“It’s animalistic and it’s raw. It can be silly, hilarious and weird.”
Kim Manning has long been intrigued by sex. From the moment the Sydney-based artist stumbled across a Kama Sutra book buried in her parent’s wardrobe, she was enthralled.
“I knew it was something I wasn’t supposed to be looking at but that was so much of the appeal for me.”
This seems to be the case for a lot of us. As we start to uncover the salacious details about sex and intimacy, it’s the taboo or unspoken element that supercharges our curiosity.
“Another time, I found some super kinky erotic VHS hidden amongst some clothing in my parent’s cupboard…I would take any opportunity to watch them. It was actually hilariously chaotic because I’d have to rush to rewind the tapes back to where I’d started them as soon as I heard their car coming up our driveway.”
Kim’s innocent adventures from yesteryear sparked a lifelong adoration for the sexual experience – one she has been exploring through her art for the past decade.
What Kim puts down on paper is stunning; an unbridled depiction of sexual pleasure. Wielding an array of watercolours, she brings raunchy and arousing scenes to life. In one work, two women explore each other’s soaking bodies in the shower. In another, a man enters his partner, as they writhe under the sheets.
“Some are pornographic images, some come from my imagination. Some are hazy memories and others are fantasies…I also regularly paint commissions for buyers, so the personal photographs they submit can be a good source to draw from.”
Kim’s work is both abstract and hyperreal. Sometimes the faces of her subjects are incomplete yet their bodies are portrayed in vivid detail. Taking in the paintings, I feel a strong sense of voyeurism, like I’m in the room watching these people explore one another. Deliberately, nothing is left to the imagination – these works are a peephole into the most private of moments.
There’s no rigid process to the way Kim creates. Generally, each piece starts with a preliminary sketch mapped out on the canvas and from here on out, it’s a wild experiment.
“It’s always an intuitive process…this is really good for me because I’m generally a bit of a control freak. It’s a welcome brain break for me to be completely spontaneous.”
Look closely and you’ll pick up on her whimsical method – wavy trails of pencil blend with vibrant watercolours, somehow accentuating the intertwining of body parts during the heat of sex.
For Kim, depicting moments of intimacy has a lot to do with what she coins being “delightfully deviant” i.e leaning into the cheeky side of it all. She loves the fact her role as a “perverted voyeur” comes with a great deal of power due to the fact that the majority of erotic content out there caters to a heteronormative male gaze. Whenever Kim exhibits her work, she gets a real kick out of witnessing punters grappling with their own sense of voyeurism.
You might assume, due to her dramatic output that Kim is trying to spread some underlying message but that isn’t the case.
“I’ve always subscribed to Roland Barthes’ theories on the death of the author. This is the idea that an author or creator has no sovereignty over their words or creations.”
Sex is such a unique and treasured undertaking and it feels like Kim respects that fact by leaving the message of her work entirely up to us. Over the years, fans’ interpretations of her work have left Kim humbled and often brought her to tears.
“I was once contacted by a victim of a horrible sexual assault. She said that along with therapy, my artwork was making her feel more comfortable and safe about her body and sex again…she is thriving now and seems to be doing so much better.”
I mean, could artwork serve any better purpose than this?
Although Kim has been exploring sensual art for over a decade now, she hints that change is on the horizon.
“I want to start painting the everyday things that consistently bring me joy. I’m talking little things like a jar of Vegemite or fresh sheets or my favourite mug”.
These portrayals will serve as a homage to self-healing and coping with mental health issues. Kim’s right. When we’re feeling scattered, sometimes the best thing to do is get back to basics. Ask the question, what makes me happy? Often, it’s the simplest everyday items.
Interestingly, Kim mentions she’s always had an affection for “naff and low-brow art”. Thus, she’s looking to explore this new pursuit through mediums like glitter, collage and extreme pops of colours. A far cry from the serious and intense atmospheres bottled in her depictions to this point.
Seeing as Kim’s art is considered to be of an R-rated nature, I felt compelled to ask about her relationship with Instagram – an app known for its hard line on content it deems explicit.
“I have an intense love/hate relationship with them…Instagram has enabled so many great opportunities and opened countless doors yet over the last few years I’ve seen a drastic change.”
Nowadays, Kim’s IG _artofkim_ gets constantly shadow-banned (a block that limits her reach and accessibility). Not only that, representatives at Meta often message her threatening to disable her account entirely. “It’s baffling to me as there’s so much more wildly inappropriate content on there that doesn’t get flagged.”
One of the most appealing things about Kim’s work is its boldness in depicting the reality of sexual interaction. Women’s nipples stand up with excitement, hands clutch tenderly at skin while faces contort in pleasure as two bodies become one. It’s a real shame that IG does everything in its power to put a pin in one of the main reasons her art is so powerful.
Kim goes on to talk about how this has a considerable effect on her creative process:
“I feel like I have to operate within certain parameters of what is and isn’t acceptable…it fucking sucks and snuffs out a lot of the excitement.”
Walking this fine line of the risque is what makes Kim’s art unforgettable. Take your time to observe it. Escape to places you’ve more than likely dreamed of and never told anybody about. Wrap yourselves in moments of unadulterated satisfaction and vulnerability… And you might just get an idea or two to put into practice.