A local artist’s work fits right in at Camouflage
Some art is made for gallery walls. It hangs unabashedly on vast expanses of white, unaffected by the emptiness of the space, as if it were designed to sit quietly in a row of other paintings. This is not the case with the erotic artwork of Abbie Rabinowitz.
Rabinowitz’s erotica belongs in the cozy comforts of someone’s home, hung over a couple’s bed, or, as she has recently discovered, on the walls of a sex shop: A selection of her erotic paintings, woodcarvings and thangkas recently found new life through exhibition at Camouflage, an adult sex store in Downtown Santa Cruz.
Erotica is one of Rabinowitz’s oldest and most developed styles. Inspired by Picasso’s erotic series, she began painting sexually charged pieces in her early twenties as a way to express her own experiences. Today, she still finds herself returning to eroticism to process her personal life, but also uses it to capture larger, universal realties of sexuality. “It’s a theme I go back to because it’s such a part of all of our lives,” she says. “It’s a basic, primal, emotional experience.”
In her 35 years of painting, Rabinowitz has grown an extensive resume of gallery exhibitions, but the shows have almost always featured her other, less steamy signature styles, like plein air landscapes, which she has been doing since she was a child growing up in rural Connecticut. In all those years, Rabinowitz rarely saw her erotica hung in public.
Even with Camouflage, she worried that some of the pieces were “too racy” and was dubious about including them. “But they wanted them and were really positive [about them],” she says of the storeowners. “Everything feels right in here. This is the kind of place my artwork should be hung, rather than on a gallery wall where it is kind of out of its element. [Here] it makes more sense and is more playful.”
Ambling through the store one November afternoon, Rabinowitz pauses at each piece to muse about its origins and significances. There is “Dancing Ganesha,” a fun, flowing depiction of the Hindu deity dancing in the nude, one of her many tributes to ancient Hindu and tantric art. There are also the more personal works, like a set of sex-on-the-couch paintings from when she was 23 and living in Paris with her Brazilian boyfriend, and “3 a.m.,” a rendering of two women, limbs entangled and entwined in a passionate kiss.
Through the tunnel (a rainbow of boas temporarily home to Rabinowitz’s “Cockeyed Susan”), past the pasties, massage oils and cock-shaped cupcake molds, we enter into the store’s 18 and up backroom where the more provocative of her art is hung. Most notable is “Bonobo Bliss,” a part of a series that captures the sexual escapades of the species known for casual sexual practices and a peaceful, loving society. The painting shows a pair of smiley chimps engaging in felatio (a part of the bonobo repertoire), and is appropriately placed in the middle of a large patchwork of dildos and vibrators. “Surrounded by these toys it gives [the piece] this habitat that works so well,” says Rabinowitz. “This art has found its environment.”
Both Camouflage and Rabinowitz are on a sex positive mission to promote the natural, beautiful and empowering qualities of sex and sexuality—for Rabinowitz, it’s by presenting it as sensual, primal, loving, spiritual and even humorous, but never graphic, distasteful or negative.
“There is so much negativity attached to our sexuality, and to me this,” she says, surveying her art and the store it has nested in, “this is beautiful.”
Abbie Rabinowitz’s work will be at Camouflage through Dec. 3. Visit abbierabinowitz.com.