For the artistically adventurous, LB Museum has some ‘dirty little pictures’ to share

“David and Amanda,” oil on canvas, by Gretchen Ryan, one of the tamer pieces in the Long Beach Museum of Art’s exhibit Risqué {dirty little pictures}

“David and Amanda,” oil on canvas, by Gretchen Ryan, one of the tamer pieces in the Long Beach Museum of Art’s exhibit Risqué {dirty little pictures}


Cory Bilicko
Managing Editor

After recently telling an artist friend about a slightly titillating painting I’m working on, he asked me a simple yet exciting and thought-provoking question: “If you could do anything you wanted with the piece, with absolutely no limitations whatsoever, what would you do with it?”
I was jostled! It was as if his question opened up a universe of possibilities and somehow freed me from any social or creative constraints. I was suddenly emancipated from judgment, criticism or censorship, and I could make anything I’d pleased to, without care to whose sensibilities would be offended. A rush of images and ideas flooded my mind– just from that one question.
It was shortly thereafter that I’d heard about Risqué {dirty little pictures}, a new exhibit at the Long Beach Museum of Art for which a select group of artists was given the opportunity to create pieces that answered the two-fold question “What is a risqué work of art, and what makes it naughty?” How splendid to have the chance to address such a query and furthermore be given a museum space in which to show the resulting work.
“It’s about all the dirty drawings and paintings we artists do that never see the light of day,” said Jeff McMillan, an artist who co-curated the exhibit. “Historically, erotic and pornographic art have always been around, so why not do a show about these little, dirty pictures and put them up in a museum?”
McMillan and another artist, Nathan Spoor, curated the show at the request of Ron Nelson, executive director of the Long Beach Museum of Art, who, according to Spoor, told them that he’d had an idea for an exhibit that he was “pretty sure would get him fired.” McMillan and Spoor, who were already working on an upcoming show at the museum, were quite enthusiastic about the concept.
“Yes, what a wonderful idea– something slightly naughty, a dirty little picture show,” Spoor said. “We eventually decided to keep ‘dirty little pictures’ as the tagline and call it Risqué since that main title said the most with the least effort.”
It was also Nelson’s idea to utilize a size restriction of 8 inches by 10 inches for the pieces, an approach that McMillan calls genius. “Keeping the works small means the viewer has to get up close to the piece,” McMillan said. “When the viewer is up close, the relationship starts to mature. Whatever reaction you have, whether you loved it, hated it, it made you laugh or cry, it’s yours to take with you. Because it was you and the art for a hot minute or two.”
As for limitations on content, artists were given less stringent parameters that came down to individual interpretion. “We asked that the work lean more on the erotic and less on the pornographic side,” McMillan said. “But of course that was the artist’s line to walk.”
Each of the 40 creations in Risqué makes a provocative and unique impression, oftentimes with a generous dose of humor. In some cases, a fully conceptualized mise en scène, if you will, seems to be at play; there’s a strong narrative context, even if it’s obscure or otherwordly. However, in other works, there exists the presentation of a human (or humanoid) reveling in a bout of foreplay or afterglow, anthropomorphised creatures (like formally attired canines fornicating), or even more abstract forms depicted in sensual interplay and even coated in what appears to be bodily fluids.
This “variations on a theme” approach seems to be influenced by a particular movement of which Spoor is the main driving force– Suggestivism.
Suggestivism, as a contemporary “trend,” does not focus on a particular and exclusive artistic movement but instead involves the introduction of a shared creative thread among various artists who preserve their unique approaches. However, another component of Suggestivism exists in the individual artist’s process, in which he or she disregards restrictive theories and submits to the will of his or her muse.
“For me, it’s easier to say that the basis in Suggestivism is that the viewer takes away something important to them, or that the artists are inspired and then seed ideas or concepts into the visual atmosphere or into the public consciousness,” Spoor said.
He concedes that the concept had been around before he’d become a proponent of it, but it wasn’t until after he’d spent some time investing in it that he’d become aware of the man who’d first popularized it– Sadakichi Hartmann.
“I didn’t even come up with this,” Spoor said. “I thought I had in grad school, because I needed some way to talk about my work. There really wasn’t a way to categorize the kind of paintings I make. And so many times people need a single concept to help focus some of their questions to, to start the adventure that art can take you on. So, years later, thanks to the Internet, I did a search for ‘suggestivism’ and found out that an art historian had written about Suggestivism back at the turn-of-the-century 1900s. He mentioned Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur B. Davies, and even painters Georges Seurat, Homer and Eakins, who he said ‘was concerned with a vision of the ideal.’”
Spoor said that, as he curates shows, he looks for other artists who have a strong and unique voice that carries and influences others in a positive way. “Without that bit of honesty or truth– a thread that connects us to the larger pool of pure creative beauty– there’s no need to continue with a show or project,” he said. “But, with the thread, we can do so many amazing things. People are drawn to genuine sharing like that, artists that know how to express love and share their special version of beauty. That’s what I think pushes me, draws me in, and connects the artists that show together in situations like this Risqué exhibit– their unique and honest expression and ability to share their creative gifts.”

Risqué {dirty little pictures} will be on view in the Long Beach Museum’s Kilsby Gallery through Nov. 10. The museum is located at 2300 E Ocean Blvd. Call (562) 439-2119 or visit lbma.org .

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