposure, something he thinks has changed in erotic art over time. "Until the age of internet, it was hard to get unexpurgated porn. Intimate parts were supposed to be covered. However, people expect that every part is exposed now and that's where erotic starts.  So exposure doesn't mean erotic anymore."

A Study of Erotica continues until March 5 at Melbourne's Backwoods Gallery, which is staging a decade-long series of "A Study of…" shows. Find out more about the gallery and A Study of Erotica here.

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