Sexploratorium is showcasing the work of local artist Artemis Elena on the walls this month. On Friday July 17th from 5-9pm, Artemis will be hosting a reception with additional affordable prints for sale, refreshments and live conversation.
We chatted with Artemis about her work and her life for the Sexploratorium Blog. Here is what she had to say.
What inspires you artistically?
The human form, especially the female form, is my greatest inspiration. Sometimes I’ll be speaking to someone and I’ll start noticing the way different light sources are hitting them, and it’ll make it hard for me to concentrate on the conversation without daydreaming about committing the sight to paper.
As far as other artists go- Alphonse Mucha, the grandfather of the Art Nouveau movement is my biggest idol. My erotica pieces also owe a debt of gratitude to classic American pin-up artists, with Vargas and Gil Elvgren having the greatest influence in that category.
What inspires you sexually?
Power exchange and rope bondage are the two big ones for me-
Especially shibari rope bondage, which I consider to be beautiful beyond words.
I discovered my interest in BDSM shortly after hitting puberty. I figured out pretty quickly that kissing my girlfriend felt way better if she was on top of me, pinning me down while she did it. We started experimenting with simple tie-downs and took turns being in charge. To this day, I delight in both sides of the D/s coin and place myself mentally in the role of both sub and Domme when creating an image that depicts bondage.
How does this inspiration manifest itself in your work?
My sexual awakening was something that occurred secretly, but even so, I had the courage to accept myself and my interests. Many of the people I’ve met along my journey haven’t had that advantage and some of them have spent years suppressing their desires out of shame or denial. I find it hugely satisfying whenever I’m able to help someone learn to accept themselves and to find safe ways to indulge their fantasies.
I get a similar rush whenever I complete a new commission, since I’m helping my client bring their fantasies to life in a way that they cannot accomplish on their own. Making dreams come true, even dark ones, can be such a lovely thing. I’m thankful to be able to devote my artistic talents to that purpose.
How are your sexuality and your art related?
It’s all about connections.
Art is a way for me to understand the world, to create a window that looks out onto a concept or a memory and to let others look through the window with me. Sex can be a means of understanding oneself and delighting in the joys of the flesh, but if done right, sex can be so much more than that. It’s a way of connecting with your partner(s) on a chemical and emotional level that is unlike any other tool we have at our disposal.
How does the work you do now compare with the work you did five years ago?
My erotica pieces are more well informed now than they were in the beginning, which definitely makes a difference. And my technical skill has improved greatly over the years as well, which it makes it possible for me to tackle more complicated anatomical situations that I ever could have pulled off successfully when I first started out.
My artistic development over time will be something viewers can see for themselves at this show, since there are pieces on display from as far back as 2009 (Hedonism) and as recently as last January (Wonder Woman & Hawkgirl).
Around 2011, I started working with a client who had an interest in superheroine-themed “Damsel in Distress” pieces. He’s a gentle person who isn’t comfortable with causing any actual distress, so these commissions became a way for him to have an outlet for those desires. The D.I.D. pieces have changed noticeably over time, with the earliest one having a far heavier emphasis on distress than they do now.
I’m not super comfortable with depicting non-consentual activities in my artwork, even as part of a fantasy, so I found ways to give my client what he’s looking for without having to ignore own feelings. The damsels in my more recent D.I.D. pieces are still being roughly dominated in circumstances that were likely not of their own choosing, but their expressions have changed. I try to put a certain spark in their eyes that captures that “I don’t want to like this, but I do and I want more” moment that comes with humiliation.
Where do you see your work taking you in five years?
I’ve been starting to refocus my attention on art projects that hold a personal interest for me, rather than simply taking on private commissions for the paycheck. I’ve been getting better at saying no to projects that don’t excite me. So, I expect the coming years to bring with them an influx of new artwork centered on my own personal kinks. I’ve always enjoyed drawing erotica and I expect the future to contain more Artemis Elena pieces, perhaps with a heavier emphasis on shibari rope bondage.
Also, I’ve noticed that although I take great pleasure in dominating men (or people who tend towards the masculine end of the spectrum), it’s a topic that I haven’t ever explored in my artwork. I may consider expanding into this new direction in the future.
How do you define erotic art?
Any image that is created for the purpose of arousing one’s primal drives or to breathe life into a sexual fantasy, while simultaneously celebrating the natural sensuality of the human body. An image that depicts more than the purely physical act of sex or foreplay, but contains something of the emotional and spiritual in it as well.
What are the most prominent erotic elements in your art?
The inherent power of feminine sexuality, both in Dominance and in submission, as well as the natural beauty of the female form (regardless of body type).
My interest in the concept of the primal Goddess may have worked it’s way into my art as well. I’m drawn to Goddess figures who are both creator and destroyer, so more Shiva than Gaia. Duality has been a long-time fascination of mine, especially when expressed through art, and I relish the occasions when I get to explore it in my work.I know for a fact it’s why I enjoy drawing the character Poison Ivy so much. She’s equal parts earth mother and enemy to humankind. Her sexual power is palpable in a way that her equally sexualized counterparts (Catwoman and Harley Quinn) just can’t match.
What are the erotic messages in your current collection?
Sex and power are inseparable.
Tell us about each piece in the show:
Kneel was created using reference photos taken in the aftermath of my first suspension experience. I was sky high on endorphins and feeling completely immersed in sub space. I wanted to immortalize that moment, so I used the photographs from that evening and to create a piece of art nouveau inspired iconography which celebrates the ecstasy of giving oneself over completely.
Handling Lex’s Light Work was the first in my Damsel in Distress series, originally a commission completed for a client-turned-friend who loves seeing beautiful women in nylons and bondage. In this image, Superman’s two lady loves (Lana Lang and Lois Lane) have been kidnapped by Lex Luthor. However, Lex is a busy guy and snatching up two svelte women is hardly something deserving of his time. He’s delegated the task to his assistant Mercy, who is menacing the frightened beauties and man-handling them for fun while she waits for more instructions from the boss.
Midsummer Night’s Dream was my contribution to a Shakespeare inspired anthology. It is, quite simply, Midsummer Night’s Dream as seen through the lens of a steamy romance novel. In the final version, I’d digitally patched it onto a book cover and titled the tale “Legend of The Ass Man”, which makes me giggle every time I think about it.
The image depicts the unlucky actor Bottom, being attended to by the handmaidens of Queen Titania after his head was transformed into that of an ass by the faerie Puck. After changing Bottom’s form, Puck also put a spell on the Queen to make her fall in love with the strange donkey-man hybrid. Titania appointed a group of faeries to attend to his every wish and after he’d been doted upon (and assumably fluffed), she took him into her bower and slept with him herself.
Karnilla’s Captive was the second in my Damsel in Distress series, this image is set inside the dungeon of Karnilla, Queen of Nornheim. She’s holding Lady Sif captive and has stripped the proud Asgardian warrior of her armor and weapons, which lay discarded in a heap on the floor. Sif is helpless against the sexual advances of the Queen and resisting her own desires towards the noble woman, but as one of Karnilla’s fingers slide slowly into her, she whimpers and gives in to the sensation. She fights to keep her balance as her knees grow weak.
The Kiss is actually about the moment of anticipation before a kiss. Ivy deals in desire all the time, so she knows the drill, but sweet Harley is putting her trust in her friend. In this moment, Ivy is considering what comes after the kiss. She’s thinking about how far she’s willing to take this. Harley isn’t thinking about anything past the here and now. She’s just excited to be getting some attention for a change.
As a side note- I absolutely love this pairing. Their personalities compliment each other incredibly well. I am SO happy that it’s finally canon in the Batman universe.
The prompt I’d received for Phoenix Rising was to create a nude portrait of Jean Grey as The Phoenix at the peak of her power. And, for added challenge, the client wanted her pubic hair to be shaped like a firebird. I decided that I’d burn away the majority of her clothing and I did my best to make the pubic sculpting as natural and believable as possible. After that, it was simply a matter of conveying the power and strength of will inside that character. Beautiful and terrible as a thunderstorm.
Wonder Woman and Hawk Girl captures a moment towards the beginning of an encounter between Wonder Woman, princess of the Amazons, and that winged aerial warrior, Hawkgirl. They’ve been kissing for more than a few moments now and the heat between them is starting to build, their hands starting to wander. They’re both warriors and extremely strong willed, so I didn’t have any specific power dynamic in mind when I started this. I like that they both have dominant body language going on, but I think that Hawkgirl has a very slight upperhand. She’s at a moment where she seems to be growing hungrier for more contact, while Wonder Woman is just about to start melting against her.
Diana in Distress is most recent addition to my Damsel in Distress series, this image depicts Wonder Woman at the mercy of her age old nemesis, Circe. I knew I wanted to tie Wonder Woman up with her own lasso in this piece, so it gave me a good excuse to work a lovely shibari chest harness into the design. I also threw in a little extra foot bondage for my client, because hey, why not?
I love that Diana is tied up with the lasso of truth, while Circe covers her mouth. It drives home the point (both to the viewer and to Wonder Woman herself) that Circe doesn’t care one bit about what Diana might have to say- She’s not interested in a confession. Circe’s posture is both commanding and somehow intimate. She’s interested in using Diana’s vulnerable state to her advantage and Diana’s eyes contain surrender instead of rebellion at the idea.
Hedonism depicts a scene from bacchanal. The followers of Dionysus are already half-intoxicated. They’re whispering secrets to a new initiate, tempting her and teasing her and drawing her into the same wine fueled trance as the rest of them.
Babylon the Great mother of whores and abominations of the earth, is a character I’ve been fascinated by since High School. She appears in the Book of Revelations, riding in on a seven-headed beast and getting drunk off the blood of saints, but I always thought she got dealt a bad hand.
If you believe in the omnipotence of God and the literal truth of the Bible (which is especially inadvisable where the Book of Revelations is concerned, since it’s all metaphor), then Babylon was cast into that role by God himself. She isn’t a human being, with free will and the ability to choose sin. She was born into it, like a fish to water. So it struck me as incredibly unfair that everyone should revile her name when it really wasn’t any fault of hers that she was evil.
I realize now that my childhood fascination with this character was my way of working through certain anxieties I had towards my sexual identity. I was a bisexual Catholic teenager with a sex drive that outpaced almost every boyfriend I’d ever had, trying to come to terms with the patriarchal social conditioning and slut shaming of society in general, and the everything-shaming of Catholicism in particular.
I was worried about being a nymphomaniac, simply because I had a sex drive, and girls weren’t supposed to feel that way. I was frustrated that God would command me to think only chaste thoughts, but then construct me in such a fashion where that was absolutely impossible to achieve. I was angry about being set up for failure and afraid that there was something inherently wrong with me.
And then came was Babylon- She was clearly a metaphor for Rome, but she was also a queen and a powerful, explicitly sexual woman in a book that has precious few of those. I considered Babylon amoral. She was not actively evil in the way that a tornado cannot be evil. She just was. A primal force of hedonism that could not be contained. I connected with her on a personal level in a way I didn’t consciously understand until I started writing this.