It comes as no surprise that Carolyn Weltman lists two expressionist artists as influential to her work, though she denies a dedication to any one particular style. At first glance much her work seems to capture the sweeping confidence of a skilled expressionist- strong emotive lines defining shape and form which exaggerate and emphasize what she sees. But upon closer inspection, there is more depth to her work than simple line drawings. Carolyn takes her live model studies and embellishes them with careful tone, shading, and backgrounds which enhance and compliment her figures.
Her chosen subject matter is erotica in the form of the human body. She paints women, men, and couples; nude and dressed, sometimes engaged in sexual activities, and sometimes with a fetish accompaniment. She skillfully utilizes the eroticism of the fingernail (rendered in real nail varnish), the shoe, lingerie (both on women and on men), masks, and rope to enhance and highlight the sexual vibrancy of the bodies she depicts. And ‘bodies’, is a correct terminology for what it is she renders and shares. One interesting aspect I found to her work is that while the figures she draws are so expressively defined, she never depicts the faces of the people she presents. Instead, she indicates only those portions of the head and face which are frequently eroticized- the hair, the jaw line, the mouth. To me, this pushes the focus of the viewer to the physical power and presence of the body where the emotional expression is conveyed through the postures of her subjects and the language of the flesh.
From your website, ten years ago you changed your career to pursue your art. What was the initial reception for your erotic subject matter? What challenges (if any) did you have to face?
I once asked my mother what she thought of the work i was creating. She was in her eighties at that time. She responded, “its very honest work, dear.” she followed that up with a lecture on shoe fetishism and told me she’d lived vicariously through me for most of my life. When my mother told me it was ok to do something, I believed her.
The world reacts to my work exactly the same now as it did when I started creating erotica almost ten years ago. society really does not change all that much when it comes to matters sexual. And the reactions pretty much cover every human emotion there is. From expressions of pure joy, laughter and thanks to pure hate, accusations of abuse and declarations of “you’re disgusting!” but isn’t that how people react to sex in any form? some love it, some hate it. I’m not a sex therapist so the reactions are really none of my business. However, powerful art, whether erotic or not, should cause a reaction. Positive or negative. Apparently my work is powerful as it always causes a reaction. It makes people think. If they don’t like or are uncomfortable with what they are thinking, that’s on them. I was told once by a psychiatrist, when I was out busily selling my work one Saturday afternoon on the street in Manhattan, that I had major issues. As I pointed out to the psychiatrist, at least I was working on my issues and getting them out.
Your work is very expressive and seems to capture specific intimate moments. Some of it looks like live-model sketches and some have been worked over in greater detail. How long do you typically work on a piece? Can you describe some of your technical process?
I work with models for approximately 85% of my work. I use my beautiful models for both my drawings and paintings. There is no typical time limit for my work. A drawing can take anywhere from several hours to several weeks. The paintings can go to several months. Some of the most sketch-like drawings that look as though they took five minutes may easily have taken me days to complete. I will take out of my drawings as much as I put in so that what you see as a final sketch might have been a study that took a very long time. I choose to work up the pieces that talk to me and pretty much guide me. My process is different for every piece and I will experiment with all sorts of combinations and materials. Even a sheet of paper is carefully chosen for many of my images. The fibers in the papers hold my materials (inks, paints, whatever) differently and that is important for the outcome of a piece of work. I use all kinds of materials to make my marks and combine things like watercolour crayons with oil paints to create a desired effect. There are no rules.
Some of your work titles suggests a personal relationship with the models. How do you choose your models and subject material? Your art covers a diversity of themes and sexual expressions. How would you say your artwork relates to your own sexuality?
I maintain highly professional work ethics with my models. Models become involved with me as the artist and therefore I need to be mindful of that when I am working with them. Much as a doctor or therapist who works intimately with his or her patients. I am blessed with many offers when it comes to people modeling for me and I choose my models very carefully for who they are and absolutely not what they look like physically. It is aura and spirit that is what is important. Do I get sexually involved with my models? never. Do i get involved with my drawings and paintings? of course. My artwork relates to human sexuality. Everyone without exception has one fetish or another. Its my job to research those fetishes and portray them in my work. However, although I am accepting of all consensual fetishes, not everyone’s fetish is my fetish. My own sexuality, hmmmmmm! that’s a secret for me and my lover to share.
Does working as an erotic artist lessen your interest in looking at other erotic art? What other artists work do you find sensual or erotic?
When I look at art (including erotica) I do not differentiate between what is erotic and what is not. That’s not my criteria for looking at other artists’ works. Erotica is a very personal word and one person’s erotic is not another’s so to try to establish work as erotic is almost impossible. Sexual yes, erotic no. Erotic is a twist of an arm or a glimpse of someone’s face. One of the most erotic photographs I’ve ever seen by Dahmane was a photograph of Chloe sitting on a coca cola bottle. But it was not the sexuality of the picture that affected me, it was the look on her face, the twist of her lip and the expression in her eyes. I recently looked at a Seurat study for “the echo” and it was the curve of an arm and a hand raised to the mouth that was so erotic I could not look away.
Saying that, probably Rodin’s watercolour drawings and Modigliani’s lushly painted women along with some of Picasso’s erotic drawings have the most profound effect on me. As for Vermeer and van Gogh, their use of the brush makes me shiver. Whereas Georgia O’Keeffe magnificent sexual flowers do not feel erotic to me at all. Sometimes it just depends on what day it is and what mood I am in.
Article & interview by Kayla