Words: Nicci Talbot
I bought this stunning print at the private view of Art Erotica last Wednesday. It’s called ‘Ruby May’ and was painted by Leena McCall. I overheard one of the organisers commenting on the high standard of this year’s entrants hence the number of paintings on the walls. I asked McCall to tell me her inspirations for the painting and this is what she said:
‘Fundamentally, I am interested in exploring the female sense of erotic and how women choose to express their own erotic identity. Throughout art history, women have been portrayed (largely by men) as the object intended for the ‘male gaze’. I want to know how a woman chooses to portray herself sexually, using the traditional language of portraiture – oil painting.
My inspiration starts with the sitter. I choose to collaborate with my model; the painting is an expression of both the artist and the subject. I ask her to explore and express her own sense of erotic, whether that is through the choice of clothes she wears, the props she chooses or the pose she strikes. The process prompts many questions – how much of a woman’s erotic identity is influenced or conditioned by the erotic imagery created by men for men? What makes a woman feel erotic and how does she choose to represent that part of her identity? How does an erotic portrait differ to any other portrait?
I want the model to be in control of the dialogue with the viewer, turning the observer into the observed. We become the objects of her gaze.’
It was hot and there were lots of us crammed into a small space but the atmosphere was great. Coco de Mer sponsored the event so there were several interns dressed provocatively, handing out canapés. The mic stopped working during Edward Lucie-Smith’s speech so I didn’t hear all of it but what I did catch was inspiring. He said that art and sex have a long history with the earliest works being of an erotic nature. It’s amazing to be here celebrating erotic art as 50 years ago this wouldn’t have been possible in London. We need erotic works to reflect what is going on culturally and to push the envelope a little; to challenge boundaries and make us think. Sex is only powerful when it’s put in context, as with the works chosen for the 2012 shortlist, and a good painting tells a story prompting you to think about what will happen next.
Ms Ruby May has a cheeky glint in her eye that drew me in and I love that McCall uses a traditional medium like oil but introduces kinky elements inspired by her sitter’s toy box to illustrate what women find erotic and empowering now. The painting is rich and vibrant and I find Ruby’s expression captivating. I want to get to know her better: what she likes, what she’s doing and who she’s with, and so the painting works because it inspires conversation and dialogue.
Art Erotica is free to attend and runs until 26th January. Cork Street is a beautiful Georgian street in central London packed with galleries exhibiting various contemporary works so quite an inspiration in itself.