I just got finished with a painting for the Seattle Erotic Art Festival. This will be my first year participating. I had thought about it before, but it actually took a little prodding to get me over the line. A couple of years back, I began a series called, "The Seventies". I was going to do a series of ten erotic paintings inspired by 1970s gay porn. I ended up doing 1971 - 1974 and then got sidetracked by something else (probably cows). This invitation allowed me the opportunity to go back and re-visit this idea. I wanted my piece to be sweet. To me, kissing is the most erotic thing out there.
1977 (in blue), acrylic & resin on canvas, 2009
They have selected Sharon Arnold as Guest Curator of 2009 Seattle Erotic Art Festival. The theme of this year's festival is "Indulge Your Senses".
I was invited along with Miriam Berger, Chris Crites, Gretchen Bennett, Jessica Dodge, Rachel Budde, Ken Weaver, Ellen Forney, Wendy Small, Jennifer McNeely, Diem Chau, Jennifer Zwick, Rich Lehl, Laura Castellanos, Kimberly Trowbridge, Nola Avienne, Tim Marsden, Daniel Carrillo, Emily Pothast, Ryan Molenkamp and Troy Gua.
I wanted to take a minute and chat with Sharon about the event and the process of selection.
Hi Sharon! Thanks so much for the invitation. I think it will be a really fun festival to be a part of.
Thank you Joey, I'm super excited you've chosen to participate with us! Indulge Your Senses is going to be a lot of fun -- but I should add that this is the overall theme for the Festival, not the art itself. As far as the art goes, the jury has selected some amazing and delightfully surprising pieces -- I think it's going to blow people away this year.
How did you get involved with SEAF?
Well, to give you some history I didn't even know about the Seattle Erotic Art Festival until 2005 -- I was fresh back from New York and a lot had changed in Seattle during the time I was gone. So I joined their online community to keep track with the goal in mind that I would try to apply my work to erotic art because I thought it was an interesting challenge. I saw a lot of work I thought might be typical of the genre and I wondered-- how does one break into the idea of erotic art without using photography or figurative drawing/painting? I've never submitted anything -- I'm still chewing on it [smile].
So in early 2007, Claire Johnson, Art Exhibition Director for SEAF, a SOIL member and artist I greatly respect had been following my writing on Artomaton, an art blog and subscription project I ran at the time. We came to know one another through Artomaton, and in that time we've had some really great conversations about art and artists. She invited me to be their guest curator in January of this year and I accepted.
What is your role in this year's festival?
My role this year is to bring in some new flavour, to talk to Seattle artists who may not know what the Festival is about and who's involved. There have been a lot of really great non-erotic artists involved in previous Festivals -- Chris Crites and Jennifer Zwick to name a couple -- but even despite favourable press from critics like Regina Hackett, it hasn't really been brought to the forefront of the Seattle art scene in the way I think it could be. And the truth is it's a huge event -- this is their 7th year and over 500 artists applied for the juried show -- that's no small feat!
So here we are, we have this city overflowing with truly progressive artists and galleries. Seattle seems to foster great minds in thoughtful contemporary art, DIY movements, and collaborative projects. We also have this significant event celebrating something that is "titillating" but which still seems to be largely untapped by so-called mainstream artists! I fully believe there is a way to bring these two worlds together to talk about what is sexy and erotic in today's culture. How can artists reach beyond the obvious -- nudes, pinups, soft focus, hard core, BDSM?
My job is to talk to the artists I know or who I believe can really challenge the status quo, using their conceptual process to represent something a little less traditional in erotic art. I'm interested in the ideas which are more challenging, less easy, perhaps more quiet or philosophical; art which not only makes people smile but makes them think about what eroticism is, could be, or has become.
What was your biggest challenge in getting more "mainstream" artists involved in a more "fringe" festival?
I've had to really throw myself out on a limb! I'm aware of so many artists whom I still don't know or haven't met who don't know me either. I'm constantly pouring over local artists' websites and work and asking myself if I've overlooked anyone. What I'm seeking is a certain distinction from the rest of the work in the Festival. What I believe I've found is Seattle has it's own sort of tender and wistful/sweet movement in art right now, which I have completely fallen in love with. Curating with that focus in mind has certainly taught me a lot.
Aside from this I think the biggest challenge has been in talking to people who work more abstractly. I strongly identify with the struggles that rise up from applying the work to an erotic theme. I'm talking with artists a lot about landscape and the body and how self-referential our work always is in proportion to who we are. We are this tall next to that tree, this hill rises the same as my waist to my hip. It's all derivative of our surroundings. I may be projecting a bit of my thought process here, but I'm sure that some of the artists I've talked to are finding themselves having some kind of dialogue along these lines.
A lot of people still don't seem to know much about SEAF, so I've been excited to talk about it with them! I think some artists thought their work wouldn't fit in the show, and that may not have truly been the case. In the end, I suspect most artists have explored eroticism at one time or another, in one way or another, and I want to push them to rummage a little deeper in their proverbial closets to pull something out. It's not easy, but I'm certain there's something there-- and I'll get it out of 'em sooner or later! [grin]
What is your favourite part about working with SEAF?
For me, art is first and foremost about community and accessibility. This Festival performs both functions in the best of ways-- it brings art out of the studio and into people's lives and homes. It encourages people to look and see. There seems to be such discord between people on the street and art on the wall. Western culture has explicitly developed in such a way as to remove art from our daily experience into a more elitist realm, an unattainable pedestal. We've become separated and detached from the necessary function of art in our world. So I believe any entryway through which people are pulled into art is worth investigating. I've just been so thrilled to be a part of bringing art and people together, and I've learned so much. This experience has only emboldened my personal philosophy that whatever it takes to get people into art, I'll do it.
Thanks so much for telling us more about SEAF. You've made some really creative choices -- I just can't wait to see all the work!
Sharon runs a really nice art blog. She's also a great artist. Here are a few of her pieces.
15 B/p/M, ink on Rives heavyweight, 2008 (image via artist)
Breadcrumb, 2008 (image via artist)
Rust print (off steel) on Rives heavyweight.
The festival will be held May 1 - 3 at the Seattle Center. Ticket info here.