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All mirrors are inherently mysterious and magical. The moment when Narcissus looked into the lake and realized that what he saw reflected was at one and the same time the self and an image was the moment of a great divide, a second Fall, but as certain Gnostic sects argued about the temptation of Eve and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden this recognition was a necessary loss of Innocence.  It was the first experience of a mediated reality. All was needed was the technical expertise to manufacture mirrors to disseminate this heightened self-awareness to every individual. And from mirrors it was only a matter of time before the camera and then film which led to the media landscape that envelops and dominates our perception today.

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Mirrors are mentioned frequently in myth, folk-lore and religion; not to mention in art and literature. In Corinthians Paul says of our knowledge of the divine ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known’. In Vodou, the syncretic religion practised widely in Haiti that combines elements of West African spirit religion, Catholicism and arguably Mesoamerican traditions, the altars of hounfours (temples) are decorated with mirrors as they are  conduits that the houngan use to contact the spirit world. Many cultures at many times held the tradition of covering all mirrors in the house when in mourning, this custom persists today in Judaism. In connection with a heresy held by one of the numerous Gnostic sects Borges states ‘Mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of men.’

In libertine fiction mirrors play a large part as they increase the pleasure of the moment and enables the libertine to view the erotic scene which they are  actively participating in. In the sparkling sophisticated jewel of a tale Point de lendemain (No Tomorrow) by Vivant Denon the artful heroine describes to her paramour the delights of her chamber with its reflective glass covering every wall, when he enters he is enchanted to find a ‘a vast cage of mirrors’ and then states that, ‘Desires are reproduced through their image’.

One of the most memorable mentions in fairy-tales of the deceptive nature of the looking-glass is the Magic Mirror of the Evil Queen in Snow White, which is a good illustration of William Blake’s quote  ‘A truth told with evil intent beats any lie you could invent.’

However for me the supreme moment for the mirror in literature is when Alice steps through to the other side of the looking glass. Ever since the phrase has been used to describe many different and varying experiences; the transfigured absolute reality glimpsed in insanity; the shifting contours of the nightly dreamscape, the heavens and hells of drug use (the John Tenniel illustration was reproduced on LSD blotters in the sixties) the transcendence achieved in sexual ecstasy, and ultimately death, that unknowing inevitable frontier where we hope that the outward appearance will vanish to be replaced for all eternity by our fundamental essence. For although mirrors are just surface and can deceive, distort and warp, they also always reveal something other than just ourselves.

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The Erotic Ink of Apollonia Saintclair

 

Apollonia Saintclair-Les Grandes découvertes (The Age of Discovery)
Apollonia Saintclair-Les Grandes découvertes (The Age of Discovery)
The rather evocatively named Apollonia Saintclair (presumably a pseudonym that conjures up  images, in my mind, at least, of a Bond villainess and a vixen of a heroine in a French libertine novel) provocative and very erotic illustrations have gathered a huge and obsessive following on Instagram and Tumblr for the mysterious, secretive artist.

Saintclair’s veritable pornocupia of fantasies, kinks and fetishes locate sex and desire as the nexus of a wide range of human emotions. Her black and white images are suggestive of pulp, noir and, on occasion, the gleeful decadence of Beardsley and Von Bayros; while shot through with a delightful insolent wit that ranges from the mischievous to the macabre.

In her interviews Saintclair has expressed her admiration for the pioneering photographer and artist Man Ray who was noted for his use of visual puns and rhymes, which quickly became a hallmark of early Surrealism. In drawings such as La Bonne Poire (The Juicy Fruit) and La Trouvaille (There you are), Saintclair expands (in conjuration with their disingenuous titles) the potential of the visual pun that elicits the shock of suppressed recognition from the viewer. The startling La Mort Douce (The Sweet Death) with its inversion of the Biblical tale of St John the Baptist and Salome has, however, far more sinister connotations.

Although obviously well-versed in art history in general and erotic art in particular, and while her work contains echoes of everything from Clovis Trouille’s sultry, sapphic nuns to the ceaseless caresses of octopi in Japanese shunga, Saintclair has developed a unique style with a distinctive contemporary take on eroticism from a vantaged (and still a rarity in erotic art) female perspective.

The English philosopher Francis Bacon is quoted as saying the job of the artist is to always deepen the mystery. While there is nothing more mysterious in human experience than sex, involving as it does the body, mind and soul in conjuration like no other comparable activity, the erotic artist is placed in a paradoxical position. After all, the role of erotic art is, by its very definition, to show and tell. Revealing too much strips away the mystery and the initial charm is soon lost. Revealing  too little, however, means it isn’t erotic art. Apollonia Saintclair performs that miraculous balancing act of showing us just enough to deepen the mystery and leaving us longing for more.

Le silence des cigales (The midnight lights
Apollonia Saintclair- Le silence des cigales (The midnight lights)
Apollonia Saintclair-Les cinq âmes soeurs (The five soulmates)
Apollonia Saintclair-Les cinq âmes soeurs (The five soulmates)
Apollonia Saintclair-La rencontre rapprochée ( The close encounter)
Apollonia Saintclair-La rencontre rapprochée ( The close encounter)
Apollonia Saintclair- La mort douce (The sweet death)
Apollonia Saintclair- La mort douce (The sweet death)
Apollonia Saintclair-La Trouvaille (There you are...)
Apollonia Saintclair-La Trouvaille (There You Are…)
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Apollonia Saintclair-La Bonne Poire (The Juicy Fruit) 2016

Apollonia Saintclair
Apollonia Saintclair-L’Itaphalle (Can’t Get of your love, Darling)
Apollonia Saintclair-L'invocation (The summoning)
Apollonia Saintclair-L’invocation (The summoning)
Apollonia Saintclair-L'affût (Lying in wait)
Apollonia Saintclair- L’affût (Lying in wait)

Dreams of Desire 41 (Trouille’s Funeral)

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Clovis Trouille-Mes Funerailles 1940

The Sunday Surrealist artist Clovis Trouille (Dreams of Desire 8 (Oh! Calcutta! Calcutta!)Dreams of Desire 9 (Italian Nun Smoking A Cigarette) and Dreams of Desire 10 (Sisters of the Immaculate Silk Stockings) painted a number of canvases on the theme of his funeral. Mes Funerailles from 1940 is almost austere by the standards of Trouille’s overheated and frenzied oeuvre with its riot of colour and sleazy psycho-sexual fantasy.

Trouille brings into play the talents deployed in his day job as department store window dresser and mannequin restorer in the simple yet striking tableaux, bringing to the fore all the potential theatrically inherent in our own imagined funerals. As always with Trouille he dreams of that sensuality without censure that is only found in the imagination.

The Sleepers

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Le Sommeil-Gustave Courbet 1866

Inspired by Charles Baudelaire’s poem Femmes damnees Delphine et Hippolyte (Damned Women Delphine and Hippolyte) from his famous collection Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil) which had resulted in prosecution, a hefty fine and the suppression of  six poems as an insult to public decency upon its initial publication, Courbet’s masterful realist erotic painting Le Sommeil (The Sleepers) with its provocative depiction of lesbianism led to a police report when it was first shown in 1872 and was not subsequently allowed to be publicly exhibited until 1988.

1866 was also the year that Courbet completed a commission for his most famous erotic painting L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World) with its graphic close up view of a naked woman’s genitals and abdomen. In February 2016 a Paris court has ruled that Facebook may be sued in France for removing the image from users pages.

Dreams of Desire 30 (Ink Blots)

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Valentine Hugo-Illustration for Alternance 1946

The foremost illustrator of Paul Eluard, Valentine Hugo was active in the Surrealist movement in the early thirties. Primarily a book illustrator she produced illustrations for several writer beloved by the Surrealists, notably Lautreamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror, Arthur Rimbaud and the Marquis De Sade’s Eugenie de Franvel.

Above is one of her graceful dotted drawings which also incorporates elements found in Exquisite Corpses; several of the best examples from the Golden Age of Surrealism feature Valentine as a collaborator.