A Nice Conversation with the Founder of honesterotica
Marijn Kruijff
8 min

A Nice Conversation with the Founder of honesterotica

8 min

In the world of erotic art there aren’t that many inspiring online resources. One of the rare exceptions is honesterotica. This site that is solely dedicated to the art of the finest erotic illustrators of past and present offers extensive portfolio’s of the artist’s work including interesting background.

Honesterotica is a project started by the ‘retired’ English publisher John (his alter ego on Twitter is Honest Rosie) and this week we questioned him about his motivations and passion behind the site…

john founder of Honest Erotica

Founder of honesterotica

What was the thinking behind honesterotica, and why and how did you start it?

My work background has been in two areas – one is publishing, mostly of large illustrated books, and the other is therapeutic groupwork, much of which is working with relationship and gender issues. This powerful combination of a fascination with illustration and an in-depth exploration of intimate relating, along with quite a strong collecting instinct and an interest in social and cultural history, almost inevitably led to thinking about where to put my energies after my ‘retirement’ three years ago.

Le petit chaperon rouge by Rojan

Le Petit Chaperon Rouge (The Little Red Hood)‘ (1930) by Rojan  (Source honesterotica)

I’ve always been very aware that while there are all sorts of online resources, the documentation of erotic imagery is virtually non-existent, with interesting images scattered randomly across websites, blogs, Pinterest and Flickr. I always wanted to know more about erotic artists and their work, and to see more of what they had produced.

So, I thought, if it doesn’t exist already, then maybe I should create it. I spent a lot of time thinking about how best to organise the material, and especially how to make the website attractive, easy to navigate, flexible and futureproof, and was fortunate to find an experienced and enthusiastic website designer. We worked closely together to design the framework of artist profiles and portfolios, the blog and the questionnaire.

paula Russell,the story of O

The Story of O‘ (1997) by Paula Russell (Source honesterotica)

Three years into the project I am very pleased with what we have achieved. The site now includes more than 150 artists and 600 portfolios, with around 16,000 images. It’s visited by around 400 people every day, and we have nearly 6,000 Twitter followers. I’m particularly pleased that artists and academics regularly get in touch too; it really has earned its place as the world’s leading resource for erotic illustration.

albert dubout La Muse Libertine

La Muse Libertine‘ (1957) by Albert Dubout (Source: honesterotica)

How do you decide what to include (and what not to)?

Because there is so much material that could be included, it’s important to have a clear idea about the criteria for inclusion. In many ways it’s easiest to say what I don’t include – I’m not very interested in unimaginative, repetitive and derivative work, especially if it’s just naked women in stereotyped poses. So no pin-ups or kitsch ‘girlie’ artwork. I don’t include extreme sexual violence, especially involving the degradation and humiliation of women; there’s far too much of that both in real life and in second-rate artwork.

So what are the criteria for inclusion? It is of course largely a matter of personal judgement, but it comes down to quality, imagination, originality, and personal experience and involvement in the erotic side of being human and an artist. Above all, it’s this ‘honest’ element of honesterotica that guides my decisions about what to include and what not to; I’m interested in integrity, respect, variety and mutuality. If there’s a dash of humour and real pleasure that always helps too.

albert dubout Docteur Besançon

Docteur Besançon‘ (1966) by Albert Dubout (Source: honesterotica)

How do you manage to compile such extensive and comprehensive portfolios?

Patience, perseverance, and a growing network of contributors. As you know, as many of the portfolios on the website as possible are both complete and (in online terms) high quality. This means a great deal of work has gone into scanning and processing the images on the site, not just ‘harvesting’ them from the internet as so many sites do. I believe that both the artists and the visitors to the website deserve the best quality we can produce, both in the imagery and in the accompanying biographies and portfolio descriptions.

Now that the website is well-established, a growing network of contributors send new material to me, including several collectors who have been collecting for many years. This has made it possible to include many of the most important – and therefore rarest – of the erotic portfolios of the last hundred years.

marcel vertes Le pays à mon goût

From the series ‘Le pays à mon goût‘ (1921) by Marcel Vertès (Source: honesterotica)

Who are your favorite artists?

What a difficult question! An important inspiration was exploring what women artists have brought to erotic illustration over the years, so Gerda Wegener and Clara Tice, Suzanne Ballivet and Toyen, Leonor Fini and Paula Russell, Nicole Claveloux and Apollonia Saintclair, Betty Dodson and Melinda Gebbie are all inspiring trailblazers. Of the men, then it has to include Marcel Vertès, Rojan, Jean Dulac, Frans de Geetere and Albert Dubout.

melinda gebbie lost girls

From the graphic novel ‘Lost Girls‘ (2006) by Melinda Gebbie (Photo honesterotica)

And if I can only have one, then maybe I’d choose either Suzanne Ballivet’s Initiation amoureuse or Jean Dulac’s Nous deux. Why? Because they are gems of illustrative technique and honest portrayals of a tender and loving sexual exploration.

Jean Dulac’s Nous deux

Nous deux‘ (1929) by Jean Dulac (Source: honesterotica)

Do you collect art as well as curating the website?

To an extent, though sadly much of the best work is now so expensive as to be out of reach to anyone who doesn’t have deep pockets. Over the last ten years or so I have put together a library of portfolios and illustrated books from many of the artists included on the site, and (surprise surprise) I regularly check eBay, Catawiki and Abe for interesting material.

Suzanne Ballivet. Initiation amoureuse.

Initiation amoureuse‘ (1950) by Suzanne Ballivet

But it is a pity that so much wonderful material is hidden away from view in the private collections of people who collect as much for investment as for a love of art, not to mention the collections in museums like the Städel in Frankfurt and the Hermitage in St Petersberg which never see the light of day.

nicole claveloux Contes de la fève et du gland

Contes de la fève et du gland‘ (2010) by Nicole Claveloux (Source: honesterotica)

How much do you know about shunga and related schools of art?

An early decision about what to include on the honesterotica website was that I would concentrate on western art, mostly because I know so little about it and partly because others (including Shunga Gallery) cover it so well.

When I presented honesterotica at the first London Erotic Art Exhibition in 2017 I was fortunate to meet and talk with Bob Bentley, the author of Shunga + Bijinga = Erotica and The Pleasure of Rope: Exploring the Japanese Art of Kinbaku, who shared with me his passion for both artforms. In their own ways, both books make fascinating reading.

There is much in Japanese erotic art that artists can learn from, and lovers of erotica enjoy, so I’m very much open to featuring imaginative and talented western artists developing fusion styles.

Apollonia Saintclair red death

The Red Death‘ (2020) by Apollonia Saintclair

What are your future plans for honesterotica?

Sometimes I think that there is a natural (though slightly flexible) limit to appropriate new material for the site. At the moment I maintain a list of around fifty portfolios from around thirty artists to add, but what regularly happens is that someone will draw my attention to something I hadn’t seen before. As far as the blog and the ‘themes and topics’ sections are concerned, there are always new subjects lurking!

melinda gebbie lion

From the graphic novel ‘Lost Girls‘ (2006) by Melinda Gebbie (Photo honesterotica)

Soon I shall add a new blog post on internet censorship and what it means for erotic illustration, written by Hans-Jürgen Döpp. Other subjects I would like to explore include

· Why is it that French writers, thinkers and illustrators dominate the genre? Is there really ‘un exception française’ – a uniquely ‘French exceptionalism’?

· How should artists and illustrators handle the delicate subject of children and sexuality?

· The role of illustration in good sex and relationships education.

· What does feminist erotic illustration look like?

· Does the visual imagination of extreme eroticism foster exploitation or mitigate it?

I’m hoping that once we get past current virus restrictions the next London Erotic Art Exhibition will happen in 2021, where I’ll be giving presentations again, including one on the value and importance of transgressive illustration.

Leonor Fini juliette

Juliette‘ (1945) by Leonor Fini (Source: honesterotica)

And I’m always keen to hear about and explore new artists and images. More than ever at the moment the world needs clear and imaginative inspiration about what really matters, especially what stimulates, enlivens and connects us.

Thanks a lot for sharing your insightful thoughts John!

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