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erotic art
Rick Herold, Nature God and Goddess

SF Erotic Art Is Direct And Controversial

By Joseph Metzgar

WHAT IS EROTIC ART? The Greek root "Eros" refers to the god of love, particularly sexual love. Erotic art tends to produce sexual feelings or thoughts, often with images of aroused genitalia. The value, meanings and effects of erotic art reside in the mind and senses of the beholder.

Likewise pornography. The Greek root "pornographos" refers to the "writing of prostitutes." Pornography often depicts explicit sex acts and, like erotic art, can arouse sexual feelings or thoughts.

Ultimately, it is difficult to differentiate between the two. Erotica and pornography are extremely subjective and personal concepts. Since time immemorial, established institutions have succeeded in controlling a society's beliefs and actions, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. The term "pornography" with all its negative connotations comes from that urge to control. And guilt is its handmaid.

erotic art
Rick Herold, Reclining Nude

SAN FRANCISCO erotic art is direct, often exciting, usually controversial, and always unabashedly honest.

Take the work of Rick Herold of the Naked Art Gallery. Herold uses sign painter enamels applied to vinyl and Plexiglass to depict the "glory of the human body." He calls himself a figurist and colorist, a self-evaluation which finds ample evidence in his artwork. He paints nude men and women in non-classic erotic poses, solo or in groups, juxtaposing intense colors along the contours and muscles of the human form. His paintings hint of stained glass and the decorative art of Gustav Klimt. Herold also creates artwork which is less colorful but more linear and spiritual, as in his Calm in the Storm or Sacred Sex.

Currently showing at the Naked Art Gallery is a group exhibit featuring the artworks of Herold, Gene Clements, Michele Collier, Deborah William Brown and Dragon. These artists work in various media and cover the gamut of hetero- and homo-sex, from relatively conservative pictures of sexual embrace to fellatio, cunnilingus and more. Dragon, for example, paints crude human figures engaged in raw, unbridled homosex. He occupies the show's far extreme with portrayals that sizzle with garish colors and graffiti-like scrawls of what can only be called "fuck talk."

Rick Herold deplores the "puritanical retrogression" inherited from the Judeo-Christian tradition He believes one should take pleasure in the human body as the temple of the soul, and that the turn of the millennium will bring forth a new wave of sexuality in society, especially with the advent of a cure for AIDS.

erotic art
Scott Siedman, Sacred Porn

ARTwork Gallery often exhibits erotica by artists who employ a variety of media. Persephone, for example, sculpted in Italian marble by James Reynolds, shows the daughter of Zeus in a highly erotic nude triangular position. Lovers in the Garden, done in an earthy ocher material, is one of several sculptures by Reynolds which dramatize with taste and flair a male and female in eternal coupling.

Laura La Foret Lengyel often shows her "radical printmaking" at ARTwork. Although she has explored the various genres and media of modern art, it was not until 1995 that she developed printmaking without a press, a process she describes as "true liberation." Taking her cue from Yves Klein, the Parisian artist who made his name by soaking nude female models in paint and having them squirm about on a large floor canvas, Lengyel has done a series of women's breast and male torso pressings which are uniquely her own. In contrast to Klein, Lengyel works with a single model as her "printing medium and vehicle for color."

Lengyel's body pressings are expressionistic and erotic. Her Man-O-Gram Lifeprint shows a nude male torso with highlighted phallus. Due South imprints another torso with emphasis on a penis pointing downward. Each print is unique and rendered on archival printmaking and rag papers.

erotic art
Zanabazar, Sitasamavara. Gilt bronze by Buddhist sculptor (1635-1723)

By his own account, photo artist Mark Chester deals with "hard dicks" and "happy" bondage, seemingly denying the sadism so often identified with S&M. His photos are homoerotic, mostly solo nude shots, with bondage costumes and paraphernalia "adorning" the models. Chester's Diary of a Thought Criminal, an art book of his most recent works, will appear in September in conjunction with an exhibition of the photos at his Folsom Street studio.

At Belcher Street Studios, artist Steven Tracy pursues his predominantly representational painting, some of it erotic art. Adam and Eve, for example, is expressionistic, psychological, whimsical, beautifully balanced, and done in deliciously hot pastels. The figures in The First Man and Woman have breasts for faces and lie about naked in the Garden of Eden, Adam's penis rising like the Serpent seeking Eve's readily available genitals.

Indeed, the Bible and religion provide some of the most stunning and controversial themes for erotic art. Witness the work of the superb draftsman Scott Siedman. Catherine Clark of the Catherine Clark Gallery calls Siedman's art "religious erotica," challenging our beliefs, exciting our sensibilities, and confronting our humanity. In 1992, Herb Caen noted in his column that several printers asked to supply invitations for one of Siedman's shows found his images so offensive that they turned down the job.

erotic art
Steven Tracy, Adam and Eve

Siedman has said that his works "celebrate human sexuality" and express his desire to "demystify" the religious image. His lithographs and oil paintings bear titles familiar to Christians, and especially Catholics: The Annunciation, Virgin in Ecstasy, Kiss of Judas, The Last Supper, He Has Risen and others.

Siedman's style conjures up the religious images of Fra Angelico, Sandro Boticelli and other Italian Renaissance painters. His sexual interpretations, however, tend to modernize and humanize and, many would say, violate such sacred subjects. The triptych The Last Supper, for example, shows Jesus and his disciples, both male and female, engaging in fellatio and other sex acts, giving themselves to each other as a final act before the crucifixion. According to the New Testament, Jesus spoke of his followers eating his flesh and drinking his blood in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Given that Christ's teachings were based on love, it could be argued that there exists a Christian injunction to love one another in all ways possible, including sexual love. Siedman's art is simply another interpretation of the Bible, however blasphemous it may seem to religious traditionalists.

erotic art

Galleries

Naked Art Gallery, 355 Bryant St., Loft 110, 284-0567, Thur-Sat 11:00-5:00pm. Thru Aug 10: "Erotic Art," works by Rick Herold, Dragon, Gene Clements, Michele Collier and Deborah William Brown.

ARTwork Gallery, 1837 Divisadero St., 673-3080, Tues-Sat Noon-6:00pm. Aug 23-25: "One Night Stand," mixed media exhibit of erotic art.

Mark I. Chester Studio, 1229 Folsom St., 621-6294, by appt. Sep 20-Oct 13: "Diary of a Thought Criminal," fine art and sexual phototgraphy forming a dark, explicit diary of SF's gay underground during the '90s.

Belcher Street Studios, 69 Belcher St., 621-3225, by appt., 10:00am-5:00pm. Aug 24 & 25: "Eros 69," works by Trevor Southey, Mark Johnson and Rachel Lazo.

Catherine Clark Gallery, 49 Geary St., 2nd flr., 399-1439. Tues-Fri 10:30am-5:30pm, Sat 11:00am-5:30pm. Sep 5-30: Scott Siedman, "In the Age of Miracles."

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From the August 1996 issue of SF Live

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