Sublimated Sexuality in Modern Surrealist Girl Art, Part 4

This is the fourth post in the Sublimated Sexuality series. You can view the first three posts in this series here, here and here. Let’s get started.

12) Body horror – This is another fairly broad category that covers a lot of these images, and as with several of the categories, there is a good deal of overlap with some of the other categories (for example, the monstrosity, violence and general weirdness categories). At any rate, this category covers physical deformities and mutations, sickness and disease, bruises and wounds, and what I would deem “frankensteined” people and animals—that is, beings who are something other than a full human or a full animal. Sometimes they are animal-human hybrids; other times they are biomechanical monstrosities.

Ana Bagayan – The Experiment

Ana Bagayan (Official Site)

Jackie Skrzynski – Scratch (2003)

Jackie Skrzynski (Official Site)

Jana Brike – Self Portrait with Erected Tail

Squarespace: Jana Brike

Kokomoo – (Title Unknown) (1)

Cornelia Renz – A Girl Without Hands (2008)

Cornelia Renz (Official Site)

Here there is some overlap with the twins category. Yang Jing’s work often incorporates dolls, which we’ll get to in yet another category.

Yang Jing – We Did Nothing

Ravenel International Art Group: Yang Jing

The following image is perhaps the quintessential example of the thesis of this blog series. The implication in Nicoletta Ceccoli’s Dulcis Agata (Latin for Sweet Agatha) depends partly on how you read this sort of art overall. It also references the next category to be addressed in this post, the presence of food, particularly sweet treats, in these images. Ceccoli often uses cakes and candies in her images to symbolizes childhood, especially girlhood, but there is frequently a sinister undertone to these images, and that is the case here. The title references St. Agatha of Sicily, a girl from a wealthy family who, at age fifteen, refused the sexual advances of a lowborn Roman prefect and was subsequently arrested, tortured and eventually murdered. Among the punishments she supposedly enduring was the cutting off of her breasts.

Here Agatha is presented as a young girl who offers either some sort of dessert drenched in strawberry or cherry sauce, or her own severed breasts. If it is the latter, one can read it in at least two ways. The first is as a feminist allegory in which women are expected to look ever younger for men, and thus a young girl might sever her own breasts to remain child-like in presentation. The second reading is actually not far from the first, and it is that culture desexualizes young girls to keep them pure and holy, by violence if necessary.

Nicoletta Ceccoli – Dulcis Agata

Nicoletta Ceccoli (Official Site)

Cristina Vergano – Escorial, Madrid, September 1705

Cristina Vergano (Official Site)

13) The presence of food, especially sweets – Food is sometimes associated with sex, and no food more so than fruit and candy, both of which are sweet. (Refer to my Cherry Ripe! post for some insight into at least one fruit that commonly symbolizes sex or sexual development.) Sweets are also associated with children, which makes the symbolism in these images especially potent. Add in a healthy dose of satire and you have the makings of a clever commentary on the conflicted view of the young girl in modern society.

Hiroyuki Mano – The cake is a lie

DeviantArt: DensenManiya

Ceccoli’s girls generally exist in some sort of dark Candyland.

Nicoletta Ceccoli – Barbara

Nicoletta Ceccoli – Consumed by You

Scott G. Brooks – Food Chain (2009)

Scott G Brooks Studios (Official Site)

Rene Lynch – Icons – Honey Dipper (Bee Queen) (2006)

Rene Lynch (Official Site)

Mmm, tasty black soup.

Rieko Sakurai – (Title Unknown)

Artnet: Rieko Sakurai

james-jean-recess_-horse

James Jean – Recess – Horse

James Jean (Official Site)

Kokomoo – (Title Unknown) (2)

Kokomoo – (Title Unknown) (3)

14) Masks, especially animal masks – Masks are another recurring emblem in this sort of art. Much can be said about masks in art just in general, but with respect to kids, one immediately thinks of Halloween, which is associated with devils and darkness too, and that of course intersects with one of the persistent themes in these images: horror of one sort or another. If we think in terms of sublimating childhood sexuality, these images are not too dissimilar from the human-animal hybrid pieces, only the artists are perhaps more aware of the sublimation and are acknowledging it. Thus, the masks are in essence a reflection of both the artist’s neuroses with regard to children and a sly acknowledgment that there really are human children behind the false faces being offered to the viewer.

Caleb Weintraub – Ashes Ashes Splashes Splashes

Caleb Weintraub (Official Site)

Jana Brike – The Last Dancer in the World

Here Red Riding Hood becomes the wolf. Yet another clever commentary on the nature of girlhood and how it is perceived.

Nicoletta Ceccoli – My Favorite Costume

Nicoletta Ceccoli – A Girl Hides Secrets

Sublimated Sexuality in Modern Surrealist Girl Art, Part 1

I said in my post on Arwassa that I would do a series on Lowbrow artists with a focus on young girls, and I have every intention of honoring that. However, I’ve been mulling it over on how best to approach this, and I’ve decided that rather than focus on individual artists who fit within that movement, I’m going to do this another way, at least for the first few posts (the Arwassa post aside). What interests me most about this type of art, and art in a similar vein, is that there are several recurring elements and themes throughout, and I propose that they are ultimately in service to an important psychological phenomenon currently proliferating through Western culture. To put it euphemistically, now that it’s been well-established that children and sex don’t mix very well, what do we do with the sexual insecurity caused by the inappropriate feelings towards children that I believe almost all adults are prone to from time to time?

Now, please note that I am not suggesting that nearly everyone on the planet is a pedophile or potential pedophile. Pedophilia is a medical designation with a fairly specific set of criteria, and it clearly doesn’t apply to most people. But it is my contention that nearly everyone has had the occasional thought, fantasy or impulse to be sexual with someone who is physically and/or emotionally immature. Despite what detractors may say, human sexuality is primal and complex, with a lot of gray areas, unplanned quirks and latent motivations we don’t always understand, and these deep-rooted devils can result in some fairly convoluted mental gymnastics to repress or deny to ourselves what we have felt. I think such feelings, as much as they may disturb us when we face them head-on, are fairly common and normal. Nevertheless, they are obviously not discussed in the open and give rise to psychological phenomena such as projection and sublimation, including into artistic expressions.

But given how controversial and taboo such feelings are in today’s world, we rarely see these expressions presented as is. What happens instead is that these impulses are somewhat disguised or transmuted into safer or less objectionable representations, or they are thematically linked with other things or events which thoroughly repulse the artist (and by proxy the consumers of his or her artistic output), a bolstering of the desired reaction to such a verboten concept. This is not a new occurrence, of course, but it’s ongoing—and rising—popularity, despite its fringe nature, can only be explained as a growing awareness of the ways in which a phenomenon built on the back of a moral panic is processed both by individuals and by society as a whole, so that the feedback loop becomes self-reinforcing, which is how I imagine an otherwise marginal movement becomes mainstream, or at least no longer on the social periphery.

At any rate, having examined a huge range of this art, I have determined that there are twenty-one recurring themes that link this “movement” (like Symbolism, the erotic girl-child in modern surrealism is not so much a movement of its own as it is mainly a trans-movement that happens to be largely contained within a movement yet is not limited to it), and I shall present examples of each from an assortment of artists over the course of several posts. This is not to say that individual artists will not get their own posts. Some will, particularly those with a large range of applicable pieces and important artists in the pop surrealist movement overall. But it’s important, I think, to familiarize ourselves with the common symbols and themes that link these images, and to examine their relevance with respect to my thesis.

One last thing: I am not at all saying that these trends are always a conscious goal to sublimate unwanted pedophilic desires. In fact, I suspect it rarely is, and it’s entirely probable that the artists are barely aware of the instincts they may be sublimating. That does not, however, decrease their power. Alright, so let’s get started.

(1) References to sexuality or sexual acts – It’s essential in comprehending this work that we recognize that not all of the sexual features of this art are entirely rendered into symbolic or allegorical form. Indeed, it is our first and foremost clue as to what purpose the art serves for its creators and fans. Thus . . .

An eye can become uncomfortably vulvic if arranged perpendicular to its normal orientation, especially if said eye isn’t paired with another. Speaking of eyes, Ana Bagayan’s works fits comfortably in the big-eyed waif/baby doll tradition, but we’ll get to that.

Ana Bagayan – Vega

Ana Bagayan – Fae

Ana Bagayan (official website)

Children confronting adult sexuality shows up occasionally in this work. There is an interesting connotation here. Could “Sebastian” be a homosexual who was persecuted by the 50s-style father, who has turned his children against LGBT folks as well? In any case, the resemblance of the nude male to Michelangelo’s David is unmistakable, and the Amors caught in the crossfire of the little archers suggests love is also a casualty of this execution.

Scott G. Brooks – Sebastian of the Suburbs (2008)

Scott G. Brooks (official website)

Stu Mead – Bedroom Dance (1998)

Stu Mead (official website)

Often it is animals that bring attention to the girl’s sexuality, either as harbingers of it or as direct participants.

Jana Brike – Book of Taboo – Five Sins of Amelia

Squarespace: Jana Brike

Notice the cherries on the ground here:

Rene Lynch – Icons – The Messenger (2006)

Rene Lynch (official site)

Fetishistic outfits and accoutrements become satirical when worn by children.

Jana Brike – The Wet Dreams

trevor-brown-bondage-bear-rubber-doll-2005

Trevor Brown – Bondage Bear – Rubber Doll (2005)

Baby Art (Trevor Brown official site)

There is also a male companion piece by Taillefer for the little female cherub below. You can see him here. Incidentally, an oenophile is a lover of wine. I have no idea what that has to do with the image though, other than a suggestion of general hedonism.

Heidi Taillefer – Oenophile

Heidi Taillefer (official site)

(2) Humor and satire – But most of the child sexuality in these works isn’t nearly so overt and confrontational. That it surfaces directly from time to time is perfectly understandable. Sexual instincts are messy. But even when such blatant eroticism makes its way into these works, it tends to be packaged as satire, as is the case with all of the above images. Without its most provocative side showing, much of this young girl art remains satiric in nature, and we can therefore add this as the second of our common characteristics.

Ron English’s clown kid art is the prime example. Clowns serve basically two purposes in modern culture: as satire and as fodder for horror. English embraces the former by presenting clowns as children who indulge in adult pursuits like drinking, smoking and gambling. Sex is merely subtly implied (by the extremely short dress worn by the girl clown in this image).

Ron English – Clown Kids Smoking

Ron English’s Popaganda (official site)

On the other end of the spectrum (but no less absurd) is Mike Cockrill’s clown-murdering Lolitas. Underlying this theme is the pervading fear of many modern parents that they are little more than ineffectual clowns in the face a society where their children are becoming increasingly more worldly and empowered, and the kids will eventually replace all of us hidebound fuddy duddies with their New World Order.

Mike Cockrill – Gossip Girls (2010)

Mike Cockrill – Target (2009)

Mike Cockrill (official site)

Another satirical angle is the adoption of light pop culture elements like cartoons and classic comics juxtaposed against general weirdness. This style was of course exemplified by Robert Williams, founder of pop surrealism, but as his work rarely features little girls, we will instead focus on the work of KRK Ryden (older brother of Mark Ryden, who may be better known, but KRK, ten years Mark’s senior, became an artist well before Mark did). Both brothers’ work is laden with little girls, but for different reasons. In KRK’s work they serve as the moral and spiritual center of an otherwise out-of-control culture, though they certainly aren’t spared KRK’s satiric touch.

KRK Ryden – Rendevouz (2007)

KRK Ryden – Shitzville

KRK Ryden (official site)

(3) Cartoonish body exaggerations, particularly of the head, face and eyes – This leads naturally into our third common trait. You should have realized by now that much of this art features more than one of these traits, but of them all, this may be the most universal. Of course, not all of the figures in the art have this trait, but a solid majority appears to. Cartoons are cute and nonthreatening, and that’s partly the point here. Does it become more troubling when the cartoon girls are behaving more humanly? More… grown-up?

Audrey Kawasaki – Lick Face (2005)

Audrey Kawasaki (official site)

LostFish – My Melody Dolly (2011)

LostFish (official site)

The references to Orwell and the modern surveillance state gives this next piece even more relevance in light of our thesis. One common fear among those who have had erotic thoughts about the underaged is that if they aren’t careful and pursue the thoughts too far on the internet, they might be exposed and labeled for life. Overcompensation is common, but these fears still manage to be expressed in symbolic ways, even if several steps removed from their original aspect.

Mario S. Nevado (Aégis) & Liran Szeiman – Big Brother (2013)

Aégis Strife (Mario Nevado official site)

Liransz (Liran Szeiman official site)

Mark Ryden’s name has of course become synonymous with this style.

Mark Ryden – St. Barbie

Mark Ryden (official site)

(4) Girl-women; actual age or maturity level of figures difficult or impossible to discern – And finally for this post, another recurring theme in this work is the girl-woman, a being not quite child and not quite woman but something in-between, and not necessarily adolescent either, but rather an almost alien or mutant form that could be either but feels almost ageless. The cultural value here is similar to that of the kawaii concept in Japan: it is the ability to give anything, including adult sexuality, a sheen of child-like innocence and cuteness without surrendering entirely to a pedophilic instinct. Not that it would be a problem for most people anyway, if only they accepted it for what it was and moved on. But as a species we seem doomed to never move beyond our sexual hangups. How fortunate for fans of subversive art!

Audrey Kawasaki – Horsegirl (2006)

Jana Brike – Parallel Lives – Beekeeper’s Bride

Pay attention to the details of this John John Jesse piece:

John John Jesse – Petit Lapin

Instagram: John John Jesse

Kukula – Wind-Up Girl

Kukula (official site)

Most of these artists will appear again in future installments of this series.

Cherry Ripe!

There is a garden in her face
Where roses and white lilies grow;
A heav’nly paradise is that place
Wherein all pleasant fruits do flow.
There cherries grow which none may buy,
Till “Cherry-ripe” themselves do cry.

The above is the first stanza of Thomas Campion’s poem “There is a Garden in Her Face,” a paean to a beautiful virginal girl. How do we know this? We must first put it into historical context. Cherry vendors in England traditionally used the call “Cherry ripe!” to let people know that cherries were ready to buy. If we apply this fact to the poem, we see that the man is describing a girl that, while beautiful, is not yet ready to be “bought”—that is, she hasn’t quite reached sexual maturity. Campion admires this girl for her sexual purity, which he acquaints with spiritual purity. Here we have a basic explanation for the Victorian cult of the girl (which followed Campion by a couple hundred years): girls, because of their perceived innocence and sweetness, were considered above all other natural human groups to be the closest to God, so long as they maintained their virginity, hence British society’s horror of the underground culture of girls being kidnapped and deflowered—brought to light by W. T. Stead’s series The Maiden Tribute to Modern Babylon, and likely highly exaggerated therein—which compelled Britain’s Parliament to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16.

In terms of cherries being associated with young girls and virginity, many people seem to be under the impression that slang terms like cherry, in reference to the hymen, was invented by their generation, or at least the generation before theirs. In fact, this is not so:

cherry […] Meaning “maidenhead, virginity” is from 1889, U.S. slang, from supposed resemblance to the hymen, but perhaps also from the long-time use of cherries as a symbol of the fleeting quality of life’s pleasures.”

There we have it. The slang term dates at least to 1889, but I suspect the association of this particular fruit with virginity dates further back than even Campion’s poem, which was first published in 1617. And we are also given another, older, symbolism for cherries in the above etymology: they stand for the fleeting quality of physical pleasure. This too can be tied into sex, but also to childhood, which is itself fleeting. This symbolism is the Western tradition, but even in the East the cherry (and more specifically the cherry blossom) are also associated with maidenhood/virginity. We are more concerned with the Western mode here, but I do find it interesting that such disparate cultures can arrive at a similar symbolic representation, don’t you?

Back to the poem. We get the impression from the final stanza not of a full-grown woman—worldly and self-assured—but of a nervous girl being approached by potential mates, as if she is a wary doe being stalked by wolves on the hunt.

Why am I bringing all of this up? It is to lay the foundation of context for one very interesting painting, that painting being Sir John Everett Millais’s “Cherry Ripe”, a deceptively simple portrait of a little girl in a white dress with pink highlights sitting on a log in the forest . . .

John Everett Millais – Cherry Ripe (1879)

Wikipedia: John Everett Millais

Millais was a Pre-Raphaelite painter, and like most of the Pre-Raphaelites, he loaded his art with symbolism. First, the semiotics of color. White was of course the color of purity. Children, particularly little girls, were often dressed in white for formal portraits. Moreover, the child is placed against a dark and shadowy forest from which any wild beast could emerge and snatch her from her perch; unlike most portraits, which are set safely indoors or illuminated spaces, this one is actually a bit edgy. More likely than not this was intentional on Millais’s part. I have mentioned before that semiotically a white figure against black backdrop stresses the figure’s vulnerability or purity—or, in this case, both—in a morally nebulous world. Pale pink, which is traditionally associated with young girls, is also the color of cherry blossoms, and the child’s flesh is also pinkish. Here we have a figure composed almost entirely of white and pink. The lone exceptions are her eyes and hair and the black gloves, but as they were a conscious choice, it is the gloves that draw our attention.

The gloves are black. The color black has many symbolic interpretations, but here it screams sexuality. Look closely at the girl’s hands: they are placed in her lap and closed together prayer-style, only inverted. The gloves are fingerless, V-shaped and adjacent to her hands, inevitably funneling one’s attention right to the girl’s fleshy, exposed fingers, and (as more than one art critic has pointed out) those fingers happen to resemble a vulva.

Now some questions arise. Was this accidental or deliberate on the part of Millais? I suspect the answer is somewhere in between. And what exactly is Millais saying with this painting? Perhaps he is wrestling with the Victorian notion of the asexual girl-child, and suggesting that it may be a tad more complicated than that. Maybe he’s being ironic. After all, despite the title of the piece, the little girl is clearly nowhere near being “ripe”, and indeed some of the cherries lying at her side belie the title as well. Then again, maybe it is entirely coincidental, but I doubt it.

There is one other possibility I can think of. Millais was a friend of culture/art critic John Ruskin, who was married to Effie Gray at the time they met and became friends. But Ruskin had been married to Effie for several years and had yet to consummate the marriage, owing to, it was rumored, his mortal dread of pubic hair. Ruskin, like Lewis Carroll, had written a book for his beloved when she was still a child. The book was The King of the Golden River. Unlike Carroll, however, Ruskin was eventually able to marry the girl he had eyes for, although Ruskin and Effie were only nine years apart in age whereas Carroll and Alice Liddell were twenty years apart and of different social classes from one another. Anyway, Millais and Effie eventually fell in love, the marriage between Ruskin and Effie was annulled, and Effie remarried Millais, with whom she had eight children. (Side note: The oldest Millais daughter—also called Effie—was even one of Lewis Carroll’s photographic subjects.) Now, Ruskin was a fan of the Pre-Raphaelites, but given the embarrassing situation between Ruskin, Millais and Effie, it is little wonder that Ruskin began to condemn Millais’s post-marriage work, ostensibly because it was of lower quality according to Ruskin, but in reality it is more likely that Ruskin felt slighted and used his power as a critic to avenge the loss of his mate to Millais the best way he knew how. Is it possible, then, that Millais, with the painting “Cherry Ripe,” was publicly mocking Ruskin and his supposed pubic hair phobia? Probably not, but it is worth considering.

And speaking of Lewis Carroll, perhaps the next most famous artwork featuring little girls and cherries after the Millais piece is Carroll’s photo of the Liddell sisters (Edith, Lorina and Alice) in which the oldest girl, Lorina, is feeding Alice a cherry. Alice stands with her head cocked and mouth slightly agape, like a baby bird waiting to be fed by its mother. And, of course, Alice would be the one to be fed, given Carroll’s ongoing fascination with her.

Lewis Carroll – The Three Liddell Sisters (“Open Your Mouth”) (1860)

Wikipedia: Lewis Carroll

The above was one of several Carroll works that Polixeni Papapetrou created a tribute to.

Polixeni Papapetrou – Cherry Group

Polixeni Papapetrou (Official Site)

One step removed from this, cherries—really any fruit, but apples and cherries in particular—can represent transgression, as in the story of Adam and Eve, in which children stand in for the first humans and the crime that brings on their downfall is theft.

Fritz Zuber-Bühler – The Cherry Thieves

Wikipedia: Fritz Zuber-Bühler

Carl Larsson – Forbidden Fruit

Wikipedia: Carl Larsson

Frederick Morgan – Cherry Pickers

Wikipedia: Frederick Morgan (painter)

Note the coy and mischievous expression on this girl’s face:

Charles Amable Lenoir – The Cherrypicker (1900)

Wikipedia: Charles Amable Lenoir

Cherries can also represent intimacy, both romantic and familial.

Paul Hermann Wagner – Idylle mit Atelier (1889)

Lord Frederick Leighton – Mother and Child (1865)

Lord Frederic Leighton: The Complete Works

Wikipedia: Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton

Franz von Defregger – Kinder beim Kirschenessen (1869)

Wikipedia: Franz Defregger

Cherries can become an amusement for little girls playing at being women.

Frederick Morgan – Cherry Earrings (1)

Frederick Morgan – Cherry Earrings (2)

Frederick Morgan – The Cherry Gatherers

Georg Rössler – Mädchen mit Kirschen (1901)

But mostly cherries were just colorful eye-catchers that helped to emphasize the vibrancy and ruddy healthiness of youth . . .

Emile Vernon – The Cherry Bonnet (1919)

John Russell – Little Girl with Cherries (1780)

Wikipedia: John Russell (painter)

Friedrich von Kaulbach – Kirschen (Cherries)

Wikipedia: Friedrich Kaulbach

Fritz Zuber-Bühler – The First Cherries

Finally, a couple of curious contemporary artworks in which girl meets fruit; to be honest, I’m not sure exactly what to make of these.

Rene Lynch – Wonderland: Cherry Picking (2005)

Rene Lynch (Official Site)

I will say one thing about this final piece: Pay attention to how the little nude girl unwittingly mimics the lithe erotically posed woman in the magazine her mother is holding.

Tatiana Deriy – Little Cherry

(Editor’s update, 2015/11/06: There is a larger image of Little Cherry on Tatiana Deriy’s website.)