Sex sells and titillates. Art ponders and questions. The twain, theoretically, meet in that fuzzy realm called "erotic art." In a sense, calling it that taints the enterprise, leading us into the temptation to interpret in a certain direction, without letting the art speak on its own terms.
It's hard, though, to get lost in a quibble when visiting "Bashful Bill's Erotic Art Show," the frothy and enjoyable assembly now at the G. Childress Gallery in Ojai.
To start with, the show's title tips us off to a certain levity at play here. It's a suspicion confirmed on first impression: the gallery's windows have been covered in brown paper--the proverbial "plain brown wrapper" effect.
Inside, strains of humor enter the exhibitional picture on a regular basis and in varying degrees.
The large vessel by Jennifer Moses and Robert Hanna, winkingly titled "Sex Pot," appears to be made of rough clay but is actually concrete. A cursory glance reveals nothing unusual, until you closely inspect the wriggling forms fashioned in relief around the perimeter, where bodies and parts thereof are revealed in various positions.
Still, it's subtle enough not to offend.
With her installation, coyly placed in a corner, Jan Sanchez creates an atmosphere that begs to be read into. "Tickle Me With a Feather" combines a painting of a nude on the wall behind a folding screen draped with black lingerie, moodily lighted.
Hidden behind the screen is a chair wrapped in black tape, hinting at activity outside the conventional parameters of love.
Sylvia Raz is out to tinker with biblical archetypes in "Adam and Eve and the Snake," in which the original couple are less-than-ideal examples of male and female form.
Rather, they are homely looking sculptural figures, their bodies made from furniture parts, with lathed table legs and other hunks of wood indicating genitalia.
The snake, meanwhile, sports a knowing, lip-smacking grin.
When the wide-open arena of eroticism is stated as such in an art show, minds tend to reach further than they normally would. Karen Lewis' "Reverie" is a nicely rendered pastel of a reclining nude, but she seems poised on a fine line between reverie of a natural sort and something more.
Gretchen Greenburg has shown her often writhing, cylindrical wooden sculptures here before, but suddenly in this context, the phallic suggestion is plain to see.
Nancy Whitman's subtle splash of pastel hues in "Not So Secret Garden" is characteristic of her eye-pleasing post-Bonnard palette, but with a voyeuristic twist, a man peering from behind bushes at a pink, fleshy nude.
There is something sexually allusive in Richard Niles' "Tantra #4," with its puzzle-like, intersecting fragments of anatomy.
Though the fragments, or their nature of interaction, are not always instantly identifiable, the work exudes a sense of Cubist carnality.
There are a few fine photographs here, as well, including one of Bob Debris' irony-clad color portraits of a couple lounging in his gaudily outfitted mobile studio. Robert Hale's "Shay" depicts an arch-backed, semi-clad woman, resplendent in sensuousness.
And Mary Kennedy takes the idea of sublimating erotic material into an area of comic relief, in which a triptych of chair photographs becomes an all-too-clear portrayal of sexual union.
Sometimes, discretion wins out over more overt gestures.
With her portraits of nudes and figures in other natural states, Carmen Abeleira-White expresses more of a folk-art-like charm in her work.
Eroticism per se is not an issue so much as a naked expression of human kindness. That represents a sensual attitude on its own terms, where Eros may or may not choose to visit.
"Bashful Bill's Erotic Art Show," through July 30 at G. Childress Gallery, 319 E. Roblar in Ojai. Hours: Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; 640-1387.
Josef Woodard, who writes about art and music, can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.