Colorfully erotic paintings popped against the walls of Voss Gallery’s [The Down Low] as champagne flowed and patrons chattered excitedly. From the tangible buzz in the room, it was clear that Russian artist Natalia Lvova’s “Confections” opening reception Feb. 15 was both a smashing success and a definite conversation starter.
For Lvova, the exhibit seemed like a dramatic departure from her previous themes. As seen in her past “Reverie” exhibit, which featured spiral mandalas and vibrantly abstract hearts, Lvova is known for eccentric yet relatively innocent subjects. In “Confections,” however, Lvova delves into sexual imagery and focuses on a unique, often overlooked topic in art: the feminine gaze. Each piece prioritizes the feminine perspective and envisions women’s pleasures rather than those of traditionally sexually dominant men.
In “Decadent Dessert,” for example, Lvova makes cunnilingus the focal point of the piece. The woman, looking directly at the viewer, commands the top half of the painting, highlighting her confidence and control over the situation. Lvova delegates the bottom half to the man performing oral sex, as he looks downward and concentrates on pleasuring his partner. The positioning of the woman’s hands intensifies the piece’s sensuality, as one hand supports her thigh while the other grasps the man’s hair to pull him closer. The use of color vivaciously emphasizes the woman’s curves, the coral coloring of her legs juxtaposed against the cooler indigo tones.
The exhibit’s most novel piece is “Classic Banana Split,” which showcases food as a sexual object in an extremely inventive manner. Lvova depicts a long-haired woman using a banana-shaped sex toy for anal sex; the subject’s slightly turned profile follows the arc of her hand as she firmly clutches the sex toy, creating a sense of tension and magnetism. Her lips’ hot pink tones match the pinkness of her partner’s vulva, forming a visual parallel between the two and heightening the moment’s sense of desire.
Color and shape are also used in “Krispy Kreme Doughnut” to communicate the intimacy between partners during anal stimulation. The scene’s angle is bold and creative, with the woman giving pleasure foregrounding the piece and her partner’s rear centralizing the composition. Lvova illustrates dreamy, otherworldly pleasure through her use of blues, turquoises and greens, which break the norm of using warm tones in sensual scenes. The foregrounded woman’s painted fingernails add a playful touch and highlight her grasp on her partner’s body. The juxtaposition between Lvova’s swirly motifs, crisp lines and feminine curves all culminate to form a visually engaging, stimulating atmosphere.
“Strawberries Arnaud” is a solo piece that features self-pleasure from a strikingly dynamic perspective. A woman’s backside foregrounds the composition; her spine undulates to reveal her naturally voluptuous figure. Lvova plays with alternating lime green, golden yellow and sky blue to accentuate the muscles of her subject’s hand, producing a pulsing, visceral moment. The piece’s title refers to a luxurious dessert comprised of wine-soaked strawberries and whipped cream, suggesting that masturbation is the ultimate treat. The piece’s unconventionality is refreshing, as it is often uncommon, even taboo, to see masturbation depicted in fine art.
The exhibit as a whole is an ode to women’s bodies, the piece “Pavlova Dessert” painting breasts as delicate and artful in psychedelic hues. The “Macaron” pieces present breasts in different colors and shapes. To drive Lvova’s point home, pieces like “Lollipop” delicately appreciate the vulva’s subtle contours.
In “Confections,” Lvova provides a sumptuous feast for the senses while redefining what it means to paint sexual subjects. Her eroticism is all-encompassing yet extremely aware of the bodies it portrays, forgoing ravenous lust for natural pleasure and delight in sync with many different types of intimacy, both straight-presenting and queer. Through “Confections,” Lvova invites viewers to explore sex positivity in many unfolding layers, demonstrating the multidimensionality of sexuality and enjoyment.