Ask Morgana 089: Tom Poulton

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A few days ago, this page featured the paintings of Titian, and we contemplated the sacred and the profane. When we consider erotic art we have to be prepared to go, as my dad used to say, ‘from the sublime to the gorblimey’, and that’s what we are doing today by having a peek at the work of Tom Poulton (1897-1963).

p7Poulton was a prolific and well-respected illustrator, having been educated at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. He provided illustrations for The British Journal of Surgery, Radio Times, and many other periodicals. He was married to Diana Kibblewhite, a notable player of the lute and champion of early music. What no one knew until his death was that he had drawn and hoarded a huge number of deliberately obscene sketches. Many of these have since been collated and printed by publishing houses that specialise in erotic art. The drawings a remarkable for many reasons, not least of all the way in which the subjects seem to be indulging in sex in an uninhibited way – men, women, in couples or groups or alone. The draughtsmanship is superb. There is no beautyp3 here, just a kind of feral glee. There appears to be no activity that hasn’t crossed the artist’s mind. In one drawing two women clutch at themselves whilst ogling a man who is tugging at his erection. In another a woman sits on the toilet and masturbates while she gawps at the obscene graffiti on the wall. Above, a typist her clothes awry, calls across the office to a colleague, inviting her to come and see the book that has aroused her. There is nothing dewy-eyed about anything here.

Tom Poulton kept this work in a secret cache, fearing a knock on the door from the police. His pencil-work is vigorous, hard, deep, making black-on-black lines as though he were trying hard to exorcise something in himself as he drew, as though by the pressure of his pencil he was a participant in the unrestrained erogymnastics he was depicting.

Are his women beautiful, though? I have already said no – but am I wrong? Their faces are intense, their mouths full, their eyes hooded, their bodies rounded. If they are indeed beautiful, it is not the idealised beauty of high art, nor the coy beauty of soft porn; rather it is a ferocious, hedonistic, animal beauty, the beauty of Hipparchia in the ‘Dog Wedding’ of the cynics, strong meat for the mature and not milk for babes.

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Images reproduced under ‘fair use’ provisions.

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