Edge of the bed (me and Grant), 1968

It was in 1968 that young experimental artist Betty Dodson came to public awareness, first through her erotic art exhibition at the Wickersham Gallery, and then through meeting the collectors Phyllis and Eberhard Kronhausen, who were responsible for pioneering erotic art exhibitions and books in the late 1960s.

Here is Betty’s own description of those heady times, from Sex by Design:

‘In the spring of 1967, a young man who modelled for me asked if he could bring a gallery director to my studio to view the new erotic drawings. The following week Andre, an elegant middle-aged gentleman showed up. He invited me to put two of my pictures in a group show he was having the following month. Andre chose the egg-shaped lovers that were done in colour and a large Leda and the Swan charcoal pencil and pastel drawing. After both drawings sold, he offered me a one-woman exhibition at the gallery the following year. Glory Hallelujah! I’d finally gotten my big break at the age of thirty-eight. The exhibition was to be held November 1968 at the Wickersham Gallery on Madison Avenue. Although it was a small space the location was ideal, right next door to the Whitney Museum.
     Three months before the show, the drawings numbered eighteen and I had four in the works. Since I’d set twenty as my goal, I was on schedule. The erotic content of my art was quite modest: a kiss, sexual intercourse and oralsex. No genitals showed except one couple embracing where the man had an erection. I’d drawn that one for women to enjoy. Meanwhile Dimitri, an artist friend was designing the invitations with the perfect title: “The Love Picture Exhibition”. Everyone was for love even if they didn’t know what the word meant. When they saw my drawings they’d at least get to see images of sexual love which would be a positive experience for most people.’

The paintings shown here were produced between 1964 and 1975, and cover a wide range of subjects and themes. It’s possible to see how Betty used her artistic skills not only to explore people having sex, but also issues of power in relationships, different ways of being intimate, and even boredom with unsatisfactory lovers. In November 2019 Betty and Carlin reorganised the gallery section of their website to include a wide range of Betty’s art, classified by subject and style – it’s well worth a visit at the Dodson and Ross website. There’s also a link there to a fascinating YouTube video of Betty talking about how her erotic art developed from wanting to portray real people having real sex to her work depicting everything from group sex to rape. Enjoy!