The human experience, and thus its expression in art, is as endless and diverse as the natural world. The most powerful and primordial aspect of the human experience is one that ties us most inextricably to the natural world: sex.
Throughout the millennia, artists have continually dealt with sexuality in their work, with a variety of aims. Some works of art are essentially moral and convey a pointed social message about sex. Some works celebrate the human form and its perfection. Some works seek to link sex to love or to high religious ideals. Some works carry an important message and some are mere expressions of personal fantasy or are only intended as pure exercises in form.
The erotic/pornographic works of local artist Daphid, which will be exhibited for the first time in a single collection on Friday at K23 Gallery, fall in the category of fantastical exercises.
Daphid is a 33-year-old San Antonio native who has been a working artist for the past eight years. But, he told the San Antonio Current over the phone last week, he only began trying his hand at erotic art about a year ago.
Much of Daphid’s other work deals with celebrity and popular culture, using stark black lines and vivid, messily-applied watercolors to recreate iconic movie scenes and to lend a wobbly, lysergic effect to celebrity portraits. His work is edgy and vibrant and tends to celebrate cult classics and grotesque figures that elicit a twinge of shock and pity as much as reverence.
“At first, this was just something I was doing in my sketch book,” Daphid explained of his erotic works. “I had gathered some old pornographic images and was just working from them and seeing how it came out. I’ve always had an interest in edgy, boundary-pushing erotic art and photography.”
After having enlarged a few of the sexually explicit works for a few folks who expressed interest, the artist says it was Gem Hotvet, co-owner of K23 Gallery, who encouraged him to take these works out of the sketch book and create a full exhibition. Over the past six months or so, using mainly black pen and marker on watercolor paper, Daphid completed the 15 pieces that will comprise this stunning erotic exhibition.
Meanwhile, several members of the local art community, who declined the Current’s requests for comment, expressed outrage at the time of the exhibition’s announcement. The crux of the issue likely stemmed from the image that accompanied the show’s announcement, which depicted a woman’s face surrounded by penises.
The individuals who have bemoaned this show are concerned about how the depiction of women as sexual objects of masculine desire and for masculine dominance degrade them and dangerously normalizes their objectification.
[Slideshow: 4 Explicit Works Of Erotic Art From Daphid's K23 Gallery Show]
For his part, Daphid told the Current that he was “shocked and a little disappointed” about the initial criticism his exhibition received. But, with a nearly audible shrug, he suggested that his erotic works “aren’t anything new or particularly over the top.” For the most part, Daphid sees these works, inspired not by personal fantasy but by existing images, as fun exercises in a vein of art that’s relatively new to him.
Hotvet, who also spoke to the Current last week, was less interested in deflecting. “We have showcased a lot of sexually explicit art in the year we have been open,” she explained. “If you are just now offended by our program, you have obviously not been paying attention.”
Hotvet, who considers herself a feminist, argued that “not all art has to be political, not everything has to make a statement.” For her, these are playful images that give us an imaginative look inside people’s sexual lives and “playfulness is just as important as any other part of the human experience.”
Plus, Hotvet added, political interpretation is left to the eye of the beholder.
“I chose to offer Daphid this show because I personally identify with the subjects of some of his art. I am a feminist because I believe in choice, and that includes the choice to be slutty,” Hotvet said.
“Feminism is the belief that women and men are equal, and that extends to self-expression. Censoring art is not only a slippery slope, it is anti-intellectual and immature,” she continued. “It is also worth noting that it isn’t just women getting dicked down by a gaggle of gentlemen. This show depicts an array of encounters between couples (or more) in consensual yet compromising positions.”
The advice from artist and gallery seems to converge on one key admonition: Lighten up!
These are exquisite works that explore a diverse swath of human sexuality in pristine black-and-white renderings over geometrical backgrounds. Perhaps this exhibition won’t be for everyone, but you won’t know if it’s for you unless you take the time to check it out.