Valentine’s Day is a special time for honing your love language skills. One way to do that is through the inspiration of art. Erotic themed art has a proven appeal for both the artist and the audience. And at times, can arouse the viewer, express the power of the artist or simply serve as an amusement. This year, we want to inspire the true spirit of Valentine’s Day with self-taught artist Megan Mars. Her work is a cool mixture of pin-up, fantasy, fetish and the macabre. She creates art well suited to everyone’s taste and style.
Lovestruck: Megan Mars
If I had to categorize my work, I suppose I would call it erotic pin-up.
How do you explain your work to someone new to erotic art?
This is a tough one! Depending on the situation, it can be a little difficult to explain my work to a stranger. People have a tendency of being bit close-minded and judgmental about the kind of work that I do. So, I usually don’t bring it up unless it’s in the company of fellow artists or people that aren’t easily shocked.
What are some of the challenges or stereotypes you have had to overcome in making an erotic piece in your own voice?
It’s definitely a daunting prospect to put work out there in the public eye, especially when it’s coming from the voice of your own sexuality. That has always been a challenge for me. As a young artist, I’ve always struggled with fear of what my family/friends/coworkers would think of the art I create and how I would be judged for it. (The fear has built over the years and is based on whenever I showed my art to friends, family or schoolmates). As I’ve grown as an artist and a woman, I have gained a lot more confidence about creating the work that resonates with me and without holding back. I finally hit a turning point this year and have fully committed to doing the kind of work I want to do without letting fear censor my hand.
Your work is bright and sensual and has fluidity. Would you mind sharing about how you execute a piece? Where does the eroticism come from?
Thank you! I keep a sketchbook with me everywhere I go. Some of my best flashes of inspiration seem to come at the times when I’m least able to do anything about it. I jot down ideas, words, and make rough sketches until the idea fairly solidified. Then, I usually make a cleaner sketch of the overall layout and flow. Once I’m happy with that, I’ll copy the sketch onto my canvas or watercolor paper to be painted. I’m invested in the small details of a painting. So, the paint process is usually a long one. A painting can take anywhere from a few hours to a few months to complete.
The eroticism is blending of both my own sensuality and sometimes the models. I enjoy mixing my love for historical fashion, swirling art nouveau organic chaos, and fetish elements into each painting.
I definitely have the most fun with my personal projects—the ones done purely for fun, or that express something I feel passionately about. These ones aren’t always crowd-pleasers but they do feed the creative soul in a way that nothing else can, and often end up being challenged in ways that help refine my skills even more.
How do you go about differentiating your art in a world filled with erotic work?
My work and aesthetic come from a personal enough place that I don’t worry too much about imitation. I just try to focus on staying true to my own artistic voice and letting that guide me down my own path.
How does it feel when your art sells?
It’s a very gratifying feeling when I can emotionally connect with other people through my art. Not only does it say “I’m not alone,” it also lets me know there are people who appreciate the things that I do. Every person who purchases my art allows me to keep doing what I love the most—create. One thing I find surprising and delightful is the majority of my biggest fans and collectors are women.
Tell me a little bit about your studio. What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
My studio is nothing all that fancy or interesting. But I make the best use of my space. I have a finished room in the basement level of my apartment which serves as my studio; being underground it is fairly cave-like, which is great when I want to lose myself in the worlds of creativity. The one thing I absolutely couldn’t create without in my studio is music. I often use music as a tool for getting myself in the right mood.
Music is such a huge part of my life. Having a curated playlist is critical for making my art.
In your opinion, what is it about erotic art that people feel so uncomfortable?
I think that it’s likely to be a lot of different factors. Human sexuality is a complicated web that is built over a lifetime and each person’s experience of it is going to be unique. My thought is people feel uncomfortable when art that is sexual or “taboo” in nature makes them feel something they can’t justify. The art forces them to look at parts of their inner self that they might be uncomfortable with, or feel shame about. Some people are uncomfortable because of their religious upbringing. I think it gives them a sense of moral outrage at even a suggestion of sexuality or eroticism.
Do you think men get more attention for their erotic themed artwork? Also, if your work was labeled under a male moniker, do you think the reception would be different?
This is definitely one I’ve experienced firsthand. I think that there are still a lot of narrow views and old ways of thinking in regard to female sexuality and eroticism in general. Perhaps this is partly because they misunderstand the motivation behind it. I have seen people make the assumption that any art with the female body in it is made simply as a pinup girl to ogle, and nothing more. But what some viewers are forgetting is that women experience the world in a different way. It’s not just about the visual. It’s also about what it makes us feel. For me, and many of the other female artists I’ve spoken with, it’s a way to project beyond ourselves and express what we have locked inside.
Men tend to be applauded for their sexuality. It’s worn as a badge of honor and pride. The exact same behavior or way of thinking brands women in a negative way, almost like a scarlet letter. I’ve never fully understood the reasoning behind it. But I’ve run into it over and over throughout my life and art career and sometimes from the least likely places, such as other women or close friends and family.
I’ve had male artists, who were selling art of full-blown intercourse scenes, tell me that my work is “too risqué” for a gallery hanging. Despite the fact, my work rarely even shows nudity, let alone anything flagrantly pornographic. I have no doubt, that if I were a man, it might be easier for people to accept and understand. But I also know my work wouldn’t be what it is without my viewpoint, and my experience of what it means to be a woman.
What has been one of your most memorable experiences with your work?
One of the most memorable early experiences was a small group exhibition that had sort of carnival theme with belly dancers and performers. It was probably only the third or fourth public showing I had ever done. The majority of the work I had with me were portrait style works, showing only the face. I was extremely deliberate in censoring myself because the show was open to all ages, and in a family-friendly environment, although targeted and promoted to teens-30 something age group.
On the second day of the show, I came in to find signs all over my art protesting that it was offensive. There were several artists at the show who had the same issue. I later found out it was the belly dance performers that staged a protest of our work. They said my work was sexual in nature (sexual faces?) and that they thought it was inappropriate for the show. You can imagine my surprise, after making such careful consideration of what might be considered offensive, to have this kind of reaction to my work. To have it come from women walking around wearing far less clothing than any of my art, dancing seductively, tell *me* that I was offending them was quite a surprise indeed.
The bright side of that embarrassing event was the outpouring of love and support from other artists at the show. Even some of the dancers stood up and told me how moving they found my work. A few years later, when I had my first solo show, I invited those dancers to come and perform. The work that was protested at that first show ended up getting featured in another private show a few years later that was all about uncensored work, which ruffled people’s feathers and got a reaction. It was around then I started realizing that I couldn’t escape controversy. Though I was never creating work for shock value, I needed to embrace that aspect of it, rather than run away from it and try to make everyone else happy.
What did it feel like to first show your work? What was the response?
My first “real” art show was in 2002. I participated in popular, hometown public art and crafts fair and spent months preparing. It was an enormous undertaking the first time. I wanted everything perfect, although I was very young, shy, and scared to death of how people would react. My work at that time was much less erotic, no nudity at all, and leaned more towards fantasy elements. The show was definitely a learning experience in many ways. There were some bright spots of feedback and interaction with other people in my age group. But what really stood out about the show was the two other types of people I encountered that I was not prepared for.
There were the “talent scout” types—very flattering, yet manipulative types looking to find and exploit talent by dangling promises of exposure and contracts for work (many of which were outright lies, all of which I did best to avoid).
Then there were the other types of people, which I’m now quite familiar. The people that walked up with a scowl on their faces, and said downright hateful and offensive things right to my face. One person actually walked up and asked me if I had been abused as a child. Nothing could prepare me for how to deal with them. I just remember feeling shocked people would say such hurtful things at all, even more so directly to my face.
After that show, I went home and cried all night. I didn’t make art for at least a month. I didn’t do another public art show for 3 years. There was a valuable lesson rolled in there, though. All the criticism and trolling gave me strength. I dusted myself off and eventually got back up stronger and smarter about where and how I would show my work in the future.
As an artist, do you collect anything?
I collect so many things—probably too many things! One of my most prized collections is of erotica and art books. I love reading, and I love real books! There is something irreplaceably romantic about a tangible book. I can hold in my hands and it something digital media simply can’t replace.
I also collect erotic, art-nouveau and pin-up art. My entire home is covered wall-to-wall with art that inspires me. The lush displays of color and appreciation of female beauty, and I couldn’t imagine bare white walls. I always laugh because a frequent comment I get at shows from people is “I’m just not sure where I could hang this in my house”.
What would you tell your younger self, today? What kind of advice would you give to a young female artist looking toward a career as an erotic artist?
I would definitely tell my younger self to be brave, take bigger risks to push myself and to not self-censor out of fear or trying to please other people. Stick to what you love. Don’t let other people’s opinions determine your worth or the worth of the work you’re creating.
I would tell her that to walk this path, you have to be tough, be confident, and be very secure in your self-awareness. Most artists are fairly introspective already, but I think to put yourself in direct opposition to what most people consider “normal” you’ve got to have a very strong sense of self, and a relentless love for what you do. And above all else, don’t ever give up.
Where is your favorite place to see art?
I’m eternally grateful for the leaps and bounds the internet has grown in my lifetime. Technology is allowing anyone to see art from all across the world at the click of a button. Most of the time, the internet is where I see art first.
Growing up in a small town in Ohio, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for seeing groundbreaking new art. I am lucky because we do have a couple really fantastic museums close to home. The Akron Art Museum is always a real treat to visit. They tend to favor some unusual and outsider art exhibits I haven’t seen in other, larger museums in my area.
What’s the last show that surprised you? Why?
The last show I saw was probably one of the most memorable ones I’ve ever seen. Hi-Fructose Magazine put together an exhibit of art from 10 years of publication. I was extremely fortunate that the Akron Art Museum was one of the few stops on their tour. Words cannot even express how awestruck I was seeing some of these amazing works by artists I’ve admired my whole life. The scope of styles, media, and talent in that show just blew me away. I walked out of that museum feeling both very small and extremely inspired to push myself even more. There is nothing in the world like that precious feeling of passionate inspiration and drive to create.
Want to see more work by Megan Mars? Visit her Etsy site here.