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[whitespace] Heated glances: The walls of the Soundscape Gallery get a new look during the Erotic Art Show with such work as Nick Bennett's Cayenne (above).

Photograph by Michael Amsler


Intimate Visions

Erotic Art Show returns to Soundscape Gallery

By Bill English

THE JAPANESE call it the moment of clouds and rain--the point of human climax. Normally, it's an intimate span of time shared only by lovers‚ but at the sixth annual Erotic Art Show at Soundscape Gallery in Santa Rosa, this blissful juncture is hung on the wall for all to see. The show extends the boundaries of erotic expression with work in a wide range of media by some 20 artists. The walls are lined with everything from metal sculptures, paintings, and drawings to edible erotic cakes--but everything in the show challenges viewers to draw their own line distinguishing art from pornography.

Expect little help from the artists. For them the issue is purposely blurred. Soundscape owner Marc Silver offers no apologies for the raw nature of some of the pieces in the show. For most of the year Soundscape offers high-end audio/video entertainment systems, but for two months in late summer the walls and floors are graced with carnal images.

"I want to do something with an edge," Silver says. "A real erotic art show. Something that pushes the envelope. I've had people walk into the store during the show‚ look around at the walls, and say: 'I'm not going to do business with you.' I'm sure this show has cost me thousands in retail sales over the years."

Silver, 51, does show some restraint. Nothing offensive is visible from the Mendocino Avenue storefront during the show. But unsuspecting people still wander in looking for quality sound‚ only to get an eyeful.

"I put warning signs up all over the front of the store," Silver says. "I even use that crime-scene police-barricade tape to alert customers that this show isn't for everyone. But innocent people still come in."

While many art shows of nude studies profess to be erotic, some of the work at the Soundscape Gallery goes well beyond a tasteful picture of a nude torso to hang over the couch. Many of these pieces venture into the realm of unabashed lust. Be prepared for a major turn-on.

The aforementioned image of the moment of orgasm was shot by Santa Rosa photographer Stephen Fitz-Gerald. While the model's pouting lips and beads of sweat are arousing, the picture also has a reverent quality. Fitz-Gerald shot the picture of an ex-lover whom he clearly cared about a great deal.

"The difference between pornography and art is the difference between good and bad photography," says Fitz-Gerald. "The subject matter and content don't matter. It's the form that's important. This photo is an ode to all women."

Of course, one man's ode is another man's beaver shot. Nick Bennett's composite photography work gleefully combines the influences of David Hockney, Salvador Dali, and Hustler Magazine's Larry Flynt. In one large and dramatic untitled piece, the model is gazing into the camera with her legs spread and her aroused womanhood highlighted with moist fingers. The in-your-face nature of the work has a powerful effect. Bennett of Middletown seems joyous about pushing the ultimate female button.

"It's the most sexual of my images--it really has tooth," says Bennett. "I feel it's the most potent method of pointing out the sexual nature of the female form. It's the classic beaver shot. I looked at a lot of porno to come up with this. I was surprised how willing women were to model for these kinds of sexual compositions."

But this is not a show strictly about male artists getting women to shed their clothes and inhibitions. Photographer Dorothy Reich of Santa Rosa has participated in the last five erotic art shows at Soundscape.

"I have always focused on the nude," says Reich. "Ninety percent of my work deals with the male form. I like the male body, the diversity of hard and soft lines. Someone recently called me Mrs. Mapplethorpe. That's great. The man did inspire people to collect erotic photography."

Image conscious: Pure porn mixes with more subtle works like Elliot Burke's Three Faces (above) at the Erotic Art Show.

KAREN D'ANGELO, who dubs herself the Queen of Wands, is not satisfied with erotic art that is merely seen. She wants you to be able to munch on it as well. Now you can have your cheesecake and eat it too, because D'Angelo puts nudes on cakes and cookies.

"My company [Edible Images] has the ability to turn any photograph into an edible piece of art," says D'Angelo. "I appreciate all five senses. When you're working with food, you imbue the art with a new energy. Why not eat erotic art? Nothing lasts forever."

Silver feels the Erotic Art Show is an important community service that offers a venue for this seldom-seen form of art. He makes his selection of the artists shown at the event with care.

"Eroticism should have a loving quality," Silver says. "I don't include anything dealing with violence or children. I believe in consensual acts. I go to a lot of art events throughout the year looking for artists. The number of submissions I get every year is incredible.

"The hardest part is telling an artist no," he continues. "I had a 16-year-old girl submit a simple line drawing of a nude. It just wasn't erotic. I don't think she's ever actually seen anyone naked."

One of the most mysterious works in the show is a large painting by Joe Jaqua of Santa Rosa. The painting, titled Mrs. Maxwell Stays for Lunch, features three figures in what appears to be a stately Italian salon. A woman in lingerie is mounting a submissive man while another, fully clothed lady looks on.

"I leave the story line of the painting up to the viewer," Jaqua says. "The image does beg for the imagination to explain what's going on, but that's not the job of the artist. I'm merely trying to convey a feeling of sexuality and fun."

Anyone who stands before these works will be tested. How far is too far? Your own attitudes and values will largely determine what you see. One thing's for sure: this show is a hot ride in the back seat of erotic pleasure that makes no apologies for human lust.

Jaqua seems to typify the attitude of many of the artists in the show.

"If you're offended by this kind of work‚" he says, "don't stand in front of it too long."


The Soundscape Erotic Art Exhibit and Sale opens Monday, Aug. 21. An artists' reception will be held on Saturday, Aug. 26, from 5 to 9 p.m. Prizes will be awarded for the most outrageous costumes. Parental guidance is recommended. Regular visiting hours are weekdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. The show continues through Oct. 31 at Soundscape, 314 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. For more information, call Marc Silver at 578-4434.

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From the August 17-23, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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