“Ever since I began painting and drawing, I always gravitated to surrealism, eroticism and sapphic art,” says Canadian artist Relm, whose work is laced with sensual and provocative symbolism. Her debut The Great Escape is newly published by Baron Books, and features 150 works from the artist’s painting and pencil archive.
Relm’s paintings often use the naked body as a landscape upon which other stories are told. The varying tales add wry complexity to the broader erotic experience: ballerinas dance, bumblebees duel, flowers grow out of body parts, and airline passengers hitch a ride on (and parachute off) a woman’s torso
“Surrealism is integral to my work. I feel like as an artist it’s so important to give the viewer something unique to look at. Adding sensual subject matter to this makes it all the more interesting,” Relm tells Dazed. The dreamlike and often verdant landscapes in her work offer not just a visual escape for viewers, but also inspiration for ways we can all feel more emotionally connected to earth, nature and our own bodies. “Sex and intimacy are pretty straightforward but when you add some distinctive elements to it, it makes it so much deeper and more symbolic. The viewer can have so many more things to connect or relate to.”
That said, Relm admits that it can be challenging to strike the “delicate balance between eroticism while remaining feminine and soft”. Throughout her art, the feminine subjects appear doll-like and whimsical as they knowingly mock the male gaze, which tends to position femininity as submissive or an aesthetically pleasing ‘prop’. Despite their rose-coloured cheeks, they are portrayed as coquettish, confident and unafraid of their sexual power. “I want my work to be through a female perspective, the female gaze, as so many erotic artists are male,” Relm says. “Femininity to me comes in the form of empathy, kindness and a special tenderness that I find in the women around me. I love drawing the entire female form but my favourite would have to be the legs, from the feet to the knees as well as the thighs. They can make or break an entire pose with their complex curvature.”
The Great Escape by Relm is available for pre-order from Baron now