This is the last of three conversations with the most-visited illustrator on the honesterotica website, Lynn Paula Russell, a reflection of the enduring relevance of her work. It’s all too easy to forget that the artists featured on the website are (or mostly were!) real people, with lives, loves, imaginations, hopes and fears, challenges and achievements.
So it’s a real privilege for us – and for you – that Paula has honoured us with a series of exclusive blog-style interviews in which we can learn about some of the ideas, inspirations and themes that go to make such a great and perennially popular erotic illustrator.
Paula has even created a new self-portrait of herself to accompany these interviews, so here she is. Thank you Paula!
What do you think brought about the demise of Janus, Februs and the Erotic Print Society?
There’s an obvious answer to that – the internet and (dare I say it!) websites like this. Of course, things are different now, and it’s helpful for artists whose work may no longer be in print to have their work available on well-designed and researched sites such as honesterotica, but around the middle of the first decade of the new century EPS started to struggle. Their books were expensive to produce and distribute, so you can imagine their exasperation when they saw websites that had scanned everything, without permission, and made it all available for the world to see for free. It meant that, however successful the book, there would never be any reprints. Instead the illustrations were viewed online and the artist got no royalties, so there was no impetus for new work to be commissioned and our careers faltered. We had to set up our own websites and begin to think differently.
But there are other aspects too – with the growth of the internet things changed at an alarming rate. Janus was catering to an older generation of CP enthusiasts, and it had traditional rules that had to be observed. It’s true that Februs specialised in a more female-friendly approach, but this is now completely out of step with the ‘me too’ generation. Of course it always was portraying an unpopular point of view that appeared to be undermining feminism. This never worried me. I was doing my own thing and knew I needed to explore submissiveness in order to understand it. But imagine my surprise, many years later, when Fifty Shades of Grey hit the bookshelves and was such a hit that women were buying it with their groceries at Sainsbury’s!
When Februs folded in 2004, I was exhausted and quite happy to give myself a break and change direction. Everyone has to adjust to the prevailing circumstances. I love the internet and I use the latest technology; couldn’t do without it now, but I still prefer reading actual books and painting and drawing with actual brushes and pencils.
Have your ideas changed much over the last twenty years?
Yes, my views have changed quite a bit since the demise of Februs. Suddenly the pressure was off, and I could start to review my attitudes. During the exciting and very active years of the eighties and nineties I had been under the impression that, if men and women could free themselves from taboos, they could take their pleasure in the same way. But now I think that women, on the whole, because of the way we are made, do experience sex in a way that is more linked to the emotions than men – not all men, of course.
Perhaps I had been inclined to suppress my feelings in the pursuit of adventure. The other day I came across an old interview I did in the eighties. The young me said, ‘I was consciously trying to discover what sex was when it is completely separated from love’. How odd that sounds! No doubt it was a rebellion against the prevailing view that no decent woman could possibly enter into a sexual liaison unless she was deeply in love. This didn’t mean I wasn’t looking for love – everybody needs love – but I wanted to learn to make the distinction in my relationships between lust and love.
Now I know that aim was destined to fail – you can’t separate sex from feelings without losing a vital ingredient. After all – what is eros? We shouldn’t be controlled by our moods and emotions, but at the same time they must never be ignored. And it certainly isn’t wise to seek to transcend all inhibitions – some of them are there for a good reason!
Reflecting on the commercial world of erotic films in the light of these realisations, I can now see that whenever something becomes a lucrative industry it automatically starts imposing a formula and then the creativity and enjoyment goes out of it. The whole business becomes a sort of factory, churning out more of the same. Besides, I was being naive to imagine that anything involving real sex could possibly be an art form. We are making impossible demands on actors, expecting them to be convincing in a role at the same time as ‘performing’ sex for real. This is a misuse of the sex drive, and it goes against the natural inclinations of most human beings, so they are bound to feel used over time. I recall that hilarious scene in Woody Allen’s film ‘Sleeper’, where Diane Keaton invites him into the Orgasmatron to ‘perform’ sex with her. What could be more off-putting?
How has getting older and becoming more mature influenced your thoughts about what older people can usefully learn and experiment with in the area of intimacy and the life erotic?
That’s a difficult question, and I’m not really the person to answer it. Now, being older, other concerns have come to the forefront. In my younger days I was often swept away on a tide of sensuality that was generated by someone’s physical vibes. It was such a powerful thing that it completely overrode what was happening on the mind level. Nowadays that situation has been reversed. It has become more important to find a sympathetic mind than a compatible body. In fact I might say now that love and understanding are all that matters.
Our needs and desires change at different times of our life. I don’t feel the same need for physical intimacy now, although there are times when I would love to have those hormone-driven energy boosts again. I keep reminding myself that new phases bring new possibilities. I remember a male friend telling me once how testosterone acts as a sort of poison which interferes with the brain functioning of young men. He said he was relieved to be able to think more clearly now he was in his later years. This made me smile at the time, but I guess to a certain extent it must be true for women too. We all do mad things when we’re younger, and for a while our sense of proportion is thrown to the wind.
So we get older, and we lose that overriding passion, but to compensate we now have the possibility of greater balance and clarity. And since the libido is still there, the flame can always be coaxed back into life again when the right people come together – but the emphasis has to be on tenderness and reassurance rather than gratification.
In many of the stories I illustrated for Janus and Februs the dominant characters were frequently middle-aged or older. They reflected the fantasies that readers requested, usually because they were recalling their far-off schools days with a disciplinarian teacher. I have to admit that there was a humorous element in many of these scenes, particularly the ones set in the Victorian era.
Older people have more self-control and experience. I see no reason why erotic role-play should not continue into later years, provided both parties still have a desire for it. When you keep exercising a muscle it retains its flexibility. But of course there is often the problem that women’s needs can change radically, and the spanking that once brought an ‘Aaaah’ of exquisite delight might now elicit a painful ‘Ouch!’ that has about as much to do with erotic pleasure as stubbing your toe!
I do recall meeting a lady in her early sixties who suddenly discovered a passion for being spanked, but she was very unusual. She told me that she had been trapped in a stifling marriage for years, and after her divorce the need for spanking just burst out spontaneously in her fantasies. She had gone in search of experience and found a new partner, and a wonderful release from her frustrations. Erotic relationships in later life need to be flexible and caring – we all have a lot of history behind us, and must treat each other with special understanding. Sex has a quite different role to play at this time.
While we’re on this subject, I must mention an artist whose work I discovered on honesterotica. His name is Georges Delfau – at least that’s the pseudonym he uses. His real identity remains a mystery. But whoever he was, he was a brilliant artist and his work is utterly alive and immediate. The models are certainly not glamorous – they are people of all shapes and sizes. In fact, some of the women are exceedingly large and fleshy. The unusual thing is that they are all distinctly middle-aged, yet still pulsating with an uncontrollable lust, made all the more preposterous by their resemblance to the respectable old aunties and uncles of our youth! If Bertie Wooster could have known what his Aunt Agatha really got up to …
Where does your inspiration come from now?
Inspiration still comes from the same place, but the emphasis has shifted. Over the last fifteen years I have been less concerned with drawing explicit scenes. Whips, pain and severity no longer feature so strongly in my work, perhaps because my own personal fantasies have been well and truly satisfied.
I wanted to create new Bodyscapes, focus more on the feminine, and have a closer look at nature. I began to study colour therapy, and extend my knowledge of Tarot symbolism. This opened up a whole new area of research into spirituality and esoteric subjects, and I found a limitless supply of inspiration there, which may sound surprising but it is not as incompatible as it might seem. To me these are all a natural extension of the same subject – what is the human experience all about? What is the powerful force that flows through all living things?
This new departure led to the creation of an extremely unusual erotic Tarot deck. The aim originally was to get it out into the world, but now it seems more important to hang on to it until the right publisher comes along. I think a limited edition will be the right way forward.
Over the last fifteen years most of my work has come from commissions. I have designed numerous bookplates for private collectors. This was a world I knew nothing about. Who these days thinks of commissioning their own little bookplate to paste into the frontispiece of a cherished book? Now collectors go to world-wide Ex Libris gatherings where they buy, sell or swap to enhance their own collections. As far as I know, no one puts them into actual books any more.
Purely for myself, I have chosen to paint women in an almost mythical setting – sometimes floating in the air, as I sometimes do in dreams. Trees have always turned me on, as I think has been reflected in a lot of my work to date. Any excuse and I bring a tree into the scene! More recently I have started to paint portraits of actual trees in my area. Some of the older specimens have a powerful presence, and I try to show my personal connection with them as well as revealing their radiance and majesty.
Thank you for asking me to contribute these thoughts to the honesterotica blog. I have enjoyed this opportunity to revisit the old days and look at them from a new perspective. It is very satisfying to know that my work still has relevance, and continues to bring pleasure to so many!
If you are interested in acquiring original Lynn Paula Russell drawings or paintings, the place to go is Talisman Fine Art (www.talisman-fine-art.com). There you will find an excellent selection of Paula’s recent work in the Contemporary Art section. Many of her Februs and other erotic drawings are also available from Talisman, all original and signed; you can contact Talisman by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) for details of what is available. Talisman specialises in art by many artists – erotic, imaginative, mystical and illustrative – so even if you’re not particularly looking to buy anything it’s well worth a visit.