erotic art

Picasso's Erotic Art by Chris Hall

Picasso dressed as Minotaur.

Picasso dressed as Minotaur.

“Art is never chaste. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into contact with those not sufficiently prepared. Yes, art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art.”  Pablo Picasso.

Picasso, like Klimt, believed that all art is erotic.  It is an interesting argument, one that I might have subscribed to in Picasso's time, before the proliferation of overly intellectualized, sterile, and cold conceptual art.  While all art in Picasso's time might have been erotic, this did not prevent Picasso from producing drawings depicting overt sexuality.  Here are some little drawings of Picasso's that I've managed to track down, dating from 1902 to 1968. 

Sexuality and Erotic Art by Chris Hall

Christopher Hall,  Bow Legged Goddess Figure .

Christopher Hall, Bow Legged Goddess Figure.

Gustav Klimt and Pablo Picasso both said “All art is erotic.”  The drive to create and the sexual impulse is remarkably similar; it is defined by passion.  I think eroticism and sexuality are two different things, though they frequently overlap.  Erotic art needn't always be sexually explicit; a line can be sensual and color can be passionate, for example.  Sexuality, however, while frequently erotic, can also veer off into crude pornography, or scientific, medical investigation.

Eroticism can have a real spiritual depth.  There is nothing more erotic, to me, than gazing into the eyes of a lover, peering into the depths of their soul.  But this kind of erotic expression, this kind of love, is almost impossible to render in figurative art.  In my art I reserve this kind of eroticism, this kind of sensuality, for abstract expression, or for more formal qualities (such as line and color).

What follows are some of my drawings depicting or suggesting sexuality, which may or may not be erotic, depending your taste.  It should be noted that I sometimes find expressions of sexuality to be ridiculous and funny, and this attitude is often reflected in my work which has a penchant toward the “inappropriate.”  I do not find much of anything sexual to be inappropriate.  There is nothing wrong with sexuality; it is what makes us adults and human beings.  We should celebrate our sexuality, rather than be ashamed of it.  My erotic/sexual art is, of course, a celebration of sexuality, but also a criticism of puritanical tendencies in our society, and at times, a criticism of sexual exploitation and its vulgar, overuse in advertisement.  

"Why should I be ashamed to describe what nature was not ashamed to create?"   Pietro Aretino

"If you bring your sexual impulses to your creative work... you'll be working from deep in the genetic code, down where life wants to make new life and feel good in the process."  Eric Maisel

"The artist's experience lies so unbelievably close to the sexual, to its pain and its pleasure, that the two phenomena are really just different forms of one and the same longing and bliss."  Rainer Maria Rilke

"I can always be distracted by love, but eventually I get horny for my creativity."  Gilda Radner

"Erotic symbols are part of nature in their aspect of fertility and creativity and, as such, are an inherent part of Man's own needs and drive."  Bela Fidel 

"Aesthetic emotion puts man in a state favorable to the reception of erotic emotion... Art is the accomplice of love. Take love away and there is no longer art."  Remy de Gourmont 

"There is a connection between art and sex, with arousal in one realm speaking to arousal in another."  Laura Jacobs

"Even the most innocent of images can send subliminal messages of an erotic nature."  Julie Rodriguez Jones  

"The difference between pornography and erotica is lighting."  Gloria Leonard 

"Being sexy is kind of funny to me."  Reba McEntire

"It is sexual energy which governs the structure of human feeling and thinking."  Wilhelm Reich

"The difference between eroticism and pornography is one of art."  Andre Salvet 

"I do not deny that I have made drawings and watercolors of an erotic nature. But they are always works of art. Are there no artists who have done erotic pictures?"  Egon Schiele

"I am an abstract artist in the sense that I abstract. I cannot be called non-figurative while I am still interested in the modern magic of space, primitive sex forms, the sensual and erotic, disconcerting contours, the things of life."  William Scott 

"The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it."   Oscar Wilde

"To deny sex is to deny life. To reject art is to impoverish yourself, rejecting pleasure and growth. To accept sex and art together is to add to oneself, to be positive instead of negative."  William Rotsler

Lucas Cranach the Elder by Chris Hall

Lucas Cranach the Elder was a German Renaissance painter (c. 1472 – 1553).   He learned the art of drawing from his father, Hans Maler (incidentally, Maler means “painter” in German).  Cranach was known in his day for his portraits of German princes and the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, but is more known today for his earthier subjects, depicting classical mythology.  Cranach embraced the Protestant Reformation enthusiastically, and befriended the movement's leader, Martin Luther.  While Cranach did produce religious work, he did so with caution; during the early years of the Protestant Reformation, religious art, particularly icon painting, was looked upon as Catholic image idolatry.  Cranach had two sons and three daughters.  His two sons also became artists.  The bulk of Cranach's output depicts nude subjects drawn from mythology and religion, often shown with an eye toward innocence and naivety.  Sometimes, however, Cranach chose poses that were intentionally erotic, seductive, and even exhibitionist.

Cranach's liked paint the same subject matter over and over again.  It is interesting to me to see the same subject depicted by the same artist, looking for subtle differences between the works.  Here we have Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Lucas Cranach liked to paint mythological subjects from Classical Antiquity.  

Cranach also liked to paint old men seducing younger women.

Venus, often accompanied by Cupid, is a favorite subject of Cranach.

Cranach was also interested in the suicide of Lucretia.

Like many Renaissance painters, Cranach was obsessed with the Biblical femme fatales Salome and Judith.

William Mortensen, Photography's Antichrist by Chris Hall

William Mortensen, Off For the Sabbot, 1927

William Mortensen (1897 – 1965) was one of the most well known and respected photographers in America in the 1930's.  He worked primarily in Southern California as a Hollywood movie studio  portraitist, but later taught his methods and ideas to a new generation of younger photographers.  Mortensen championed Pictorialism, a movement within photography that promoted retouching, hand-worked negatives, chemical washes, and an artistic, painterly approach, standing in opposition to the straight shooting aesthetics of the Modernist-Realist school, as exemplified by Ansel Adams.  

Ansel Adams, and others in the Modernist-Realist school, rejected theatrical set-ups, retouching, and strong, imaginative subject matter, all the things which Mortensen stood for.  Mortensen had an ongoing written debate with Adams in photography magazines, which lead to him being ostracized from the more authoritative canons of photographic history.  Ansel Adams held so much animosity toward Mortensen, that he variously referred to him as “the Devil” and “the Anti-Christ.” Adams' approach would eventually win out and Mortensen was considered an anachronism and an outsider in the art world.  After World War II, photographers began to favor the straight shooting, Modernist-Realist approach, becoming a documentarian of preexisting situations rather than a creator of new ones.  William Mortensen soon faded into obscurity.  

“Even the death of the individual cannot destroy the imagination, for that which is clearly and strongly imagined partakes of eternity."  William Mortensen

In recent years, William Mortensen has returned to the public's consciousness; Feral House has just published a book of his photographs.  Mortensen's work is imaginative and weird, celebrating sexuality and the grotesque.  Mortensen recognized the power that sexuality and the grotesque has on the imagination of the viewer, and he applied both tactics liberally to his work.  On the grotesque, Mortensen wrote:

"Herein lies the reason for the equivocal effect of grotesque art on many people: the material is unfamiliar, and, by ordinary standards, unpleasant: yet it calls forth a deep instinctive response. Thus they are torn between repulsion and attraction..." 

Perhaps the most striking of all of Mortensen's works is his 1932 piece, Human Relations.  Of Human Relations, Mortensen would write late in life:

"Hatred is frequently the emotion that lies behind grotesque art... These were the days when stocks were stopping dividends, when lives of thrift and industry were being wiped out by the foreclosing of mortgages and the closing of banks, when Japan was carving herself a large slice of China. Everywhere there was the spirit of 'Take what you can, and to hell with your neighbor.' Those who were strong seemed to be, in sheer wantonness, gouging the eyes of humanity."

Early Influences: Schiele and Klimt by Chris Hall

Egon Schiele,  Gustav Klimt in his Blue Painter's Smock , 1913

Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt in his Blue Painter's Smock, 1913

Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt (along with Edvard Munch) heavily influenced my drawing during my first two years as a student at the University of Georgia.  In 1995 I even filled an entire sketch book copying Egon Schiele’s work.  I fell in love with their line work which is searching, sensual, and organic, like the very fiber of life.  Below is a little about Schiele and Klimt.  Sometime later I will devote an entire blog post to Edvard Munch.

Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele was an Austrian painter born in 1890.  His work is known for its intensity and its expression of raw sexuality.  His figure drawings and paintings, many of them self-portraits, often have twisted body shapes defined by expressive contour lines.  The work is often suggestive of sex, death, and the grotesque, with a disturbing eroticism bordering on the pornographic.  In 1907 Schiele sought out Gustav Klimt as a mentor, who was impressed with his work enough to help him secure exhibitions and patrons.  As a young artist-bohemian, he lived an unconventional lifestyle that led him to being driven out of one town and being imprisoned in another.  Eventually Schiele decided to settle down and marry Edith Harms in 1915, but three days later he was conscripted for the Austrian Army as the First World War exploded across the continent.  Schiele was lucky to get a reasonably comfortable assignment as guard and clerk in a POW camp in Prague, and Edith was allowed to follow him.  But in the fall of 1918, tragedy came in the form of the Spanish Flu pandemic, which would kill over 20,000,000 people.  First it would take Edith’s life, and then three days later, Egon Schiele’s.  He was 28.  Schiele’s last drawing is of his dying wife.  

Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt was an Austrian painter born in 1862.  His work is known for its frank eroticism and decorative elements, often incorporating gold leaf.  The subject of much of his work is women, often in shown in allegorical, symbolist, mythic, and erotic circumstances.  He would also make landscapes and portraiture as well.  Klimt kept his life private, but it was a life marked by sexual hedonism.  He would often dress in a robe and sandals, wearing no undergarments underneath.  Klimt would have many mistresses and would father 14 children.  Early in his career Klimt received many public art commissions, but he would stop taking the commissions after his three paintings for the Great Hall of the University of Vienna were criticized for being pornographic.  These three paintings, Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence, were later destroyed by retreating Nazi SS forces in May of 1945.  Klimt, like Schiele, would die in 1918, from complications brought on by the Spanish Flu.

Balthus: Art or Pedophilia? by Chris Hall

Balthus,  Therese Dreaming , 1933

Balthus, Therese Dreaming, 1933

Not much was known about Balthus during his lifetime.  He insisted that his paintings should be seen and not read about, and he resisted any attempts from others to build a biographic profile. A telegram sent to the Tate Gallery as it prepared for its 1968 retrospective of his works read: 


Was Balthus shy, perhaps a recluse?  Did he have something to hide?  Many of his paintings show young girls in suggestive poses.  Balthus insisted that his work was not erotic, but that it merely recognized the discomforting facts of children’s sexuality.  If anyone sees lasciviousness in the work, then it is a reflection of the mind of the viewer.  For my own part I was once attracted to Balthus’work (they are beautifully painted), but this was also tempered with embarrassment and repulsion.  Anyone who can look at Balthus’ work with detachment (as both Balthus and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who housed a retrospective of his work in 2013, would have us do), well, congratulations.  These paintings were not meant to shock.  I sense too much love in them, and that is kind of creepy.  Balthus died in 2001 at the ripe old age of 92.  Bono of U2 sang at his funeral, which was attended by hundreds of people, including the president of France. 

Balthus,  The Guitar Lesson , 1934

Balthus, The Guitar Lesson, 1934

Shortly after his death the accusations started to come out.  It is now known that Balthus did in fact have carnal relations with his teenage models, he even took as a mistress Laurence Bataille, daughter of writer George Bataille, step-daughter of famed psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.  It is said hindsight is 20/20.  We can now see other facts of Balthus' life supporting the pedophilia claim, his first wife, Antoinette, was renown for looking ten years younger for her age, and his second wife, Setsuko, was 34 years his junior.  

In 2013 the Metropolitan Museum of Art held a Balthus show, but decided against including some of his more provocative works, such as The Guitar Lesson, 1934.  Meanwhile, in Germany earlier this year, an exhibition of Balthus’ Polaroid photographs was cancelled for fear of a public backlash and legal consequences. 

I often make a point of defending artwork from the sins of the artist, but the circumstances are different here.  Irregardless of Balthus’ intent, his artwork, beautiful as they are . . . in the eyes of the contemporary viewer, they glorify pedophilia . . . and I can not support this.  Balthus let his personal prejudices creep into his art, and we can judge the work for that.  I have to say that Balthus’ crimes, as committed on canvas, trumps any aesthetic pleasure I may have gotten out of it.  Goodbye, Balthus.