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6 international erotic artists discuss freedom, kink, and censorship online


TextSadie Bargeron

Watercolour penises, alien superbabes, BDSM cartoons – there’s a lot to learn from the horny side of Instagram

Sex and nudity are against Instagram’s community guidelines, which has triggered a plethora of creative eroticism that manages to swerve the platform’s censorship guidelines. Beyond photography of juicy peaches getting fingered and vagina-like flowers, illustration is the most explicit trend. The platform’s a treasure trove of fantasy fetishes and sexual pleasure painted in colourful cartoon graphics, with fluid brush strokes that make penis close-ups look majestic. If you don’t see sex as beautiful, then after a few scrolls on erotic art accounts, you will.

Some accounts are approaching the depiction of sex through an historical and anthropological lens. Sexual paintings and drawings existed in Ancient Rome, India, Persia and the Americas, then came to Europe later in the 18th century. Before then, there’s evidence of seductive nude subjects like Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” from 1534, and early 17th century paintings of women engaging in metaphoric sexual acts with birds, based on the Greek myth of Zeus turning into a swan to seduce Leda. 

Sexual pleasure is universally relatable but it has always been taboo in the art world. Even as late as 1970, John Lennon’s graphic lithographs of Yoko Ono were taken down by police from an exhibition in London, and the 276-year-old art institution and auction house Sotheby’s only held its first ever erotic art sale just three years ago.

In 2020 though, thanks to all the regramming, sensual illustration has finally gone mainstream. It’s become a sex-positive movement, giving viewers a poetic perspective to celebrate manifestations of sexual pleasure. Interest piqued? Get to know the artists and illustrators re-drawing sex for the next generation online below.

ROBIN EISENBERG

Los Angeles-based artist Robin Eisenberg curates a wet dream-like perspective of outer space, full of pastel neon, sexually-charged alien females with realistically curvaceous physiques. It’s a place to eat pizza, send nudes, draw dick pics, and then lose yourself in passionate sex with all genders. A self-love sanctuary in the stars. 

Why do you choose to explore sex in your art?

Robin Eisenberg: Sex and sexuality are such honest and powerful things, I really love exploring that in my drawings. I’ve always loved focusing on relatable and intimate moments, so it feels natural to incorporate sex. Maybe my art can help people to feel more comfortable with their own sexuality and their own bodies.

Why do female bodies inspire you?

Robin Eisenberg: It’s incredibly fulfilling to draw these alien superbabes who are so comfortable and cozy in their own skin. It makes me feel more comfortable with myself. I always hope that people who see my art come away from it with that same feeling. It makes me so happy when people tell me that they see their own body in my work and it makes them feel good about themselves.

Where does the fantasy element come from?

Robin Eisenberg: I was always really obsessed with fantasy and sci-fi. I love integrating that element into my work as it can make a mundane moment feel dreamy. Scenes feel universally relatable because the setting is otherworldly, but the feeling or moment is super familiar. I like that combo, it’s more fun than drawing normal everyday earth settings.

Do you see sex as self-love?

Robin Eisenberg: Totally. Sex can let you feel safe and challenged at the same time, and can be a way to appreciate and connect with parts of yourself that you might not get to normally. Cosmic, consensual, dreamy sex forever please!

HANNAH BROWN

Based in Australia, illustrator Hannah Brown is behind the Instagram account delving into our dirtiest secrets: @rattlsnake_. No fetish is left untouched, whether it’s getting choked, or watching your girl squat naked and pee. Brown has found an artistic way of bringing all-inclusive, consensual BDSM to the ‘gram and making it beautiful.

Why do you choose to explore sex in your art?

Hannah Brown: Due to past traumas, it is hard for me to try certain things in the bedroom in real life. Drawing about it and celebrating it has really helped me to discover more about my own (as well as other people’s) sexuality. It’s a safe way to explore these things. Also, drawing beautiful women and eroticism has helped me come to terms with the fact that I am bisexual.

Is BDSM empowering?

Hannah Brown: Absolutely, whether you identify as submissive, dominant, or a switch. I find it infinitely more interesting than vanilla sex, but I have nothing against that. There is more to learn about yourself and it is far more empowering to head down a kinkier road. I’m part of the kink/erotic community online, so I’m somewhat desensitised to this type of thing. A lot of people have kinks or fetishes that they aren't even aware of because they haven't explored that part of themselves yet.

Why do you have a back-up Instagram account? 

Hannah Brown: My account has been deleted four times now, so it is obviously considered offensive or pornographic by the Instagram gods. I am actually offended that my art is considered porn. My account is a celebration of people who identify as women or non-binary and are comfortable enough in their bodies to post about it online. But since I have been doing this for quite a few years now, I am aware that my art often gets misconstrued online. My audience is 70 per cent women, which makes me incredibly happy and proud because I am doing this for them.

What are you trying to say with your illustrations?

Hannah Brown: I am trying to be sex-positive, body-positive, and inclusive as I am a feminist. I am trying to cultivate a loving and accepting community of people who love sex, are not afraid of their own sexuality and, most importantly, I want to celebrate women and non-binary folks who are naked or semi-naked online. I don’t come from a place of objectification or anything like that, I simply enjoy drawing bodies. My first art memory is asking my grandmother aged six or seven to draw women in swimsuits for me to colour in, and getting her to teach me how to draw them too. I’ve always loved women and found them incredibly beautiful and inspiring.

NOOMI ROOMI

Berlin-based painter Noomi Roomi uses watercolour to explore human sexual pleasure without censoring. Her fluid, tonal brushstrokes make BDSM, threesomes and gang bangs look like they could hang elegantly on your living room wall. Roomi posts personal selfies among the erotica, because her account is a place of entire openness.

Why do you choose to explore sex in your art?

Noomi Roomi: Sex is complex. It’s interesting to explore and analyse from a psychological point of view, and it’s interesting to transform a scene from trashy porn into watercolor art, especially when you take fetish porn and look at the chemistry and context behind it. We have this stigma around womxn watching porn, and I’m making a point that females enjoy it and masturbation. Our orgasms are no less important than male ones.

Why do you see porn as empowering?

Noomi Roomi: Porn is just a reflection of human needs and kinks. Since COVID-19 forced everyone to self-isolate, weirder porn is becoming popular and frequently requested. I’m not sure how empowering porn is as a media but I see nothing wrong with it if everything is consensual. So, if we consider porn an extension of our sexuality, which reflects our fetishes/turn-ons, then we should own our right to watch it without being judged.

Do you believe sex is a part of personal wellness?

Noomi Roomi: Of course. I’m not a doctor or sex-therapist but it’s obvious that sex is connected to our wellness: our mood, our physical health and our ‘happy’ hormones that come after an orgasm. It’s important to learn about our bodies and what we enjoy, what turns us on, what makes us cum and be honest with ourselves and our (future) partners. Masturbation is a ‘helping hand’ (pun intended) for us to explore ourselves.

Why is female pleasure so important to you?

Noomi Roomi: Firstly, because I am female. I’m currently witnessing how so many females are being persecuted for their sexuality and basic needs, it’s utterly unfair that so many womxn have to face judgement and violence. Owning our bodies and our pleasure starts equality, with womxn being free to express their sexuality and needs openly without fear of being judged. I’m not only painting for womxn, everyone should own their sexuality, I’m happy if anyone feels empowered and not alone.

PIGO LIN

Chinese creative Pigo Lin combines oceanic references with nude femininity to create a cartoon realm of sexual fantasy. Naked bodies are free to float, indulge in self-pleasure and enter a safe place of fictional art. Escaping from China’s shame of discussing sex publically, Lin’s colourful platform celebrates the boundless possibilities of female desire.

Why do you choose to explore sex in your art?

Pigo Lin: Erotica is an interesting topic to me. I love women, I wear erotic glasses to see my life and use my work to show my desires. Sex is indispensable for life so I combine fantasy with it to make it intriguing. I want people to feel that sex is normal, natural and enjoyable.

Are there meanings behind every illustration? 

Pigo Lin: Not everything has major ideas but some do. I try to make them easy and fun. Women are like water: they can be soft and flexible, but also powerful and strong. They can nourish earth and create life, but they can become stormy and destroy everything. Women’s sexual desire is infinite, but men’s sexual desire is limited.

Is this how you see sex, as fantasy escapism?

Pigo Lin: Knowing your own desires is very important. It’s not just fantasy escapism, we need to practice our sexual fantasies to improve our own sexuality and health.

Why is sex positivity important to you?

Pigo LinSex is good and healthy for people. Erotica can exist in a variety of modes because unconventional and conventional art are both important.

AMALIA RUSSIELO

We’re used to seeing contemporary sexual images, but not in vintage art and photographs, so Italian artist Amalia Russiello takes you on a new adventure. From 1920s maids getting spanked, to nude medieval lesbians tying the knot, Russiello shows us an open side of sex we don’t see in history books. She manages to make even raunchy BDSM look luxuriously elegant, bringing an air of opulence to sex positivity. 

Why do you choose to explore sex in your art?

Amalia Russiello: I needed to say my own thing about it. Sexuality is visual and provocative, an act of liberation and not submission. Women are the centre of my art and my works have had a vintage connotation since the beginning.

How did studying art history influence your erotic illustrations?

Amalia Russiello: Having an education in European art, from the 1600s to the early 20th century, means the past has a special charm for me. I used the same language as erotic illustrators of the past but changed the message – these are strong women with sexy clothes who are not afraid of judgement, who use eroticism for their own pleasure.

Why is it important to you to explore queer sexuality?

Amalia Russiello: I live in Italy, and come from the south, and I am against stereotyping. People are free to be what they want and love who they want, and prejudices regarding queer sexuality are strong all over the world. A queer woman is expected to have a masculine character but that’s not (always) the case.

How does BDSM link to feminism?

Amalia Russiello: I represent women who know what they want, who explore sex consciously. Being dominant or submissive is not imposed by anyone, it is for personal pleasure. Today, the sexual freedom of women should be equal to anyone else: a feminist woman or any free woman can choose what she desires, and can also choose to practice BDSM. A woman tied in my drawings never has the connotations of a forced or weak woman.

KRISTEN LIU-WONG

Based in Los Angeles, but born in San Francisco, Kristen Liu-Wong’s art is for the visually hungry and horny. Her work is reminiscent of busy renaissance art, injected with colorful contemporary references of pain, sexual pleasure and the unusual, naked women she creates. Think bushes, boobs, blood and familiar modern motifs like SpongeBob SquarePants, Coca-Cola, Garfield, and bubble tea. 

Why do you choose to explore sex in your art?

Kristen Liu-Wong: Sexuality is an important aspect of human experience and should be expressed. It is one of our greatest motivators and it’s silly and harmful to stigmatise it. On a more personal note, I haven’t always been comfortable with my sexuality so painting was a way for me to safely explore it and express my own curiosity.

Is female pleasure an important part of your work?

Kristen Liu-Wong: Of course it is! Besides it obviously being important to me (as a female who would like to enjoy sex and recognises the value of pleasure), it is a subject that is often underrepresented and undervalued, not only in art but socially. Female pleasure is still such a taboo subject. I refuse to be censored or shrink from subject matter simply because it makes some people uncomfortable.

What does BDSM represent to you?

Kristen Liu-Wong: I’m not a part of the BDSM community but I’m very interested in it: the relationships, the power dynamics, the different ways sexual desire and pleasure can be expressed. It’s all so intriguing and titillating to me. I love learning about fetishes and kinks. We all have desires and it’s so interesting to see all of the different ways these desires are manifested.

Why do you think erotic art is so popular on Instagram?

Kristen Liu-Wong: People love sex! Always have, always will!

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