Notes on Raunchy Art – both Painting and Conceptual Art History (part 1)

Henri de Toulouse Lautrec

I read somewhere that Toulouse Lautrec used the pubic hairs of Paris whores to make his brushes.

While I doubt this is true, even though he may have been as clinically obsessed with getting pleasure from women of the night (and even the daylight) as countless other artists were in Paris in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec         The Medical Inspection (1894)

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Notice Lautrec’s simple block signature on the lower right corner of his work.

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More Paris women of the night as rendered by Lautrec


When Degas died, his brother closes his studio and removed and destroyed dozens of images of women in brothels.

Degas, Prostitute seated in an armchair (1876-1877)

“Degas’s brother René is said to have destroyed 70 pornographic sketches that were found at the time of the artist’s death. One escaped and can be seen in this exhibition. Joris-Karl Huysmans was troubled by what he saw as “scorn and loathing” for women in Degas’s work.” Germaine Greer, The Guardian, London, January 12, 2009

“He is like the painter in Zola’s novel, L’Oeuvre, who cannot stop painting his wife’s dead face because he is fascinated by the way the colour of her skin is changing. How you react to what Degas shows you is none of the artist’s concern. There can be as little doubt that Degas used prostitutes as that he used laundresses and ironing ladies. He was aware of women as independent beings, and had more respect for women artists – for Cassatt, Morisot, and Valadon, for example – than any of his contemporaries, but they were not his subject. His subject, when it is not horses, is the interaction of gentlemen and labouring women, whether dancers, prostitutes or laundresses.” Germaine Greer, The Guardian, London, January 12, 2009

Picasso’s Philosophical Brothel

Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, which he completed in the summer of 1907 represents prostitutes at night.

in Barcelona. Picasso had sixteen notebooks of sketches for this painting. Picasso owned eleven of the fifty or so extant brothel monotypes, and in his ninetieth year made a series of forty etchings that Bernheimer calls a “remarkable reading” of these visual texts

information is from the essay (The Brothel of Modernism, by Robert Scholes)


Picasso’s Le Douleur

Picasso’s Angel Fernandez de Soto with a Woman (1902)

Egon Schiele

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Nude with Green Turban (1914)

Of course you can see drawings by Egon Schiele of his sister. He had a retrospective that showed it all.

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Gustave Klimpt

Klimt’s erotic drawings do not pretend they are not about lust. He leaves no doubt about his interest in representing women pleasuring themselves. Klimpt paid a heavy price for his explicitly sexual work and his work with strong sexual overtones. Over time he lost all of his Vienna nobility and state patronage, as his endless relations with prostitutes upset his collector base, who was not fond of seeing Klimpt’s sexual liason partners show up as subjects in his glorious pictures.

Klimpt (could be titled The pleasure is mines) this suite is from 1912-1914

Klimt (This series could be called A woman on the verge)

Klimpt, studio work

August Rodin’s provocative art

Marcel Duchamp

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Here is Duchamp’s peephole at the Philadelphia museum, which Duchamp worked on secretly in his Greenwich Village studio, from 1946-1966, while his associates thought that he had retired from artmaking to focus on chess.

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Duchamp with Eve Babitz, in preparation for an exhibition at the Pasadena Museum of Art in 1963.

Duchamp preparing for an interview with French television for his
Pasadena Museum of Art exhibition in 1963

Duchamp preparing for an interview with French television for his Pasadena Museum of Art exhibition in 1963. When is the last time an American artist has been so lauded in America, and had television coverage of his exhibition?

Gustave Courbet

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Courbet’s Nude (1864)

Courbet’s Origin of the World (1866)

The Musee D Orsay, Paris

Courbet painted the part of a woman’s body that the French literary giant Zola said caused the end of the French empire as men lost their minds because there were to many whores into which the fortunes of Paris were being disappeared.

One of the differences between the artists in revolt in Paris and all too many current contemporary artists,is that the Paris artists were not directly aligned with the power structure, but were critical of it, as exhibited in this work by Courbet. Consider his Burial at Ornans, which shows the burial of a pauper in a well-shaped hole in the earth. The appearance of ancestral ceremony is a fiction. Those persons surrounding the hole in the earth, where the person’s body will be dropped into, were not of the ruling or upper class, but were of the lower orders. The existence of the picture and what it portrays is a form of blasphemy of the highest order. Artists today only seek the financial reward of the market, and have all too often forgotten the miracle of art and its true magic – to offer a new and transformative vision of the world, as versus to satiate the taste of the collector class.

Edith Piaf

Edith Piaf in performance

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We saw the Edith Piaf film a few years ago. When she grew up in Paris with no money, women went into prostitution in Paris like they became secretaries and teachers in the U.S. in the 1950’s. Piaf’s virtuoso singing kept her from being treated like a Yves Klein’s human female paintbrush.

I recommend everyone see this film. It is a devastating portrait of the Parisian underclass, and of the incredible life of Edith Piaf, who also suffered her own persona tragedies.

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Piaf’s birthplace in Paris, in the Bellview district.

Yves Klein

Yves Klein was born in Nice, France in 1928. He died at age 34 of a heart attack in 1962. His entire explosive art career lasted a total of 8 years, yet his influence has lasted for generations.

"FC 1 (Fire-Color 1)" by Yves Klein was completed several weeks before the artist's death at 34. Source: Christie's via Bloomberg“FC 1 (Fire-Color 1)” by Yves Klein was completed several weeks before the artist’s death at 34. Source: Christie’s via Bloomberg

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advertisement for Le Vide exhibition

Klein’s first exhibition of was in 1950. His first truly successful exhibition was his 1957 Proposte Monochrome, Epoca Blu., at Gallerie Apollinaire in Milan. This is when he debuted his all blue paintings suite. His previous painting show had been of monochromes of different colors. The ultramarine International Klein Blue (IKB) paint he employed was invented by Klein with the assistance of a Parisian paint dealer named Edouard Adam. Klein patented this as the authenticity of the pure idea. This exhibition traveled to Paris, Düsseldorf and London. The Paris show, held in May of 1957 at the Iris Clert gallery, was a sensation. It is at this opening that Klein released 1001 blue balloons and blue postcards with Klen’s postal stamp on them were sent out for the opening. Klein’s next show at Iris Clert, in 1950, was the seminal exhibition Le Vide (The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility, The Void). It is here where guest and world-famous novelist Albert Camus wrote in the guestbook, “With The Void, Full Powers.” in 1961, Klein had a show at Leo Castelli. He sold nothing. Klein stayed at the Chelsea hotel during the show. At The Void opening in Paris on April 28, 1958 was on Klein’s birthday. Over 3,000 people attended the opening, which had received substantial press beforehand. Even though New York had by then become a global powerhouse for Contemporary Art, the Paris art market was far and away more potent in the early 1960’s. At The Void opening, which was on a Monday night, from 9PM to midnight, a blue cocktail made of gin, Cointreau and methylene blue. His guests and patrons urine was Yves Klein blue the next day.

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Yves Klein Action Spectacle, March ‘, 1960, Paris

Yves Klein’s Monotone Symphony of March 9, 1960

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Yves Klein Monochrome Propositions: Blue Period, Gallery Apollinaire (1957)

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Klein making a painting using a blowtorch.

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The audience looks as if they’re at a black tie event, but this is
just Paris being it’s ultra sophisticated self in the 1960’s.

Yves Klein: “Anthropometries of the blue period” (1960)

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Yves Klein’s Petite Venus

Yves Klein’s Anthropometries

Yves Klein in his studio

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Yves Klein’s Pompidou retrospective in 2007 in Paris, 45 years after his death in 1962.

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Yves Klein exhibition The Blue Revolution, Vienna, Austria, 2007

Yves Klein was born in Nice, France in 1928. He died at age 34 of a heart attack in 1962. His entire explosive art career lasted a total of 8 years, yet his influence has lasted for generations.

And then there is Balthus. (Count Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, a French aristocrat with Polish blood ).

Balthus as photographed by Man Ray

Balthus self-portrait

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Balthus’ Alice

Balthus’ The Guitar lesson (1934)

Balthus’ paintings always reminded me of Vladimir Nabokov’s central character Humbert Humbert in his novel Lolita.

Film director Luis Bunuel

Luis Bunuel’s Belle Du Jour (1967)
Actress Catherine Deneuve plays Severe Serizy, a well-do-do woman who is sexually frustrated. The title of the film describes both a day lilly and a woman who only works as a hooker during daylight. Severe’s inner life reveals her to be a masochist. In the opening scene, her husband Pierre has her punished for her coldness to him, by having her tied to a tree and whipped. She is then taken by both men. When the first man behind her kisses her she wakes up. The scene then reveals Severe and her husband sleep in separate beds.

Her intense sexual fantasies that she feels will not be fulfilled are a representation of the world she lives in, where women remain repressed and men find pleasure in every way in the world. One day upon an offer, Severe decides to work from 2 to 5 pm as a prostitute in a brothel. Severe realizes that most of the women are working there to support their families. She becomes involved with a young gangster who fulfills her sexual dreams. Bunuel was forced to eidt out a scene where Severe lays in a coffin for a Duke, while pretending to be his dead daughter, before Grünewal’s Christ. Out of jealousy, her husband is shot by one of her ganster lover’s associates. He is left blind and in a wheelchair. He is told by the brothel owner of his wife’s role in what happened. The film closes with Severe and her husband in love and whole, looking out of the window onto the opening scene of the film. “The influence of Belle de Jour was quickly felt on the fashion world. This was the first time that Deneuve had been dressed by Yves Saint Laurent. She was to become his muse. As The New York Times wrote, this wasn’t just one of the most scandalous erotic films of its era. It also gave a “double life to luxury clothes so powerful that designers have fantasised about it ever since”. Geoffrey McNabb, The Independent, London, September 20, 2008


Severe’s lover atop her, with one shoe on and one shoe off, exposing his unwashed foot with a huge hole in his worn-down sock.

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A sex dream scene where Severe imagines having been tied up while half-naked, while a suitor both punishes and pleasures her.

Chantal Ackerman

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (directed by Chantal Akerman, 1975), 35mm, 201 minutes

Chantal Ackerman’s Jeanne Dielmann is considered to be the first masterpiece of the cinema that speaks from the perspective of feminism. The film figuratively stabs back at the hateful treatment of women by men for centuries. Ackerman showed that there is a limit to which a woman will not let her dignity and humanity be stolen by the city of men and its money devouring existence.

In Jean Dielmann, the character is shown continuing to provide for her home and son, after her husband has passed away. She evidently has been a homemaker during their marriage, and as soon as funds fall short, finds herself resorting to the world’s oldest profession, and for a while she is able to endure by selling her body to male customers, while her dead-as-a-doornob son continues to expect his normal privileges of prepared dinners and money handed to him. I remember thinking how could she see the situation for what it was, that the family had to move into a poor neighborhood in Brussels, with all of their middle-class possessions, but the son acted as if nothing at all had changed,

that just because the actual economic provider for the family had passed away, that he felt zero responsibility to step in and close the gap in the family’s financial needs. After Dielmann stabs her last paid suitor, there is nothing in the film’s narrative which describes what will happen to the son, who now will be thrown to the four winds, as his mother was. Perhaps his mother being incarcerated for murder will motivate him to become gainfully employed. Or perhaps he will find himself living in an garbage can in Brussels. As this is left wide open by the narrative, there are endless possibilities to his fate, where his mother’s fate has been sealed.

There were at least one other lesser shock: That of the impoverished state of Brussels in comparison to the international mid-20th century Cool World of the Paris hipster. In much of the avant-garde cinema coming out of Paris, that city was shown to be a world filled with Gitane smoking movie stars and French Intellectuals. Ackerman showed that Brussels was not part of that world, and in fact was nothing more than a workhouse, no different from Chicago, Detroit or Cleveland as compared to New York City’s televised and published hipster culture during the same period in the United States.

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Jeanne Dielmann working at home as a prostitute. One of her clients is going to pay with his life for her being lowered in this fashion by those which preceded him.

Vanessa Beecroft

The undisputed contemporary master of using nude women for their public works is the clearly fearless Italian Vanessa Beecroft.

Her work pushed back against the entire history of feminism, by showing that a woman can use women’s bodies for visual pleasure just like a man. That all of her models are both attractive and either provocatively dressed, nude, and/or in heavy costume make up only ranks up the heat on the spectacle of giving the people what they want, as an art project She gives a set of instructions to not move, not engage the audience. Each of the performances is numbered. Beecroft started out using volunteers, cheap clothes and shoes, then as her budgets grew, she turned to professional models and coutour. Her works have been described as both live paintings and live sculptures.

Prada, Manolo Blahnik, Dolce & Gabbana, Tom Ford and even Helmut Lang’s product has become part of Beecroft’s project.

It is interesting to note that the fashion world is also who is buying Marilyn Minters art and driving her career. In both instances the critique of society in both Minters and Beecroft’s work have been absorbed into the fashion world. Minter’s now does commercial work for the same fashion industry her works purportedly critiqued. Yet what is Minter to do? She has worked well over 30 years without substantive commercial and critical reward, and now that both are pouring in, this certainly is not the time to say she wanted her success to come from the critical end of the artworld. This is especially the case being that the ferocious painting marked has pushed back Conceptual Art and it’s believe system that was hammered into élite students over the past 40 plus years. Minter now has a small number of studio assistants helping her make works that she says would take a year and a half each on her own. The future will decide what Minter’s actual aesthetic achievements are, which is what all art history ultimately concerns itself with. (491×304)

Marilyn Minter in her studio

“Franca Sozzani, the editor of Vogue Italia: “Fashion is important in her performances because she subdues it to her will,’ Sozzani tells me. ‘It’s not important as a logo, trend or status symbol: fashion items are used to underline the woman’s body and to express the concept behind her performances.” (Nick Johnstone, March 13, 2005, The Guardian, London.) The ‘girls’ … tableaux vivants, which are always staged twice (once for the public, once for photographing and filming.

Beecroft’s network of dealers trade in limited-edition photographs and DVD/video films of each performance.)

Maria Elena Buszek, an art historian at the Kansas City Art Institute, explains: ‘Beecroft is the veritable poster-girl for our current, third wave of feminist art history. There’s an ambivalence in her work that is present in the work of many of her contemporaries, which is the result of a culture that has both internalised feminist goals more than any generation that preceded it, and chafes against what it perceives as feminism’s restraints.” (Nick Johnstone, March 13, 2005, The Guardian, London.)

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Vanessa Beecroft exhibition, ICA London, 2007

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VB 64 was held at Deitch Projects Long Island City studios, 2009

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I decided to provide one example of art photography whose subject is poverty and prostitution

Eugene Atget, documented the disappearing architecture of Paris’ Ancien Regime and in this moment photographed a prostitute in Paris

Motel Grand. Los Angeles. by Vincent Johnson (2002)

Spectacular New Cosmos Suite Paintings by Vincent Johnson (Numbers 4, 5, 6 large)

Three new paintings are added to the Cosmos Suite by Vincent Johnson on 2.24.2013. These are the 7th, 8th and 9th paintings created in the Cosmos Suite. They are also the 4th, 5th and 6th large scale paintings in this body of work.

These Cosmos Suite paintings by Los Angeles base artist Vincent Johnson are created using various experiments in media and paint application. Johnson has done substantial research into the area of the history of painting materials and there use, and employs this knowledge in the production of his work.

There are now a total of nine paintings in the Cosmos Suite. Six of the nine paintings are thirty by forty inches in size. Three of the paintings – the originals in the suite, are twenty by twenty four inches in size. Each painting takes about a month to create as there is a three week drying time between the first and second layers of the painting. As the suite grows there will be additional sizes including larger works.


Cosmos Suite: A Meeting Between Two Figures in Space

Poured Liquin in center of painting, added stripes of pure paint color to canvas, mixed with paint rags, dabbed till thick paint areas are leveled out.

Large areas of vertical yellow in painting. Layered canvas in thick paint in certain areas. Reminds me of seeing Gerhard Richter’s painting retrospective in London in the fall of 2011.


Cosmos Suite: State and Grace

Used sponges on face of painting. Layered canvas in thick paint.

Poured Liquin in center of painting, added stripes of pure paint color to canvas, mixed with paint rags, dabbed till thick paint areas are leveled out.
Reminds me of Florida’s mysterious beauty

Shape is of Florida in part


 Cosmos Suite: Astral Melodies

used sponges on side and surface of the painting. used large brushwork. Layered canvas in paint.

Poured Liquin in between stripes of pure paint color to canvas, mixed with paint rags, dabbed till thick paint areas are leveled out. Started out with thick brush in corner to mix, abandoned this quickly.

Sensing jazz standards here – floating fields of opulent pure romantic color
Vincent Johnson received his MFA in Fine Art Painting from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California 1997 and his BFA in Painting from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was selected for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 for the Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Art in America, Art Slant and many other publications. His photographic works were most recently shown in the inaugural Pulse Fair Los Angeles. His most recent paintings were shown at the Beacon Arts Center in Los Angeles. His 2010 photo project – California Toilet, Filthy Light Switch, is in exhibition at Another Year in LA gallery in West Hollywood through early March 2013. His work has appeared in several venues, including The Studio Museum in Harlem (Freestyle (2001, The Philosophy of Time Travel, 2007, and The Bearden Project, 2011-2012), PS1 Museum, Queens, NY, SK Stiftung, Cologne, Germany, Santa Monica Museum of Art, LAXART, Las Cienegas Projects, Boston University Art Museum, Kellogg Museum, Cal Poly Pomona.
Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles

New Abstract Paintings: The Cosmos suite (2012)

Golden Dream (2012), part of the Cosmos Suite of paintings

California Toilet, Filthy Light Switch (2010) by Vincent Johnson. Archival Epson print (Private Collection, Miami, Florida). I provided this image as I realized its clear similarity to Golden Dream, which I completed a week ago in my studio in Los Angeles.

Two at Night (2012) from the Cosmos suite of paintings, Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches


Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles

Biography July 2010Vincent Johnson lives and works in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited at Las Cienegas Projects, LAXART, the P.S. 1. Museum, the SK Stiftung, Cologne, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Adamski Gallery of Contemporary Art, Aachen, the Sacramento Center for Contemporary Art, 18th Street Arts, Santa Monica and the Boston University Art Gallery. His photographic works engage both significant and neglected historical and contemporary cultural artifacts and is based on intensive research of his subjects. Upcoming is a group show at the Kellogg Museum of Cal Poly Pomona.Johnson received his MFA from Art Center College of Design in 1997. He studied with Mike Kelly, Jack Goldstein, Stephen Prina, Liz Larner, Chris Williams, Mayo Thompson (formerly of Art&Language), and Liz Larner. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was nominated for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 nominated for Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.LANYArtiststudio@gmail.comVincent  Johnson Artist StatementVincent Johnson’s work is a form of sustained cultural mining that explores the depths of his subjects. His photographic works created from 2001-2007 delved into architecture as fantasy, from the vernacular architecture of Los Angeles to that found throughout the American West. He has documented several of the no longer extant commercial vernacular structures in both South Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley that came into existence during the birth of long distance family travel by car. In 2007 he presented a fully fabricated work of sculpture – a 12 foot long six-foot high replica of a 1956 Chrysler Air Raid Siren. This project developed as he was both researching and documenting a former military corridor in the San Fernando Valley that included a retired military airfield. His newest photographic works, all created in 2008 and 2009, are large-scale photographic montages, each of which confront significant cultural figures and several dramatic signal events of Cold War era Western cultural history, including Television, the launch of Sputnik, the Soviet Space program, American home-based bomb shelter  program, and Vietnam. He is working on large-scale photomontages of the several major American political figures of 1960’s, including Martin Luther King, the Kennedy family, and Malcolm X, as well the representations of both Communism and Capitalism, Hollywood and Los Angeles and many related Cold War era subjects. Johnson’s photomontages can take several months to create as he captures hundreds of images from online sources, before selecting those which most well index a particular historical moment, personage or event. The creative juxtapositions and scale shifts of the found images is what he most relies on to develop his potent and illuminating photographic works.

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