EROTIC WATERCOLOUR | SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA
HOUSE OF THEODORA CHATS TO KIMBERLEY MANNING
KimBERLEY MANNING’s way with watercolour is nothing short of amazing. She takes us at our most intimate and transports us to a place of intense erotic beauty. We chatted to THE SYDNeY-BASED ARTIST about her artistic process, inspirations and WHAT IT TAKES TO BE YOUR OWN MUSE.
What three words best describe your art?
Liberating, playful & emotive are three words that come to mind.
How did you get started?
I’ve been doodling and scribbling all over anything within reach since I was old enough to hold a pencil. But, in a professional sense, it all began when I started attending SCA (Sydney College of the Arts) in 2009. I always loved drawing and painting everything. I was always quite good at it. But one of my mentors at the time brought it to my attention that if I only paint or depict images purely because they are aesthetically pleasing to the eye, they risk becoming just decoration and may be forgotten. If I wanted to elicit a reaction or a raw emotion with my work, perhaps I should try working with subject matter that could stir. I thought about it for a few days and began sketching some images from the back of a pornographic DVD I had stashed under my bed (as I was a poor student, this was before the internet was at my fingertips). I brought the drawing and paintings into uni and quite enjoyed the reactions they received. Some people loved it, some people were visibly uncomfortable. I enjoyed the contrast. I would hang my erotic pieces around my studio at SCA and often when my male peers realised it was a woman playing with this theme, they seemed a little disarmed and I liked that.
That’s definitely where it all started but my obsession with the theme has taken on more reasons over the years. As my social media following has grown and the amount of people that reach out to me increases, I’ve realised the potential art has to actually help people. I’ve had couples tell me that hanging my art around their home has strengthened their intimacy. I’ve had homosexual friends who have grown up bullied or condemned for their sexual preference tell me that they like to have my same sex pieces up in their bedroom as a reminder that it’s beautiful and normal and something to be proud of. I even had a woman reach out to me last year and tell me she had been raped the year prior and was struggling with her sexuality and the idea of sex. But she wanted me to know that my portrayal of the act was helping her to reconnect with her sensual side. It can get pretty heavy, but it’s quite beautiful and powerful to have this kind of an effect.
I’ve even been sheepishly told by multiple female friends that they masturbate to my work. And that is so fucking cool to me. If I am in any way playing some part in more female orgasms, I’m a happy lady!
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Can you describe your artistic process?
In a practical sense, I reference explicit photographs, pornographic magazines, websites, personal memories and fantasies. From here I disaggregate and reinterpret the original source material by mapping it out on either paper or canvas with a keen focus on light, shape, feeling and mood. The next stage is fleshing out the image with a variety of mediums. I primarily use
watercolour paint, acrylic paint, pastel and pencil to do this. I’m always aiming to create a balanced fusion of high and low art forms.
In a theoretical sense, my art is an exploration of the personal concern that contemporary culture is controlled and mediated by images, blurring the line between the real and the represented. I engage with the idea that the hyperreal and oversaturated world of hardcore pornography makes it quite easy for viewers to disassociate with what they are watching, creating an unrealistic idea of what sex should be like.
In an attempt to combat this notion, I depict semi abstracted tableaux that are rife with passion, intimacy and vulnerability, promoting a sense of seduction and encouraging our imagination to create the rest of the story. Working with all colours and shapes, rarely depicting skin colour, and steering from solely heteronormative work, I have consistently worked with this theme for several years.
Where do you like to paint?
I’m lucky enough to have a studio in my home at the moment. So I love utilising that space. I also love painting in the backyard when it’s nice and sunny. I prefer solitude when I work- with the exception of my two dogs and my cat. This is because I like blasting music or podcasts and will often sing and dance around like an idiot. I’m also a fan of late night sessions in the studio with a a glass (or two) of red wine. If I start to get cabin fever and need some company during the day, I have plenty of friends that live nearby who are always up for a dog walk and a coffee.
I read that earlier last year, you’d found it challenging painting sex but you overcame this by focusing more on loving yourself. I think we all suffer from being critical, how do you go about remembering to be your own muse?
Yes, that was a very challenging time. I had a broken heart for the majority of last year and in turn was feeling extremely disconnected from my sexual side. I wasn’t desiring sex and I wasn’t feeling desirable. Referencing source material that was sexually charged only highlighted my experience of rejection and loneliness. This was incredibly tough as I am literally the primary facilitator in so many grand gestures of love. I am regularly commissioned to paint beautiful, happy couples in these raw and intimate moments. I had to be involved with this closeness and was required to tap into notions surrounding sexual connection and love in order to produce good work. But I felt so far removed from it. If I’m honest, it completely depleted me and for a while I felt like a total phony.
It got so hard that I decided to take a small hiatus from my regular subject matter. I knew I needed to put myself first and work on other things. I did a lot of botanical paintings and worked on a few other creative projects for friends and family to keep fuelling my artistic side in a way that would help me to heal. I planned a big trip around Europe and started seeing a therapist for the first time in my life. I knew that if I was ever going to get through this in a healthy, productive way and be able to pick up erotic art again, I had to rebuild the love I once had for myself. I didn’t like that the person who broke my heart had all of the power for so long. I wanted the power back. So I worked really hard on myself and I eventually regained it.
What has been your experience of being a female in the erotic art space?
This is a tough question because the truth is that overall, women have never been treated equally in the art world. Women still remain dramatically underrepresented and undervalued in museums and galleries today. However, from a personal standpoint I do feel an unfettered power in the work that I create. The majority of the pornographic realm is designed for heterosexual men to devour sex in any way, shape or form they please. I aim to create a platform for everyone to have access to content that is erotic, emotive and relatable without having to wade through the plethora of unrelatable pornographic material out there. Perhaps I subconsciously create more feminocentric based art because I’ve noticed that the vast majority of my buyers are women. But I love this and it makes me feel like I’m on the right track.
What are your biggest challenges in producing erotic art in the social media age?
I have had my Instagram account shut down a couple of times due to the explicit nature of my work. I eventually had it reinstated both times but it was very stressful as I depend so heavily on Instagram to communicate with potential buyers and earn a living.
I have also had to learn to become more business and tech-savvy. This definitely doesn’t come naturally to me. But if I want to survive off my art full-time, I can’t treat it as a intermittent hobby. I need to be smart about how I reach my audience.
I’ve had to deal with a few rude comments and unsavoury dms online. But I have no qualms with blocking people. To be honest though, most of my feedback is really lovely, encouraging and positive.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently in the process of preparing for another solo show in Sydney. I want my next exhibition to showcase a mixture of large, gestural canvas works that are full of movement, and small detailed pieces on paper. I also have a few commissioned pieces I’m focusing on. The most recent commission I’ve taken on is a large scale erotic watercolour painting of a lovely married couple from Texas.
LOCATION: Sydney, Australia
UPCOMING EXHIBITION: 28th November, 6pm-9pm at Good Space - Level 1, 115 Regent St Chippendale, Sydney