How I Found Myself As An Artist And Woman Through Painting Naked Ladies

Photo: Dori Hartley
How I Found Myself As An Artist And Woman Through Painting Naked Ladies

I suppose if I’m to describe what it’s like to be liberated by my own erotic art and nude paintings, I’d have to go over three basic ideas with you in order for you to understand just how intense this all is for me:

1. What it’s like to be a woman

2. What it’s like to be an artist

3. What erotic art means to each individual

As a woman, I’ve taken the blows — all of ‘em. I’ve seen a lifetime of great and a lifetime of tragic. Because I was one of the pioneers who created the Rocky Horror Picture Show cult (I’ve been called “Patient Zero of Cosplay”), I’ve been celebrated (half nude) on the covers and centerfolds of magazines. As an artist, I’ve sold several paintings to the Queen of England, and as a musician I gained success on the TV show, The Sopranos.

As a cancer survivor who knows what it’s like to hear the words, “We’re going to cut your breast off,” I got to experience rejection in lethal doses by a world of men that reject anything that isn’t young, firm and “perfect.” I am so imperfect, it’s beautiful. And baby, I am beautiful — with the scars to prove it.

Credit: Author

So, I’ve "done" cancer, been raped, been beaten, punched, drugged, ripped at, ripped off and thrown out like trash. I've been left for dead, betrayed to an almost inhumanly cruel degree, and I've been told I would have been better off if I just died of cancer rather than burden anyone further with my battle-torn female ugliness.

Yeah, that’s the kind of stuff that can either turn you into a stone cold iceberg, or a psycho killer. Or ... a better artist.

Credit: Author

If you’re an artist, you can channel that angst, fear and pain into great things; you just have to listen to that inner voice and let it guide you into those better places. Art is the space where better places happen. And in those better places, one can design for themselves entire new lives, because the power of the mind is the power behind art; imagination is limitless, and artists know no boundaries when they allow themselves the full brunt of this gift, this ability to create worlds.

RELATED: 12 Signs Of Low Self-Esteem & How It Affects Your Quality Of Life

So, between being a woman who grew up in a society where being a woman is just rife with mixed messages (You’re too fat — Love your body! You’re too old —  Age is only a number! Men want young ass, slender legs and perfect boobs — Love yourself as you are!) and a woman who feels she was a super fox in her youth, I was consistently looking for a place I could find home — a place where "people" like me could exist happily.

Finding that place came as a surprise, but I found solace and completion in the creating of erotic art and nude paintings — namely females. Yes, this heterosexual woman with no interest in sex with women has found remarkable joy in the incredible rendering of sexy, sexual images of the naked female form, and I don’t mean life drawings. I mean sexy, old-time Playboy Bunny kitschy types of poses. Vargas meets Frida Kahlo, that’s me.

Credit: Author

Back in the day, when I was still licking my wounds over how my life got so weirdly filled with self-hate and severe life lessons, I threw myself into erotic writing and art, except the only thing I ever could write about or paint were gorgeous young men. I had them in bed together, tearing each other apart, enjoying the most sordid of sexual acts, all in perfect beauty, and all without a single female mention anywhere in sight.

I ignored women because I was ignored. I made women invisible because I saw that that was how the world perceived me: invisible. And through the magic of impossibly beautiful erotic drawings of men being sexual, magnificent and powerful, I was able to vicariously live through them.

That's where I found my power: in invisibility. And guess what? It actually sucked to have to go about it that way. I had taken myself to a place where I no longer existed at all; I was merely a producer of art.

Imagine not having your body in the way of all those sexual fantasies. That’s how I felt. Get "me" out of the picture so I can actually enjoy the idea of sex and sexually titillating art. Get that ugly, rejected, older, unwanted woman out of all that gorgeousness — that's what I wanted.

Funny, when I was a teen, I was a raving sex maniac. I totally believed in the power of my bodacious young woman’s body. I saw its effect on men and I loved it... until, well, until life happened. Until I betrayed my own self by forgetting to believe in who I was as a physical presence.

I threw myself so much into my art that I basically disappeared into it. That was wonderful, for a while, until I realized that all I was doing was denying my own sexuality.

Credit: Author

Art is sexual. It’s the act of creation, so to the dedicated (and crazy) artist, even dipping a paintbrush into a deep crimson medium is similar to foreplay. But art is also so very, very powerful that if the artists lose themselves in the art, they can also lose their sense of being human.

Compulsive artists, like myself, live to create, and we make the act of creation last and last. But at the end of the day, it’s still not as snuggly to crawl into bed with a painting as it is to feel the warmth of a lovely male body next to me — or better, to have his touch — for real, and not in the form of art.

How people react to erotic art is individual; some see the art; some, the artist. Some are offended, some think it's hot and call it “porn.” Some find it a turn-on, a users manual, while others go all-out "puritanical hypocrite." Some like it in comic book form, and some prefer their erotic art ancient, like the kama sutra.

Some dig the fleshy abandon of it all, while others like their naked subjects to sit still and just bask in the sunlight coming in through the window, as in some classical painting. And I’m not talking about photographic images; I’m talking paint.

Credit: Author

I started a series of illustrations called The Incubus and His Dreamer. All steamy drawings of a metaphysical couple in the throes of supernatural love. As soon as I drew her boobs, I "felt" things. It was as if I had to confront everything I’d ever rejected; women’s bodies are gorgeous, heavenly.

RELATED: 4 Body Language Hacks To Help You Feel Wicked Confident

And because I had been roughed up a bit by life, I saw that I had shut down my love for the female form — meaning, I had sucked up into my own self-hate. I would either have to save myself or sink into the mire of denial as a lifestyle.

Credit: Author

So, what did I “feel” as I drew her boobs? I felt a deep, sensuous love and an appreciation for my own body. I was turned on immensely, painting shapely breasts and nipples, or the dark fur on a vagina — yes, a peekaboo vagina that you can actually see. When I would sketch out a tiny waistline matched by lovely, wide hips, I would be jolted into the realization that women are quite possibly the most beautiful creatures in existence. And... I am one.

That’s the kicker: the bodies I paint, I don’t refer to anyone; I refer to a memory of my own body. I am the sex kitten in all my paintings. And yes, while I may not be all that and a bag of chips in real life, in art, I am the sexiest, most voluptuous, most scintillatingly sensuous she-devil that’s ever lived.

And after that, what matters? The healing is done, I am now the bride of Satan, in all her glory. 

Credit: Author

Every time I paint a naked lady, I trash my old belief system. No longer do I compare myself to women whom I believe to be more attractive than I am, and therefore I somehow feel threatened because of it, no more. No longer do I wonder what next will ruin things for me, no more — nothing ruins anything for me, anymore, for I am that thing of beauty, that risen spectacle of lust in female form.

I've always said that being an artist is like being a god, and coupled with the experience of owning one's body, in the name of lust and art, that brings an odd touch to the completion. Art saves the day. This great gift, this gift that I am so very grateful for, allows me to make a bridge between coming to terms with my she-beast nature and actually visualizing her, as me, in art. Click.

What really changed for me was my own stance. What healed me from a life of accepting less than what I required was my ability to understand that through art, I could once again be the star. And through art, I could once again come to know that I was indeed sexually immortal and that in paintings, I could take back ALL my power and finally live as the woman I was always meant to be.

I found hella freedom in the creation of erotic art. And because I see myself as I create myself, I act in accordance in real life. 

RELATED: 3 Signs That It's Time To Kiss Your Low Self-Esteem GOODBYE

Dori Hartley is primarily a portrait artist. As an essayist and a journalist, she can be read in The Huffington Post, ParentDishYourTango, The Daily Beast, Psychology Today, More Magazine, XOJaneMyDaily and The Stir. Her art books ‘Beauty’, ‘Antler Velvet’, and 'Mads Mikkelsen: Portraits of the Actor' are all available on Amazon.