By TM Bernard
You’ll never know what you might find in a moving sale, what bargain deal or, in this case, eye candy of the erotic kind winking at you in from behind dusty shelves. “Who made those?” I inquired, pointing at one of a three series of etchings that were uniquely naughty. It was clear that the artist, whoever he or she may have been, was a keen observer of human sexual innuendo. This was art to tickle the funny bone, and another one at that, and I wanted to know the creator’s name pronto.
What a delight to discover the wicked side of America’s satirical mastermind, Charles Bragg, an artist whose career spans decades and whose unique originals fetch hefty sums by collectors around the world. In front of me was a deal if I’d the money to spend; instead, I enjoyed this private collection and offered to babysit the pieces if the owner ever felt like sharing. Fortunately, he got the humor in that gesture, and allowed me to stare wistfully at some very fine work.
Erotica is enjoying a modern renaissance thanks in part to the Internet which has allowed artists and connoisseurs to find one another in a way unlike previous generations. That’s exposed a broader audience to the many nuances of suggestive art, and its also pushed the envelop in ways that can blur some lines, depending on perspective, of art and not-so-artistic. That problem exists for all genres, of course, but erotica, by its nature, is subject to more suspicion and criticism than non-sexual artistic works.
What struck me about seeing these images was that, though etched several years ago, they retained a genuine novelty, and not because they were shocking – on the contrary, an observer had to take a second look, and then a third to realize just what they were appreciating – but because they were smartly jovial. This was erotica that made me smile, not blush, and that sense of modest humor is something I have yet to see much in most sensual art (though to be very clear, I’m speaking as a novice).
Seeing Bragg’s work, it seems surprising to me that satirically sexy work is in such short supply. In part because it is more palatable for a wider audience, and also because American culture with regards to sex could do with a lifeline to humor.
His subjects appear as emotionally rich and real despite proportions that are more suited to the queen in Alice in Wonderland rather than real life. Oversized features, disproportionately large heads, curvaceous forms and come hither expressions characterize the men and woman, who seem not to care one bit that their pleasure opens up a window to what goes on in our own lives. Erect nipples peeking through or being tweaked, mutual arousal clearly implied, larger than life settings and desires; it’s all on display though you won’t mind one bit because it’s all so amusingly sincere despite being over the top.
I wish I could have purchased the set that day. Braggs sketches are at home in a fine gallery or a father’s apartment, which is basically where I found them, hanging on a stranger’s wall ready to be sold to the highest bidder before the owner moved away. Maybe he’ll take us up on that offer if no one buys them because come to think of it, I wasn’t really kidding. Erotic art this playful isn’t worth joking about.