John Graham, an Australian artist based in Melbourne, uses vivid colours and energetic lines to create a psychedelic landscape, in which his female nudes dominate. Joined by wild animals, swarms of bees, giant spiders and skulls, Graham’s woman is depicted as Mother Nature and a protector against Man. His work is inspired by Mamawater, the African goddess who drowns soldiers who disrespect the environment around them.
In Camille Paglia’s book, Sexual Personae, she compares the depiction of femme fatales to man’s attempt to control Mother Nature. That is, men have a primeval fear of Mother Nature – and therefore women – because she gave life to him and can take it away. She argues that men try to control and suppress female sexuality by demonising it. But just like nature, sex can’t be controlled by social or moral constraints. The freedom and sexual prowess that Paglia discusses in her book is found in John Graham’s art.
In a world where hardcore porn is easily accessed but showing the female nipple on Instagram will get you banned, Graham manages to shift the power back to the female body. The models in his work are self-aware: they pose nude with cameras and tower over us, presenting their genitalia. Not only are his models aware of the male gaze but they command it and the voyeuristic nature of his work invites us to witness what feels like an acid-fuelled sex dream.
Voyeurism is just one of the many perversions that Graham explores within his work. He describes himself as an artist with ‘no artistic morality’, which allows him to push boundaries and has the ability to both shock and tantalise. John Graham is a multi-disciplinary artist with a relentless body of work. If you take a look at his extensive portfolio, you will find something to excite you: euphoric hearts move across the page in an ecstasy filled excitement; penises nailed to a cross in defiance of the church and cartoons that pack a political punch, including politicians defecating on each other. He even taps into the current zeitgeist of American politics and draws Trump as a fat ticking time bomb.
What started your journey into art?
My drawing talent was first recognised at kinder, I guess. I was 4 and the teacher warned my mother she had an artist. I’m self-taught but attended Art school briefly – there I learned to make a stretcher, waste afternoons in the pub and the joy of life drawing.
What interests you about the female nude?
What I love about erotic drawings/paintings is the loaded power of what a few lines can suggest. The naked body can trigger outrage, disgust and repugnance in some but can fire lust, eros, and desire in others. I find it amazing how a few lines can suggest so much feeling in an artwork’s audience.
What draws you to explore the themes in your work?
Five years ago I wanted to broaden my artistic approach. At the time I was painting feral cats and elemental landscapes. An adventurous artist, I tire of doing the same themes and subject over years. I started a series: 2 nudes and a self-portrait a day and the project grew exponentially. I want to create an unknown massive body of work – the kind discovered after one is found dead on the studio floor and the cleaners are shovelling life’s detritus into an overflowing skip.
The self-portrait and nude are at the core of the first forms of art that broke from the conventions of the church and state. The sex, the skulls, and the water-sports are the outcome of working consistently on a theme for 5 years and the production of thousands of works meant that sooner or later I examined every possible permutation of nude. I know no artistic morality, so I explore whatever perversion or variation I can imagine.
What’s the idea behind the animal heads/hybrids? Is in an exploration of sex as a primitive act?
Many of these works look to the female as the nature spirit— the ruler of the other world. That is, not the world man creates of nuts and bolts, but the world of want, passion, of nature and nurture, fecundity, the violence of a storm, of a flood that we cannot control.
There’s an exhibitionist element to your work (especially the selfie drawings). What kind of woman do you like to draw?
I draw from life, from imagination, from the Internet and from photographs – whatever kick starts an idea. I like to work in series until imagination dies and another theme bubbles up. But the selfie or the nude selfie that one finds on the Internet, is a theme I’ve always been drawn to since it covers so many of the preoccupations of Art by turning whoever takes a selfie into an Artist.
If you could draw anyone – living or dead – who would it be?
Peggy Guggenheim, the rich benefactor who collected and promoted so many artists onto the walls of the greatest galleries and museums in the world and bedded nearly every single one – a true muse!