Politics & Eroticism in the Work of Charles Moffat

By Charles Moffat - 2008.

Eroticism in my art is a tricky matter. For me its important to never be sexist, or if I am make it overt so it becomes a blunt statement about stereotypes/etc. Thus portraying the female body in an erotic fashion is a tricky matter because I was long ago labeled a feminist artist.

I don't see myself as just a feminist artist however. I am also a political artist and I try to grapple anything that is controversial, and thus sexuality (always controversial) and nudity frequently comes into play.

That doesn't mean when I make a nude that its automatically erotic or pleasant to look at. Sometimes its rather disturbing like "Bald Girl Shaving" (2004) in which an anorexic young woman has shaved off all of her hair in her strange obsession.

A good example of eroticism in my work is "Canadian Water Nymph" (2005), in which I've managed to sneak some Canadian patriotism into a painting. Canadian art has long ago been stereotyped as landscapes thanks to the likes of the Group of Seven, Tom Thomson and Emily Carr. There are very few nudes in Canadian art history and this was attempt to deliberately combine Canadian culture/identity with sexuality.

Some of my older works like "Eternal Lovers" (1998) and "The Love Ripple" (1997) feel more like romance novel covers to me and indeed that was a phase in my career where I thought doing romance covers would be a nice job for an artist. Indeed I'd still be interested in doing that kind of work if the opportunity ever knocked. I love the traditional romance covers with the windblown hair of the pirate/cowboy/whatever and the damsel-in-distress/femme fatale, but I also feel there's room in the art world to feature art that is more abstractly done but conveys the beauty of the emotion regardless.
I have used corsets in quite a few of my works and I think part of the reason is because they always manage to look old. Take "Freudian Explosion" (2002) for example in which she is adjusting a Roman helmet on her head and wearing a corset. It feels like a period piece, but the nuclear explosion in the background says otherwise. I based the nuclear blast on a photo that included a hydrogen explosion in the upper atmosphere and some people have commented it ends up looking like a half-erect penis. It worked perfectly because the piece was about sexual symbols anyway (nuclear bombs representing political orgasms).

Some of my works were more personal, like "Hairy Armpits #1" (2001) in which I painted a girlfriend at the time, but it still manages to become a feminist and sexual statement about bodyhair. Other works are more meant to simply be beautiful, but have a mythological context like "Persephone and the Pomegranate" (2008). If you get into it however the Persephone story is symbolic of losing ones virginity and she is the Greek goddess of fertility. It seems to be a strange duality in my work where I never seem to do "just a nude". There's always some kind of statement going with it.

You'd think that as a man I should be able to separate my political/feminist beliefs from my sexual beliefs and desires. On one hand I am a living breathing, warm-blooded male with a healthy sexual appetite. On the other hand I have very strong beliefs about politics and equality. In theory I should be able to paint a nude without having to stick some kind of hidden message in it.

Maybe I am listening to too much Ani DiFranco and Kinnie Starr while I paint. Sometimes I listen to old Malcolm X speeches just for the fun of it. I personally believe that ALL art is somehow political or making a statement. I did an interview with Toro Magazine back in June in which I said:

"I think all art could be considered political, even when you are painting landscapes (because then you're an environmentalist promoting naturalism). If you paint a television set you're making a comment about the mass media and consumer culture. If you paint food you're making a comment about obesity, anorexia, eating disorders and healthy eating. If you paint two lovers kissing you're making a comment on sexuality and relationships. If you paint a sports car you're commenting on the aesthetic value of gasoline-based transportation. Books = illiteracy vs knowledge. Pants = Gender roles, fashion and wealth. It may only be a subconscious statement on the topic. You could paint a beautiful sandy beach in Jamaica and it would still be escapism. So no, art doesn't have to be political, but it is anyway."

So to me, when I see other artists making erotic work they're making a political statement that says "This is acceptable and beautiful and people should appreciate eroticism more." I agree with that statement too. Pornography these days is too rampant and its focus too much on orgasms and unrealistic women/men. 99% of the population does not get breast implants or bleach their assholes, but with erotic art we can appreciate it on a different level that combines sexuality with romance and sometimes even spirituality.

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