Agnieszka Handzel-KordaczkaCosmos (2016)

The way these figures are rendered is very similar to another artist; unfortunately–for the life of me, I can’t recall whom.

Thus, I am going to describe this as what you’d get if you told an intern from the art department of a Tim Burton movie to draw Maleficent fucking Capt. Jack Sparrow except draw them in the style of Aeon Flux.

The backdrop is what you’d get if Mark Rothko challenged the Bauhaus painters to a jousting competition.

There’s even a touch of that thing they do in hentai where they show sexual penetration as if they camera were inside whatever orifice is being penetrated.

Each distinct element is–in and of itself–unappearling; yet, combined… they form something a good deal more than the sum of the parts.

In fact, this painting stands out from the rest of her work: it’s more accessible but less resolved. (Honestly, to me here style is particularly well suited to the way I visual things when I read Camus, Moravia or Ferrante.

Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

Originally, I had some profound notion I wanted to share re: this but whatever connection I made has gotten scrambled by the worst sinus infection I’ve had in probably a decade. (I’m miserable–feel free to send coconut seltzer, bulk cannabis or one of those fancy original hitachi wands.)

The only thing I can think to say about this now that this post is a Damocles sword swaying over my head: I like the way her vulva/labia are the exact same color as his foreskin. There’s some extra magenta in that same area but mostly the rest of her skin is more orange and yellow while his skin is more orange and red.

Also, something I’ve noticed from the overlap between still photography and cinematography is that the way things are arranged in an image suggests something about a relationship with time. If a character walks from left to right across a frame, this usually relates to a passage of time from the present into the future. (With some exceptions in Japanese film–and they are less exceptions than complications) The tendency is movement from right to left in a frame suggests either a movement back in time or a restatement, clarification or some sort of nostalgia.

The balance of suggested motion in this–regardless of what is transpiring (probably a creampie, knowing porn)–is right to left; which contributes a contemplative cast to the image. At least to me–in my current state of nanobots raised by weasels sloshing around in my sinuses.

Apollonia Saintclair605 – Les béquilles [The Third Auxiliary] (2015)

Each time I re-encounter Saintclair’s work, my appreciation of her talent expands.

Like Mœbius–who’s syncretism of sacred (attuned to the rigorously established precepts of classical drafting and design in high art) and profane (explicitly graphic depictions of sexual activity) is almost certainly a major influence–Saintclair almost always releases work that is both salacious and eminently refined.

I adore the image above. I appreciate the fact that I actually sat here for ten minutes decoding the fact that the hands depicted here belong to four different people.

Further, I love the way her treatment of cross hatching and shading render appear to be almost art nouveau-esque when you are examining the piece close at hand, and then when you zoom out and see it at a distance, the stylization diminishes to affect a sort of photo-realistic look.

Compositionally, I can’t see how anyone could look at this and not appreciate the careful balance between highlight and shadow–I mean this illustration is, after all, a gradient from top to bottom (light to shadow). But like the yin-yang symbol, the shadows in the light area balance against light in the shadow areas. It’s masterful, really. (She’s probably also riffing on Escher here.)

Lastly: for three years–give or take and excluding guest curatorial stints–I’ve insisted on alternative between B&W and color images every other post on this blog. (I know, I know–your mind is blown.)

It’s not especially easy to pull of. There is a dearth of B&W stuff, a surfeit of color. So it’s refreshing to have an artist whose work successfully scratches a particular itch in such a virtuoso fashion.

(Disclaimer: this Tumblr was high af off Cali’s finest medical edibles while writing this post.)

urbanfaerietalesTitle Unknown (201X)

The above images are interesting–if a bit muddled. Yet, the way in which they’re muddled suggests several things to me about visual grammar. So like good Wittgensteinians, let us conduct a grammatical investigation!

A lone photo or image must stand on its own. However, as soon as you position photos or images adjacent to one another–each subtly shapes and informs how we read not just the one image or photo but how we read both of them together.

In the loosest sense there are two ways that photographs can relate to each other: as polyptychs or as sequences.

The above is not a triptych.

Strictly speaking, a diptych means ‘two-fold’. A triptych would indicate three folds. As such you can see panel A alone, panel B alone, panel C alone or panel A & B together or B & C together or A & C together or A, B & C all at once.

While polyptychs can be seen as relating to each other in a way that conveys are broader, overarching narrative–their construction is not intrinsically narrative. The each panel stands alone but that together each comment, enliven and enrich each other so that the piece as a whole comes to constitute more than the sum of its parts.

A sequence, on the other hand is fundamentally tied up with the movement of time. (To be 100% clear, a polyptych can be sequential but a sequence is not automatically a polyptych.)

There’s several things the above sequence does well. First off, the use of depth of field to direct the viewers eye is totally on point–in the first panel, only the top of the head in the foreground is in focus while everything else goes soft; in the second panel, the focus point is ever-so-slightly behind the kneeling figure; the final panel shifts the focus towards the middle ground between the two lovers.

Compositionally, the first and last panel are #skinnyframebullshit–there is absolutely no effing reason given the frame that vertical orientation contributes fuck all to the logical consistency of the whole.

In the first panel, the way the supine figure’s legs open up to the room begs for landscape orientation, further given the narrative auspices of the piece as a whole–it’s extraordinarily poor form to employ portrait orientation.)

The contrast and overall tonal range are best in the third panel; however, the frame feels constricted; it makes me nervous that it’s so clearly supposed to be set in this room but the view of the room is so claustrophobically limited.

The second panel is actually a fabulous example of when a vertical orientation actually serves a goddamn purpose–the frame reads up and down and by fitting it to a form that is predisposed to that sort of scanning, the image maker employs the appropriate visual grammar to convey to the viewer how to best engage with the image.

In summary, there is a great deal of raw potential here. I’m of a mind that this would’ve been more effective if all the images had been landscape oriented or if the second panel had been extracted and presented independent of the others (I do think you’d lose something but the image is strong enough to stand on its own).

Alternately–and probably even stronger–would have been if the first and third image were landscape oriented and the second image remains in its current, portrait orientation. This would’ve pushed things more in the direction of a polyptych and would’ve also suggested an altar piece–which is more in keeping given the almost liturgical tone of the images.

And that’s why I make such a big deal about using portrait orientation correctly. Maintaining that it doesn’t matter is the same as saying that the comma in Let’s eat Grandma vs Let’s eat, Grandma doesn’t make any difference in the end result.

Source unknown – Title unknown (19XX)

There’s a very fine line between simplicity and knee-jerkiness.

This is a square frame. (Judging by the color and insinuation of texture in the border, I’d wager it’s Polaroid 600.)

The act of penetration is just ever so slightly above and right of center. And given most Polaroid cameras are technically TLRs.

It’s a good bet that whomever framed the image, intended to have the explicit action dead center. The discrepancy between the viewfinder and the taking lens due to parallax saves it.

Er… perhaps it doesn’t.

See: initially, I thought I liked the way that the frame is divided into implicit quarters by the L form of her legs. With more careful consideration, I’m not sure it’s such a great idea.

HOWEVER, it does work here–although it is less about the implicit parsing of the frame and more to do with the way the parsing flattens the frame.

Normally, I’m not someone for flattening the frame. But it’s interesting to note that the fellow here is almost entirely parallel to the focal plane. She’s actually every so slightly foreshortened. (It’s not obvious when you look at her abdomen but consider how her leg is straddling the crook of his hip and then trailing back away from the camera.

There are a couple of reasons this ambiguity aides the photograph. First, it draws in more context. There’s not a lot to take in and while I’m not all that big a fan of close-ups, this has the feel of a hotel room to it. But not in a way that makes you think… oh, hotel room. It’s not something you’d necessarily think of unless someone asked you directly where this scene was shot.

Also, while the subject is pornographic, there’s enough of an auspice of formality that renders the whole thing somewhat understated and demure even. (I’m thinking here of how you cannot photograph water. But you can make images of water when it is contained–in a cup, or a stream bed; or in motion, rain and you don’t show the essence of water so much as you can draw attention to certain characteristic attributes.)

The foreshortening also suggests overlap with the paintings of Caravaggio–in color and mood. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out how much the remind of Gauguin’s work from Tahiti. (I can’t explain why…just look at it and I think it’ll be plain as day… I just don’t know how to say it.)

Otto Schmidt – Untitled (189X)

The above sampling of Schmidt’s work was posted by @vensuberg with the following note appended:

I’m posting these three pictures by Otto Schmidt to advertise another of Sparismus’ blogs, here.
The pictures there are generally of this type, about half by Schmidt
and considerable graphic material as well. Also the scans are much
better than he is able to manage on his regular Schmidt series and tend
to be about 6000×6000 (three times the resolution tumblr will post
these).

If you like your smut turn-of-the-century vintage with a dash of too-cool-for-art-school, then you’d do well to follow them.

I was unfamiliar with Schmidt prior to seeing this but his work is intriguing. There’s an attention to depth of field (particularly in the top photo of what might be referred to as a cunnilingus pyramid) and control of overall tonal range which both suggest a familiarity with the photo avant-garde. Also, the blocking and positing suggests the photographer was extensively familiar with art history–particularly oil painting.

One might quibble that the commitment to fitting pornographic content to classical forms, detracts somewhat from the erotic effect of the work. I can see that and absolutely think that one of the struggles in trying to produce work that is Capital A Art with the pornographic depiction of sexuality as its subject is to carefully balance concept, form and technique with a carefully considered execution that leaves room for ruptures, disjunctions and spontaneity. (For example: although sterile and awkwardly over-posed the cunnilingus pyramid does end up reading as playful.)

Inside FleshTitle Unknown (2016)

If you’re at all familiar with music criticism, you know that generally there are three templates for artists with long careers of making continual relevant, ground breaking work:

  1. Do the same thing you did before–except this time around do more of it and do what you do bigger;
  2. Apply your essential voice to something completely different in scope and execution (generally referred to as ‘making a left turn’);
  3. Burn everything to the ground, then burn the ashes and only then reinvent everything again from the beginning (think: David Bowie).

If Inside Flesh can be said to be following any of the above trajectories, it would be #1.

To me, that’s not just interesting–it’s surprising. Let me attempt to explain what I mean…

I’ve always appreciated IF’s aesthetic. But I’ve always worried that it’s a little too rigidly circumscribed–the whole glitching, industrial hell thing seemed to me that it would become cloying at a rather quick clip.

Quite the opposite, in fact: it feels like someone exploring the interstices between art and pornography could do worse than to immerse themselves in IFs oeuvre.

What I’ve noticed is a degree of conceptual recursion in their work. The limitations of their aesthetic are frequently mirrored in a certain heteronormative predisposition in their work. For example: they have a lot of scenes like this, where the viewer sees an nearly disembodied phallus vaginally penetrating a definitely embodied woman. (I really like that their frames tend to include the entirety of the woman’s body within the frame.)

However, there are two things that distinguish IF from most straight porn:

  1. Running counter to the strict aesthetic limitation (or perhaps, because of them), IF’s work possesses a profound sense of animalistic desire–the limitation of the form presents itself as artifice (or, you might say: the pornographic fantasy of it all is a set dressing intended to be seen as a set dressing which contributes an ambiguity to whether the form isn’t merely a means of helping to illustrate the strange beauty of two people who would be fucking in which the same way with or without the production design, props, costumes and cameras rolling.)
  2. As unsettling as some of it is, there’s never a sense that what the viewer sees is in any way divorced from a legitimate experience of interpersonal intimacy.

In their artist statements IF refers to their ongoing preoccupation with “human carnality in all its aspects.”

I know they are based in Poland. But I can’t help seeing what their doing as a sort of radical fuck you to on going policing of sex workers by ‘well-intending’ fuckwits–I’m thinking specifically of the AIDS Healthcare Foundations utterly ridiculous ballot initiative that would empower private citizens to personally sue adult performers not wearing a condom in adult media.

I am about as against the contrived Puritanical prudery that suggests sex is a sin in the eyes of some deity as a means of dodging unwanted pregnancy, disease, eternal damnation, etc., as one person can possibly be. When it comes to sex positivity, I err on the side of over-the-top. I think people who enjoy sex should have more and better sex.

By the same token, I find the sort of heteronormative no risks/all reward notion of sex perpetuated by most mainstream pornography to be only a bit less repugnant. I mean how many times have you watched a scene where a cable guy or plumber shows up to fix something and upon finding the person with the troubles is scantily clad and horny, things progress to sex with little if any flirting, communication or foreplay. It’s pure simulacrum.

But although it’s fantasy, and part of the fantasy is the randomness and availability, the context indicates that there should be behavior in place that pays attention to safer sex. (I say ‘safer ‘specifically because I don’t think there is any such thing as 100% safe sex–at least if your doing it right by recognizing that risk is an intrinsic feature to anything in life truly worth doing–and vulnerability, connection and giving expression to unfiltered desire are all risks; plus, the queer milieu in which I maneuver, I don’t know a single person who uses dental dams or condoms when performing oral sex.

My point is you choose your level of risk and accept the consequences. It’s not really anyone else’s call to make.

Yet, I feel like whereas most porn would argue against condoms for being elements that pull the viewer out of the fantasy, their absence in feels like a radical decision to experience the extremity of human carnality.

And it’s true: safe sex is good sex. But there’s something about unsafe sex that is completely immersive. (It’s like the difference between the hallucinations associated with mushrooms vs LSD–when I’m shrooming, I always remember I’m shrooming, when I’m tripping on acid, I sometimes lose site of the fact that I’m hallucinating–interestingly, I don’t especially like LSD.)

Like you can feel the smallest changes in engorged rigidity, changes in the viscosity of vaginal mucus, the slow build up of clenching and unclenching micro contractions, the warm surge of unrestrained ejaculation.

Really, I think it’s exactly these sorts of intangibles that IF is trying to convey in their work.

JoymiiWhat a Ride featuring Josephine and Den (2015)

There are a raft of reasons I ought not be posting this:

  • I am suspicious–at best–of close-ups (let alone extreme close-ups such as this)
  • It’s heteronormative in a way which really goddamned irks me
  • The above image has been cropped from the original (which I would’ve posted if it didn’t feature an intensely intrusive, dumb watermark).

All that BS aside, there is something not if not exactly substantive then I guess ‘considered’ about this. I don’t mean the polished gloss of it–although it certain supersedes that of quotidian porn.

What catches my eye is the extremely shallow depth of field–which allows both out of focus bits in the foreground and background.

Image makers are frequently obsessed with the flattering effects of so-called bokeh to isolate and emphasize the subject of the composition. But bokeh centers on rendering the background out of focus. Out of focus elements in the both the fore- and back- ground is more commonly associated with cinema–where due to the scene playing out of thousands of frames shifting focus can be used to guide who or what within the frame the audience is supposed to attend to. (I’ve written about this before.)

In the above image the point of sharpest focus draws attention to the act of genital penetration. In this crop, the action still manages to be ever-so-slightly off-center. No matter how pretty the soft focus, the image would’ve crumbled given knee-jerk dead center placement.

What’s interesting is in the uncropped version, everything shifts left and down. It’s a better frame by miles but I don’t think I’d have necessarily realized what I have about the image and why it appeals to me without comparing the crop and the original–although not strictly compliant, there are absolutely points of correlation with the composition and the Golden Ratio. (I recommend opening the diagram and the original side by side.)

Hans BellmerTitle Unknown (19XX)

Individual perversion and obsession are so inextricably interpenetrative that it’s difficult to judge where the former ends and the latter begins.

Bellmer positions his paraphilias front and center, pulls no punches and generally gives zero fucks about your puny concern fappy ‘moral’ outrage. There is definitely an off-putting integrity to an artist who doesn’t bother to sublimate the fact that he’s fixated on the sexual potential of pubescent female bodies.

(Of note: Bellmer shares this predilection with Balthus. However, unlike Bellmer, Balthus refused to engage conversations regarding the ‘hebephiliac‘ themes in his work. As such, it’s interesting that while Bellmer is the better technician, Balthus’ enjoys wider cultural renown.)

It’s all fucking enormously problematic. And I’m never sure how to address that because there always seem to be some unshakeable truth transcending binary gender identification and either/or sexual orientation which his line work always seems to be struggling to give expression to. As if Bellmer believed in the depth of his soul the grotesque is the veil one must penetrate to truly experience the sacredness of beauty.