Conversations with Paula, Part 1

As many of you will already be aware, by far the most-visited artist on the honesterotica website is Lynn Paula Russell. 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 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 things 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!

We wonder how you feel about Lynn Paula Russell being the most popular illustrator in a resource which includes a hundred other talented artists, and why you think that might be. Is it rewarding, puzzling, intriguing?

When you first told me this I was astonished. But of course, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t gratified and delighted. As to why this is the case, my first thought is that maybe it has something to do with my personal involvement and honesty.

Looking back at the Paula Meadows/Lynn Paula Russell years, is there anything from that time that you definitely wouldn’t have done if you’d known what you know now?

We all do the things we felt driven to do at the time. Taking risks and making mistakes is how we learn. Of course there will be times when we look back and wonder, ‘How could I have allowed that to happen?’ When we’re young we act from a limited knowledge of the way the world actually functions. Perhaps I was foolishly idealistic. Sex and power are very much intertwined, and when we don’t know that we can expose ourselves to dangers without realising it.

One of the most anguished periods of my life involved a brush with one of the tabloid newspapers. It wasn’t me they wanted to expose – I had nothing to hide – it was someone I had known briefly many years before who would have been destroyed by any scandalous revelations. Luckily, nothing came of it but there were sleepless nights when I lay in bed imagining hungry wolves with glinting eyes surrounding the house. In a way, I look back at that younger self with a mixture of sadness and amusement. There were times when she didn’t have a clue what she was getting herself into!

I still have clear memories of being invited along to the Royal Court Theatre back in the 80s, to talk to the cast of actors who were rehearsing a play about women and pornography. As I had made one or two erotic movies by then, the director thought I might give the actors some insight into how it actually was to work in the industry. When I read the play it made me feel a bit sick – it was a dark drama about the hideous exploitation of women, how they were coerced into pornography and treated like slabs of meat – you can imagine the sort of thing.

This puzzled me because it didn’t reflect my own experience in any way. So I talked to the actors about how I had chosen this path for myself, and had derived my own cathartic benefits from it. I told them it had helped release me from old taboos. What’s more, during my limited experience in the business I had encountered mainly considerate and honest individuals, and quite a few women who had a mind of their own, who had definitely not been coerced in any way.
My audience listened respectfully but some of them were outraged. They probably thought me a most unnatural specimen of femininity. Actually, from the vantage point of today, I am inclined to think that I was unusual.

But this episode led me to an interesting realisation – that the attitude a person adopts when they decide to do something affects the way they experience it. Being free to choose is what really matters. If I had been forced to exploit myself through hardship or by a controlling pimp, I would have had a completely different story to tell. My positive enquiring mind kept me on course, and if something didn’t feel right then I was free to leave and return to my art.

I was lucky. Now I look back with the advantage of hindsight, I can see that all the criticism that was hurled at porn was also true, and the things I really searched for were not to be found there at all. In many ways it was a disappointing venture, but at the beginning it was just what I needed and it gave me a huge boost of creative energy, so I didn’t notice the negatives.

And what from those years gave you the most satisfaction?

That’s easy to answer; there are several things I’d mention. In 1988 I exhibited my Bodyscapes in a Pimlico gallery, along with two other artists. One of those artists was a good friend who gave me encouragement and generous financial help to make the show happen. Seeing all the work up on the walls gave me enormous satisfaction, as well as the sales that followed. At the beginning of the 90s a new chapter opened when I was invited, through a recommendation from my friend Erich von Gotha (also featured on your website) to start creating strip cartoons for publication in France. Being given complete freedom to work as I wished was a rare privilege and it was like combining my two loves – theatre and art – into one form. When you are working out ways to tell a story you feel a bit like a movie director, but without the necessity of an enormous budget. I loved this work.

When in Paris I met a couple who were just about to open a new gallery called Les Larmes d’Eros (Tears of Eros), and they gave me my first one-woman show. The opening ‘vernissage’ was especially fascinating because it felt as if I had come full circle and penetrated into the sophisticated underground society that had connections going back to Pauline Réage and L’Histoire d’O – a book that had captured my imagination in my late twenties. Another favourite erotic book from that time was L’Image by Jean de Berg. Now, suddenly, in the gallery there before me, was a petite but powerful lady in her sixties, with piercing eyes, called Catherine Robbe-Grillet, and it transpired that she had actually written L’Image. It had not been written by a man at all. This taught me that in France women could be open about sexual matters, gender and roleplay, without being labelled pornographic. They could even discuss it in an intelligent way and be listened to.

This leads on to another satisfaction. In 1994 I was given the remarkable opportunity by the owner of Janus magazine to create a new sister magazine called Februs. Five years before I had been approached by a couple of young men to help them give birth to a new magazine called Fessée. This was a great learning experience and taught me about every stage of the publishing process. I think it is always satisfying when you think you can’t possibly do something – then you find you can! The Februs experience led on from that to other discoveries. What I really appreciated, apart from the illustrating, was the opportunity to try my hand at writing my own editorial columns. You can imagine how pleasing this was. I could remember those far off days when magazines featured sexy confessions, supposedly by Mary Millington or Fiona Richmond, but it was obvious that men had written them. Now at last I could put my name to the column and it really would be me writing it!

One more thing to mention – meeting Jamie Maclean, editor of the Erotic Print Society, was also an important turning point. Several beautifully produced books featuring the art and writing of Lynn Paula Russell were published over the first few years of the twenty-first century. Perhaps the one I am most proud of is A Sexual Odyssey, which brought everything together.

In Paula’s next pieces she’ll be talking about some of her artistic inspirations, what she’s currently working on, and some thoughts about where the world has got to with its attitudes to the erotic aspects of being human and alive. Look out for them!